The updated food hall is nearly complete with its line-up of fast-casual eateries. Photo: Benjamin Seto
For the last five years, under the ownership of City Center Realty Partners, Emeryville’s Public Market has been undergoing a transformation.
The international food hall was completely renovated, and a new lineup of restaurants has been brought in to entice eaters from around the Bay Area. Construction has continued over the last two years, mostly just outside the market, as evident to anyone maneuvering through the construction detours.
Now, most of the parking renovations are complete and the bustling dining hall is nearly full with fast-casual eateries. Nosh decided to revisit the Public Market and check out some of its latest new restaurants.
Since last fall, the market has added a prominent bar and two BBQ eateries — one emphasizing the South and another specializing in Korean BBQ. These three kiosks add to the existing 13 eateries, which include sustainable Mexican spot C Casa, fried chicken purveyor Minnie Bell’s Soul Movement and vegan ice cream shop Mr. Dewie’s Cashew Creamery.
And more spots are coming soon. The latest outpost of the Bay Area hamburger chain Super Duper Burgers will open on Monday, and a second location of Oakland’s Hong Kong-style diner Baby Café is set to open in the summer.
The Public Market, however, did lose a tenant recently when We Sushi suddenly closed. City Center Realty Partners said We Sushi was evicted after a lapse in rent.
Despite We Sushi’s empty spot, the Public Market continues to welcome new eateries, including these three most recent openings:
Pig in a Pickle
BBQ spot Pig in a Pickle’s Public Market stall opened in November and features barbecue meats sold by the pound. This is the second location for chef-owner Damon Stainbrook, who worked in the kitchens at the Lark Creek Inn, One Market Restaurant and under Thomas Keller at The French Laundry before opening his first Pig in a Pickle in Corte Madera.
Pig in a Pickle makes everything from scratch, from the smoked meats to the sauces — even the buns. The meat selection, which includes its popular brisket, are served up with your choice of BBQ sauces that cover many Southern styles from Memphis to the Carolinas.
There’s also a nice selection of sides (cole slaw, potato salad, baked beans, mac n cheese, collard greens) and a couple of salad options. Over a couple of visit, I enjoyed the brisket, baby back ribs and pulled pork. Each meat, cooked onsite at the kiosk, has a distinctive wood-smoked flavor.
The potato salad and cole slaw are also satisfying, although one slight criticism was I felt the baked beans were a bit too al dente for my taste.
Still, Pig in a Pickle is creating a buzz among BBQ lovers. During one visit, I sat next to a group of men who were enthusiastically discussing the smokiness and texture of the meat, which they felt was worth the slightly higher price (The brisket sells for $28 a pound). Now that’s high praise when people spend just as much time talking about the food as they do eating it.
Opened in October is the fast-casual Korean restaurant NabiQ, which is the modern reinterpretation of the former Sorabol kiosk, a tenant in the Public Market’s former iteration. It’s your typical Korean fast food with several choices of BBQ meats and sides, but with an expanded menu that includes non-traditional dishes such as basil chicken and garlic shrimp.
When I tried NabiQ’s BBQ chicken lunch box, it was a lot of food with the meat and japchae (glass noodles), but was pretty underwhelming in flavor and presentation. The chicken had a watery teriyaki glaze, and the side of steamed broccoli and carrots were disappointing, considering Korean restaurants are known for flavorful banchan (side dishes) like kimchi, crunchy pickled cucumbers and marinated bean sprouts.
NabiQ is Public Market’s second stall serving Korean-style fare. In comparison to Koja Kitchen, which started as popular food truck serving inventive Korean-Japanese dishes like sandwiches made with crispy rice buns and Asian fusion tacos, it feels a bit average.
The Public Bar by Blush
Commanding a large presence smack dab in the center of the market is the new Public Bar by Blush, which also opened in October. It’s an open sports bar with friendly bartenders and an early and late happy hour.
Opened by the people behind a similarly named Blush Ice Bar in San Jose’s San Pedro Square, the bar attracts a big crowd on most weekend nights, helping to bridge the Public Market from the lunch rush to evening dinner scene. Public Bar joins two other eateries serving up alcohol, Paradita Eatery, which serves Peruvian-influenced cocktails and Shiba Ramen’s The Periodic Table taproom and sake bar, which focuses on Japanese and local craft beers, ciders, meads, sake and distilled spirits.
On a Friday night, I ordered one of The Public Bar’s specialty cocktail, a “Ginger Tea Mule,” its version of a Moscow Mule. It was a balanced drink with a definite spicy kick from the Ginger Canton liqueur and ginger beer. There’s a selection of 100 bottled beers and wines, many from local wineries and even some from the East Bay.
Food comes from the kitchen at Public Market’s Hot Italian, featuring choices like pizzas and antipasto. I snacked on the “piatto di salumi formaggi,” a plate with three cured meat options and three cheeses. The selection of meats and cheese were straightforward, but flat in flavor. It’s a shame the food didn’t pair with the quality of my drink.
Blush is also known for frosted ice drinks, which I have to come back and try when the weather gets warmer.
Benjamin Seto is the voice behind Focus:Snap:Eat, where he dishes on food at restaurants and shops in the Bay Area, in his kitchen, and from his culinary adventures.