Last week, I made my way down to Oxford Street to meet Lisa Rogovin for a preview of her new Downtown Berkeley Walking Brunch Tour. The food tour, which takes place on Sundays starting on March 25, stops for bites at six restaurants and cafés over the course of three hours. When I arrived, Rogovin was deep in conversation with two passersby who were asking for more information about the tour. Without skipping a beat, she welcomed me and handed the two women more information about her company.
Rogovin is the founder and CEO of Edible Excursions, a San Francisco-based food tour company that offers culinary tours of neighborhoods in SF, Berkeley and Oakland, including ones in Temescal, Uptown Oakland and the Gourmet Ghetto. The brunch tour is her newest offering, and she was radiating excitement about downtown Berkeley’s diverse food scene from the moment we sat down at our first stop, Gather.
Although only a few of us on the tour knew each other, Rogovin was a pro at breaking the ice, and eventually, the conversation flowed as the drinks and food started to arrive at the table. We sipped on fresh ginger and honey juice and tasted several pizzas at Gather, including the Spicy Tomato, which is completely vegan and drizzled with a cashew puree. We also tried the popular Dancing Mushroom pie and the Brunch Pizza, which comes topped with a sunny-side-up egg, bacon and caramelized onion.
As we were enjoying our slices the head manager of Gather joined us to give us a little background on the restaurant and its location, the David Brower Center, the “greenest” building in the East Bay. The building’s title is well earned, as almost all of the decor in the restaurant is recycled and repurposed, including the seat cushions that were previously leather belts.
Pizzas finished, we hit the road for our next stop, Babette, the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive’s chic café located on the museum’s second floor. Upon arrival, we were greeted with plates of avocado toast, grilled asparagus with Meyer lemon aioli, red quinoa with Asian pear-pepper relish and a cauliflower-potato curry salad. The fresh produce was the star here. Babette owners Joan Ellis and Patrick Hooker take pride in bringing organic ingredients and sustainable food practices to their intimate café with a cool, modern vibe.
I took a moment to admire the artwork hanging on Babette’s walls before we headed down BAMPFA’s red staircase for our next stop, Revival Bar + Kitchen.
During the tour, Rogovin shared interesting and surprising tidbits of Berkeley’s rich history. For instance, on the way to Revival, she pointed out an area at Shattuck Avenue and Addison Street, where the Berkeley station of the Southern Pacific Railroad once stood.
Once we got settled at Revival, we sipped on guava mint soda and tucked into Baked Egg Shakshuka — the restaurant’s version of the Moroccan dish. Revival makes theirs with vegetables in a tomato-based sauce spiced with harissa, topped with an egg, feta cheese and slice of grilled baguette. I was a little surprised that we were served a vegetarian dish, as the restaurant prides itself on its meaty menu since whole-animal butchery is done in-house. In fact, several animal skulls grace the walls as decor here, and as a vegetarian, I spent much of the meal trying to avoid making “eye contact” with the heads. Nonetheless, I can respect Revival’s sourcing of grass-fed animals and its rotation of fresh ingredients to ensure in-season produce.
On our way out, Revival owner Amy Murray handed us each a flyer for the restaurant’s monthly burlesque dinner show. The shows run every second Sunday of the month with a $5 cover charge and raise funds for Planned Parenthood. And with an aim to please the hungry theater crowd, Revival also schedules its seating times around the local evening theater shows.
The next stop on the tour was Maîson Bleue, a French crêperie that opened early last year. It sits on Kittredge Street, right beside the downtown Berkeley Public Library. The café’s owner, Patrice Fayet, is originally from France, just like the pastries served in his café. Maison Bleue sources local ingredients to make its offerings of sandwiches, salads and crêpes, but its pastries — like croissants, torsade au chocolat and pain aux raisin — are frozen and flown over from Paris. I was a little skeptical of said pastries, but upon trying to the chocolate croissant, which had a rich, buttery interior and flaky crust, all my doubts were gone.
We also tried the Complète galette (egg, gruyere and ham in a buckwheat crêpe) and the Croque Monsieur (ham and gruyere with sauce mornay on levain bread), accompanied by mugs full of Oakland’s RoastCo coffee.
Just when I thought we had finished our servings, we were offered mimosas and caramel salé (salted caramel) crêpes. The orange juice tasted freshly squeezed and the crêpe’s rich housemade caramel was warm and delightful. At this point of the tour, I was amazed by my ability to keep eating. And we weren’t done yet — we still had another two stops to go.
A quick stroll up to Shattuck Avenue took us to Angeline’s Louisiana Kitchen, which serves Cajun and Creole fare. This was the first time I’d been to the restaurant without waiting for a table. We sat down and received what looked like an average cup of coffee, but Rogovin explained that it was actually a blend of chicory and coffee. Chicory root was used as a coffee substitute and additive in the South during the Civil War to extend the short supply of coffee, and today, it’s still served in New Orleans at places like Cafe Du Monde, where it’s ordered to sip while eating beignets. True to form, at Angeline, we paired our chicory coffee with beignets. The earthy beverage was a perfect complement to the fried dough squares covered in powdered sugar. Although they seemed like they’d be heavy, they melted like clouds in my mouth.
Our last stop was Gio’s Pizza & Bocce. Like the rest of the tour, the distance to Gio’s was minimal, as it was just a few blocks away.
By this time, I was feeling very satiated from all the food we’d eaten, so I was glad to know we wouldn’t be eating any food at Gio’s. Instead, we’d be drinking cocktails. While Gio’s may have the word “pizza” in its full name, the restaurant has another specialty — its vermouth and amaro-focused bar menu. On our visit, we’d be trying some of its vermouth-based cocktails and spritzes. Our first drink was a lovely lavender pomegranate spritz, prepared by Gio’s bar manager, Nick Stolte. Then we got to try the base for the spritz, a Lo-Fi vermouth, which even alone, tasted like a complete mixed drink.
Stolte also crafted a non-alcoholic drink for the underaged guests among us. I gave it a taste and can confirm it was just as refreshing as the original spritz. To finish, we sampled a Carpano dry vermouth and an Alessio vermouth. Thankfully, the samples were modest enough to avoid feeling tipsy — it was the middle of the afternoon, after all.
As the tour came to an end, I left having a new appreciation for how many different cuisines are available in downtown Berkeley — something that’s easy to take for granted when you live in the city. And we visited several places I had yet to try, or hadn’t even known about before the tour.
Looking back on the day, it amazes me that we were able to sample such a variety of delicious grub in just three hours. And, although we stuffed ourselves within that time with so much food and information, the tour never felt anything but leisurely — just as brunch should.
The Downtown Berkeley Walking Tour takes place on Sundays, from 11 a.m. – 2 p.m., starting March 25. Tickets are $90 through May 31 and are available at on Edible Excursion’s website.