Was it just me, or did you spend most of 2017 eating your feelings? It’s been a hard year for many of us. Based on Nosh’s most popular stories of the year, it seems like a lot of us dealt with difficult times by focusing on the things we love doing, namely, eating — or even just reading about — food.
Anticipation for new restaurants was strong. But so was nostalgia, especially for longtime food businesses that we’ve visited over the years. Some of these institutions closed, some reopened, some will be repurposed and some moved to new locations this year.
While going through this year’s Nosh stories, we noticed a few recurring trends in writing about East Bay food — the rise of “fast-casual” eateries and collective food business spaces, the ever-growing number of ramen restaurants, plus a few unlikely Asian specialties that got the spotlight this year — khao mun gai and salted cheese drinks. Who knew?
So without further ado, here are the top Nosh stories of 2017. Some stories drew the most number of readers, others were chosen because they represented trends and big news in the East Bay food scene this year.
Mezzo opens in Berkeley
That huge salad! That poppy seed dressing! That bread! It all came rushing back to many Berkeleyans when Mezzo, formerly Cafe Intermezzo, and the bar next door, Raleigh’s, reopened in Berkeley on Telegraph Avenue, after being closed from a fire in 2011. The first huge surge of interest came before the restaurant even opened, when Nosh got a sneak peek inside of what was to come. When Mezzo opened its doors in June, we revisited, but decided to bring along a few longtime of the restaurant’s superfans, to compare the new Mezzo to their memories of Intermezzo’s salad days.
Andronico’s transitions into Safeway Community Markets
At the end of 2016, grocery giant Safeway bought local supermarket Andronico’s Community Markets. In early 2017, Andronico’s held “everything must go” sales in advance of its closure. In total, five Andronico’s stores — two in Berkeley — transitioned into Safeway stores, which resulted in two Safeways within about a block of each other in North Berkeley.
In March, Nosh followed up with a story when the stores reopened as Safeway Community Markets. The stores opened with the same employees that worked at Andronico’s, and retained much of the layout of the former grocery stores, as well as some of its “unique offerings,” as Safeway described them. Although initially, many Berkeleyside commenters were up in arms about the changeover and loss of a locally owned company, comments on the March story were a mixed bag of anger and hopeful enthusiasm for the new Safeway-Andronico hybrid stores.
Ippudo opens in downtown Berkeley
Ippudo news made the list of top Berkeleyside stories in 2016, so it’s not surprising that as the opening date for the downtown Berkeley location got closer, anticipation for the international ramen-chain got even higher. In May, hungry ramen fans clamored to read our story announcing an opening date — which we later had to update, when the restaurant set it back by a month. A day before it opened, Nosh was invited inside to get a lesson in how Ippudo ramen is made and most deliciously, to taste several items on its menu, namely its Hakata-style ramen made with creamy tonkotsu broth.
If you’re still craving ramen, this year several other East Bay restaurants serving ramen opened — or are in the works to open soon — including Shinmai, Kyushu, Shiba Ramen, SOBO Ramen, Wingman, and Ramen Kitchen.
A farewell to Bette Kroening, co-founder of Bette’s Oceanview Diner
On Feb. 16, Bette Kroening, the co-founder of Bette’s Oceanview Diner in Berkeley died from cancer at the age of 71. Kroening was a food pioneer, a cookbook author and a friend to many. She was born in New York City, but found her way to Berkeley at a pivotal moment in American food, working with some of the area’s food pioneers, including Narsai David, Paul Bertolli and Sue Conley, before opening her own restaurant on Fourth Street. A week after her death, Berkeleyside ran an obituary written by Bette Kroening’s family that resonated deeply with our readers. It gives context and pays homage to one of Fourth Street’s founding mothers.
Buildings are repurposed into shared spaces
In May, Nosh had news of what was to come of the former Pyramid brewery at 901 Gilman St. in West Berkeley that had been lying dormant for almost two years. The 114,000-square-foot building is in the process of being transformed into a collective campus of food producers and startups, including Ripple Foods, Starter Bakery and Blue Bottle Coffee. The project speaks to the current trend for spaces shared by businesses operating in the same field, like The Berkeley Kitchens, Uptown Kitchen, Kitchener and The Port Kitchens. In June, we wrote of another space conversion that’s to come in Uptown Oakland. The large lots formerly occupied by Picán and Ozumo on Broadway are going to be converted into separate spaces for four different restaurants. Two of those spaces have already been claimed by Brown Sugar Kitchen and Bocanova, which moved from a much larger space in Jack London Square. As the cost of rent, food, supplies and labor continues to go up, food businesses are looking for different ways to stay afloat in a very competitive market.
“Fast-casual” is a thing
The opening of Rice and Bones on the UC Berkeley campus got the attention of many of our readers, quite possibly because of the novelty of having a critically acclaimed chef-restaurateur, namely Charles Phan of Slanted Door fame, opening an eatery on campus. But Rice and Bones speaks to the greater Bay Area dining trend of 2017 — the rise of “fast-casual.” A large majority of the new restaurants that opened in 2017 were casual, counter-service types rather than full-service restaurants. Once again, the reason for the trend is mostly monetary.
A few other noteworthy fast-casual restaurants that opened in 2017 that we wrote about include Paradita Eatery and Navi Kitchen in Emeryville, Arthur Mac’s Tap and Snack, Proposition Chicken, Shiba Ramen’s second location, and dosa by DOSA in Oakland.
One interesting thing to note: the ultimate fast-casual restaurant in Berkeley, the “automated” eatery Eatsa closed in 2017. At Eatsa, customers placed orders on iPads or smartphones, then picked up food in a glass cubicle, without interacting with any front-of the-house staff. The two-year-old San Francisco-based company behind Eatsa closed every location except for its two restaurants in San Francisco, explaining that it expanded too quickly. For now, the company is focusing its attention on sharing (that is, selling) its technology with other restaurants who want to try to go automatic.
National politics bled into Berkeley food news
Berkeley felt like a war zone on several occasions in 2017, and the clashes between Trump supporters and Trump protesters in the city affected everyone and everything around them. In April, a weekend staple for many Berkeleyans was put on hold — the Saturday farmers market next to Civic Center Park was called off due to the “Patriots Day” rally planned by Trump supporters that day. The Ecology Center, which runs the market, decided to cancel it due to fears of violence after a protest in Downtown Berkeley turned violent in early March.
Another time that food and national politics in Berkeley crossed paths was after the identity of an attendee at the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia was identified as a worker at Top Dog. The hot dog restaurant was barraged on the phone, on social media and on Yelp, after Cole White was outed online for his participation in the rally. Berkeleyside first reported that White had been fired by the restaurant on Durant Avenue on Southside, but we later learned that he had resigned from his position.
The love for neighborhood bars and breweries runs deep
In the East Bay, people don’t just want to eat local, they want to drink local too. This sentiment was proven true on several occasions this year. For instance, a story that resonated with many Nosh readers came in March, when 25-year-old Rockridge watering hole, Barclay’s Pub, was evicted from its College Avenue location and found a new home in downtown Berkeley.
Also in downtown Berkeley, another bar story that garnered our readers’ attention was our piece on Cornerstone. The music venue and beer hall, which opened in the former Thalasa pool hall space on Shattuck Avenue, has a heavy focus on craft beer. The main bar alone boasts a 42-tap beer list!
Another story we followed was the development of a controversial beer garden in Temescal. In March, we first reported that Los Angeles-based Golden Road Brewing is opening a shipping container beer garden on 40th Street. Opposition against Golden Road’s project was mostly based on the fact that the once craft brewery has been owned by beer giant, Anheuser-Busch InBev. since 2011. In April, Nosh spoke with a few local brewers who felt that AB InBev setting up a small outpost in North Oakland was step in a domination plan by “Big Beer.” In September, Nosh checked in again on the controversial beer garden, after the plans for the beer garden were scaled back and amended due to the concerns of the public. At this time, the project is moving forward.
Berkeley loses Norikonoko and two other longtime Japanese restaurants
Twenty-three-year-old Japanese restaurant, Norikonoko closed in November. The restaurant was run by a couple, Noriko and Takumi Taniguchi, who won a fanbase of devoted customers with their home-style Japanese cuisine, the kind that Japanese mothers would make their families, including grilled fish, vegetables, pork curry and soups. We were very sad to see the restaurant close, but happy to write one last story to say goodbye — and give a chance for customers to visit before Norikonoko’s last day in business on November 19.
Joining Norikonoko were two other longtime Japanese institutions in Berkeley that shuttered.
In July, we wrote about how Berkeley’s first sushi restaurant Joshu-ya closed. The restaurant, on Dwight Way originally opened in 1978 by chef Kazuo Negishi. In 2011, the restaurant was sold to chef Jason Kwon, and renamed itself Joshu-Ya Brasserie, but Kwon left the company in 2015, leaving the restaurant to be run by its remaining chefs. This year, Joshu-ya quietly transformed into Kyushu Ramen. Its new owner Chae Chang decided to switch the focus from sushi to ramen, not only due to ramen’s popularity, but because of the high cost of offering fresh, sushi-quality fish.
And in August, we reported that Temari, another mom-and-pop restaurant, was about to close. The West Berkeley restaurant was opened by Michihiro and Masako Kizaki as a dinner-only sushi spot on San Pablo Avenue in 2003. Temari’s last dinner service was on Aug. 25.
Khao mun gai and salted cheese teas come to the East Bay
We were a little surprised to hear that not one, but two, East Bay restaurants opened in 2017 that focused on one dish — khao mun gai. We get that the Thai chicken and rice dish is delicious and popular world-wide, but we were skeptical when Chick’n Rice opened in downtown Berkeley in September that wobbly poached chicken skin was for the masses, and we’re still not sure it’ll be the dish that everyone orders at James Syhabout’s new Hawking Bird restaurant in Temescal. We’d love for you all to prove me wrong.
On the other hand, if you can get past the name, we think that salted cheese tea drinks can find a more mainstream audience. The trendy beverage originated in Asia, and is now sold in boba tea shops around the world. In Berkeley, Happy Lemon, a new tea shop that opened in October, specializes in salted cheese tea, and offers a whole series of drinks topped with a thick layer of creamy, salted foam. Nosh recruited some Berkeleyside staffers to join them in tasting every single flavor of salted cheese tea offered at Happy Lemon and rank them in order of deliciousness. We didn’t convince all the tasters to love salted cheese tea, but it was fun trying.