Nosh Talk: Suzanne Drexhage, Bartavelle

Suzanne Drexhage

Suzanne Drexhage. Photo: Kate Farnady

Nosh Talk is a regular Q&A with an East Bay chef, restaurateur or food artisan, published on Berkeleyside Nosh, in which we snoop for inside intelligence…

What is always in your refrigerator?
Preserved lemons, butter, and for some reason, Prosecco. And chicken stock and last summer’s slow roasted tomatoes in the freezer. Just in case.

What do you cook up for a late night snack?
I don’t usually snack late, but we occasionally eat a pretty late dinner after Stan gets home from work, maybe cooked greens with pasta or eggs, or leftover soft tofu soup. [Stan is Stanislaw Sobolewski, cookbook manager at Moe’s Books.]

Where/what do you eat on your day off? 
So many good places to check out lately, it’s hard to decide, but I love Fusebox in West Oakland, the new Ramen Shop on College Ave., Ippuku in Berkeley, and Duende in downtown Oakland.

Do you have a secret ‘junk food’ vice?
I don’t eat junk food. Street food, sure. Taco trucks, yes!

Any food you can’t stand?
Junk food.

What is your fantasy ‘last meal’?
I’d be really happy with Dungeness crab and a chicory salad.

What ingredient is overused and needs to be retired? 
I’m thinking quinoa. I use it in the Bartavelle porridge, but am looking for a replacement, since the U.S. and other markets are driving the price up so far that some people that once relied on it for food can no longer afford it.

What’s the next big thing?
I hope the next big thing is that all the people growing up now learn how to cook real food at home.

Your favorite special meal to cook?
My favorite special meal is one cooked  with friends and family, all together in the kitchen. Doesn’t have to be fancy, just good. The above Dungeness crab and chicory salad would be great, maybe with some home-cured salmon roe.

Favorite restaurant in the world?
A hard one, but I realize every day how Chez Panisse has influenced so many people’s cooking over the years, including, of course, mine. I still love it, and am lucky that I get to eat there every so often.

Who would you like to have dinner with (alive or dead)?
Luis Buñuel. I’m pretty sure he would have made a very fun dining companion.

A food tip/secret to share with readers?
It is totally worth learning how to properly hold and use a chef’s knife in the kitchen. It’s not that hard, but can seem awkward at first and probably isn’t something you do naturally unless somebody shows you how. Check out videos online or ask a friend who cooks to show you. Once you can handle a knife, you can learn to love prepping, and the rest will follow.

Suzanne Drexhage is the proprietor of Bartavelle Coffee & Wine Bar, which she runs with her son, Sam Sobolewski. After years working front of house in restaurants around San Francisco and the East Bay (including the Café at Chez Panisse), she spent another dozen years working for Kermit Lynch and cooking on the side. Bartavelle is her first venture.

Bartavelle owner: What’s cooking for ex-Café Fanny space [05.25.12]

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  • a neighbor

    Oh, and the food at Bartavelle, besides the various luscious drinks, is wonderful!

  • B2B

    I wish anything on Bartavelle’s menu made me want to stop in as I live only a couple blocks away, but nothing on the menu is innovative or even interesting. Sad about that.

  • Dave

    Really? Great coffee, tea, wine. Delicious simple foods. Not sure what innovations you’re looking for, but think the issue is falling with you and not bartavelle. Love having these guys in the neighborhood.

  • B2B

    How about some of that crab salad she mentions it the article???

  • another neighbor

    How about having a look and a bite, then deciding? If it’s not yummy, whatever you try, you’ll then have an opinion. But, maybe you are still missing the old. The feeling inside Bartavelle is warm, clean, sweet and welcoming. Hope you give it a chance!

  • B2B

    Well what do you recommend? A boiled egg with sea salt? Porridge? Please, tell me what is so special that you want to sit in a parking lot? Fanny, though I wasn’t a huge fan, had a lovely poached egg and toast and some other really nice things… Bartavelle doesn’t come close.

  • another neighbor

    Yes, both those items are divine. Not quite as simple as you have put it. Seems that you have quite a strong opinion without having experienced the whole thing, or anything. The menu is developing, as I understand it, and there are treats inside that might be missed squinting from the sidewalk. Ah well.

  • Yes, that was interesting hearing about quinoa lately. I was worried about that. It’s too bad tho.

    Nice interview!

  • not a neighbor

    I wished I lived only a couple blocks from Bartavelle. I’d eat there every day! The ingredients may be simple, but the results are fresh, interesting & delicious.

  • Chris J

    Yah, stopped in there for the first time a couple of weeks ago and was very pleased to see ‘cortado’ in the menu–pretty rare. I had the…the French pastry ‘cooween amahn’ along with my drink–and they didn’t charge a crazy $4 for it, either, like some places have (I think it was $3.25-3.50). Nice vibe, but alas–and no slight on them–I’m just pretty damned poor these days so eating out for breakfast regularly each morning simply takes too big a toll on my budget…so I simply get to stay home and make my own brekkie and be creative in my own kitchen.

    But I like the ambience there.

  • Maurice Edmond Sailland

    When I am standing in line at Acme, I try to decide if I would rather spend $3.50 on an Acme Levain or spend $4.75 for a toasted and buttered slice of Acme Levain at Bartavelle. Usually, I decide to spend $3.50 on the entire loaf and toast my own (multiple) slices at home a block away.

    I agree with B2B. The fare is not humble, simple, basic or cheap enough to cater to the less well healed in the neighborhood (like most of the families we know) who might frequent it for breakfast fare from time to time or at least buy treats and it’s not fancy, interesting or sophisticated enough (like Fanny’s was) to warrant a trip down from Grizzly Peak or from the Elmwood in your Mercedes SUV.

  • Dave

    toast with avocado. not as plain as it sounds. the porridge is great with ghee. any of their crostini choices. the pizza biancas.

  • Deb D

    We love and appreciate the addition of Bartavelle. Doing ‘simple well’ is a rare talent, often under-appreciated. Combine the delectable offerings + lovely, thoughtful ambiance + top-notch coffee/prep + good company… = a very pleasurable experience all around.
    Yes, agreed – it’s not as cheap as buying the ingredients yourself and making it at home, but the whole experience exceeds the mere sum of its parts, making it all worthwhile.

  • I went to Fremont with Lin & Sheila. Fondly remember eating 3 cheese chimichangas that Lin fried at the house on Hearst with the “wooden” car in the garage. Melty cheese in a tortilla, still one of my fav foods!