If you haven’t yet tried Park Burger, The Veg Hub or Perle Wine Bar, there are some discerning local diners who believe you should. And these opinionated food lovers will soon take to the television airwaves to tell us why, appearing on the KQED program, “Check, Please! Bay Area.” But unlike previous guests who have been on the popular show, these ones are under the age of 13.
“Check, Please! Bay Area Kids” is a series that will premiere on KQED Thursday, Nov. 29, at 7:30 p.m. and run on four consecutive Thursdays through Dec. 20. Like the original series, the show brings together three diners who visit and share their honest opinions about the others’ favorite restaurants.
Although this version with kids is new, the idea behind it came about some time ago. Over the years, more than one child has applied to be on “Check, Please!,” which got series producer Tina Salter, senior producer Lori Halloran and host Leslie Sbrocco thinking maybe they should do a kids’ edition.
“In the spring, we received a note from a seven-year-old girl saying she loved the show and wanted Leslie’s job,” said Halloran. “She even included a drawing of Leslie on set.”
That appeared to be the clincher.
According to KQED, 12 kids between the ages of 10 and 14 were chosen from around 400 who submitted applications for the special series. (Alas, the seven-year-old letter writer couldn’t be on the new show (yet), as producers decided guests on the kids’ version had to be at least 10.) Among those chosen were Bella Makeig, Elias Korchin and Maddie Turner, all of Oakland.
I talked to these three young reviewers about their experiences on the show.
Bella Makeig, 12
Bella Makeig, 12, is a seventh-grader at Edna Brewer Middle School. For her appearance, airing on Dec. 13, she chose her favorite restaurant Park Burger in the Glenview district, where she lives. She frequents the restaurant a lot, sometimes twice a month.
“My mom can’t cook whatsoever, so I’m trying to learn how to love cooking from my dad,” said Bella. “He cooks us dinner almost every single night and he likes to make a lot of meat.”
While one might think Bella is a burger aficionado, or that maybe she chose Park Burger because its offers more than 18 variations of the staple food on its menu, it’s actually the chili that is her go-to dish. In a word, she said, it’s “amazing.”
“You can tell it takes a long time to make it,” she said. “It has layers of flavor and has a lot of different flavors — spicy, sweet and a bit bitter. Each bite is a little bit different.”
What’s funny is that the chili is made to adorn Park Burger’s burgers, hot dogs and chili cheese fries; a serving of chili isn’t even on the official menu. No doubt Bella has made such friends with the owners though, that she gets her way when she’s there.
She also recommends the milkshakes.
Bella had seen “Check, Please! Bay Area,” a few times before, so she knew what to expect —somewhat. She said it was a bit overwhelming between takes, when the makeup and hair people would come on set to fix a stray hair, but overall it was a really fun experience. And she enjoyed meeting the host, who she found “super funny and super nice.”
“I love she can be talking to you and then the cameras are rolling all of a sudden, so she then looks at the camera and says, ‘Hi, I’m Leslie Sbrocco.’”
As for her fellow diners’ picks, she especially appreciated Zareen’s, a Pakistani-Indian place in Palo Alto, that left whole spices in the food.
“I’d had Indian food before, but most of what I’d had is made for American tongues where the spiciness is lowered. This place left the spices whole and the food was spicier and I liked it better,” she said.
Elias Korchin, 11
Elias Korchin, 11, is a seventh-grader at the East Bay Innovation Academy.
“My dad has always been a very avid cooker and eater, and always encourages me and my brother to explore new foods. My brother doesn’t try many things when given the opportunity, but I try to when I can,” said Elias.
Elias loves to cook, and in fact, at the time of our interview, was about to head off to this grandparents’ house to help them cook Thanksgiving dinner.
His parents are mostly vegan these days, though Elias used to be a “full-on carnivore,” and still eats meat on occasion, he said.
Elias, who will appear on the Dec. 20 episode, chose to highlight one of his family’s favorite spots: The Veg Hub, which Elias describes as “a small place in the Fruitvale district which serves cultural soul food, but it’s vegan.”
The fried chicken is his favorite dish; Elias marvels that it’s not actually fried chicken, but “because of its texture and seasoning, it tastes like real meat but it’s a healthier option.”
He and his father discovered The Veg Hub together, and then introduced it to the rest of the family, and “now it’s one of our go-to places.”
Of the three kids I spoke to, Elias was the biggest fan of “Check, Please! Bay Area.” A longtime viewer, Elias said he enjoys watching the show and giving his own opinions about whether he’d like the featured restaurants based on what he sees. As for being on the show, he enjoyed the taping, especially when the producers would refill their glasses with Martinelli’s apple cider, which was “awesome.”
“It went so much smoother than I expected,” he said. “We didn’t have to do multiple cuts on anything; it was just a normal conversation.”
Maddie Turner, 10
Maddie Turner, 10, is in fifth grade at Montclair Elementary School.
Her parents are not only excellent cooks, but have been taking her to restaurants since she was a baby, so Maddie has always known what good food is. And she’s always been an adventurous eater. She might have even ordered frogs legs at age 5, or maybe 6 — she couldn’t remember.
Montclair’s Perle Wine Bar was her pick.
While it’s quite predictable that a restaurant’s owners are excited to be featured on the show, Perle Wine Bar owner Marcus Garcia was completely floored to learn that the person who chose to feature his restaurant was 10, even though Maddie and her family are regulars, and the restaurant considers Maddie one of its VIPs. “She’s so smart and knows exactly what she wants,” Garcia said.
Maddie’s parents are one of several families who order abalone or caviar service and share it with their kids.
“They are representative of some of the other families in the neighborhood that gravitate toward us,” said Garcia. “We’re a small, neighborhood restaurant, but we have something for everyone.”
“It’s really close to my school so I’m able to eat there a lot,” Maddie said. “It’s like a French bistro.” She likes that the chef, [Rob Lam] “comes out after every meal and asks everyone how it was, and he remembers people, so he knows my name, and that I want the usual.”
Maddie’s usual is the French onion dip burger. She loves it because it’s “an overly thick patty of meat with some sort of white cheese on a brioche bun and it comes with a bowl of French onion soup, and you dip the burger into the soup and it’s so amazing. You need to try it.”
Her other favorite dish is the caviar service, which includes house-made potato chips and blini and crème fraîche. She offers a pro-tip with the caviar: “I like to make a sandwich, where I take a blini and put crumbled potato chips on it with some caviar and crème fraîche and then top it with another blini.”
Maddie said she was a bit nervous before the taping of her show, the premiere episode on Nov. 29, but overall it was a great experience. “I enjoyed living it up,” she said. Especially as afterwards they all got cupcakes.
Inspired by her experience, she wants to continue sharing her opinions about restaurants on more of a regular basis.
“I was thinking of starting a food blog, so people who see me on the show can see what restaurants we go to, and what my favorites are. But,” she said, “I still need to figure out how.”
Try Bella, Elias and Maddie’s favorite restaurants:
Park Burger, 4218 Park Blvd. (at Glenfield), Oakland
The Veg Hub, 2214 MacArthur Blvd. (near Fruitvale), Oakland
Perle Wine Bar, 2058 Mountain Blvd. (near La Salle), Oakland