Earlier this week, we stopped by Telegraph Avenue to check on the progress of two lost Berkeley institutions that are on the brink of reopening: Raleigh’s Bar and Grill and Mezzo (formerly Café Intermezzo).
The two neighboring restaurants have been closed since 2011, when the Sequoia Building was demolished after a devastating fire. Building owners Gregory and Kenneth Ent always planned to bring both restaurants back, but rebuilding was slow due to a series of delays and a lawsuit associated with the fire. Construction finally began in 2014, and now, more than five years after they shuttered, Raleigh’s and Mezzo will once again stand on Telegraph.
Well, not quite yet…
Raleigh’s and Mezzo were slated to open in late May, but as many business owners in Berkeley can attest, permitting in the city isn’t always smooth sailing, and the opening is on hold until the final building inspection happens. Michelle Ent, who is the daughter of Gregory Ent and a manager of both Raleigh’s and Mezzo, showed us around the restaurants. She said that they were moving forward as if both restaurants will open in the next couple of weeks.
One of the first things nostalgic Berkeleyans will notice about the new Raleigh’s and Mezzo is that they’re in a larger, more open space — and they’re connected! Michelle Ent explained that the two restaurants are spread over three commercial spaces, which includes the corner lot that was once the original location for Mario’s La Fiesta, a space the Ents had once planned to make into a pizza restaurant. The Ents decided to scrap the pizzeria idea and focus on Raleigh’s and Mezzo.
The two restaurants have separate ordering and seating areas — with Mezzo on the left and Raleigh’s on the right — but are connected inside. They also share a back courtyard and bathrooms. Visitors to either establishment will be able to freely flow back and forth between the two.
Intermezzo purists may wonder about its new abbreviated name. Ent said there were two reasons for the shortened moniker. First, she said, it’s a rebranding to mark a new generation of the restaurant. And, it turns out, there’s another Café Intermezzo out in the country, which has trademarked the name.
While the name has changed, the menu at Mezzo, Ent said, will not disappoint its original fans. Mezzo will have all the favorite Intermezzo signature salads and sandwiches, with the same homemade dressings, like its popular poppy seed variety. In addition, it will offer a few new salads, sandwiches, dressings and toppings. It’ll also have a more robust coffee service, although Ent said they’re still in the process of choosing a roaster. One change worth noting if you’re an Intermezzo superfan: those iconic wooden salad bowls will not return with the reopening. Ent said, “Everyone uses them now, so we’re switching it up.”
A lot has changed in the local salad game since Intermezzo’s closure, notably a new crop of made-to-order salad restaurants like Sweetgreen and Tender Greens, both of which have outposts in Berkeley, but Ent said that the competition has not really affected nor influenced Mezzo’s second coming. “We’re sticking with what we know has been working so well in the past,” she said. “People still want fresh, healthy big salads.”
Raleigh’s, on the other hand, has streamlined its menu, focusing on food that pairs well with beer. One of its main specialties will be thin-crust pizza, made in brand new pizza ovens recently installed in the kitchen just behind the bar. Speaking of the bar, Raleigh’s suds will all be craft beers from mostly local breweries. It will boast 36 rotating taps at the bar inside and 24 outside.
Longtime Raleigh’s patrons may recognize some of the furniture inside. The Ents salvaged some of the tables, chairs and furniture parts that were spared in the fire, mixing them in with new pieces.
Visitors to both establishments may also recognize the large illustrated mural installed on the back shared wall of the building. Painted on wood boards by artist Nigel Sussman, the mural’s primary purpose was to protect the façade of the building during renovation. Now that construction is complete, the mural has a new home inside.
Outside, Raleigh’s and Mezzo share a large courtyard, which will be open for customers of both restaurants. It features seating for around 200 people, fire pits, a bocce court and an outdoor bar, which will be open on weekends when the weather is nice and on game days.
Ent pointed out that the backyard has a few holdovers from the original Raleigh’s, including a faded garden gnome, a couple of hearty trees and a tree well featuring quotes from notable literary/pop-culture drinkers. The bricks that make up the steps connecting the two outdoor areas were also salvaged from the old building.
As these photos show, Raleigh’s and Mezzo are still a work in progress, so don’t expect to visit in the next few days. But we’ve waited five and a half years already; we might as well wait another few weeks.
Stay tuned on Nosh for more updates on Mezzo and Raleigh’s.
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