Bites: Brenda’s Oakland opens; Bay Area’s oldest African market to close; Noodles Fresh coming to Berkeley

Beignets and Hangtown Fry on a Bun (in the background) at Brenda's Oakland.
Beignets and Hangtown Fry on a Bun (in the background) at Brenda’s Oakland. Photo: Sarah Han

BIG EASY IN THE EAST BAY The much-anticipated North Oakland outpost of San Francisco favorite, Brenda’s French Soul Food opened its doors Monday morning. Brenda’s Oakland is a fast-casual restaurant, offering hearty New Orleans classics from chef Brenda Buenviaje, a Big Easy native. This is the first East Bay location from Buenviaje and her wife, Libby Truesdell, who co-own three spots across the Bay — the original location on Polk Street, Libby Jane Café and Brenda’s Meat and Three.

Brenda’s Oakland is currently open for breakfast and lunch (8 a.m. to 3 p.m.), with dinner service launching Thursday. The menu is expansive, meaning you’ll probably need to make several visits (and come hungry or with lots of friends), to make a dent in the offerings. There are egg dishes, breakfast sandwiches, French toasts and other a.m.-focused delights (served until 3 p.m.), along with lunch and dinner fare (starting at 11 a.m.), like Brenda’s fried chicken with hot pepper jelly (by the piece or in combo plates), po’boy sandwiches, offered with meat, seafood or veg-friendly fillings; four styles of hot beignets (plain, chocolate, apple, crawfish); salads; Southern-style sides and comforting Cajun dishes like jambalaya, red beans n’ rice and chicken étoufée. Special beverages to note are sweet watermelon tea, Grandma’s Molasses-Black Walnut Iced Coffee with whipped cream, milkshakes and a small menu of boozy offerings, like Hurricane Andrew (a tropical rum punch), Creole Bloody Mary and Coup De Café (“coffee with a kick”). For the tots, there’s a kid’s menu with mini po’boys, fried chicken strips and breakfast dishes.

Nosh stopped in on opening day, when we tried the Hangtown Fry on a Bun, a sandwich-version of the California Gold Rush-era specialty, with fried oyster, bacon, scallion scramble, tomato, a few dashes of hot sauce and a creamy pink remoulade on a butter-toasted bun. We also ordered a plate of hot, fluffy beignets, sprinkled generously with powdered sugar. Whatever you order, be sure to grab a few pieces of pickled watermelon rinds, offered in a self-service jar at the bar.

Brenda’s is on the bottom floor of the Maya Apartments on Broadway, with indoor table and bar seating and a large outdoor patio. Starting Thursday, Brenda’s Oakland will be open 8 a.m. to 9 p.m., Wednesday through Monday; closed Tuesdays. Brenda’s Oakland, 4045 Broadway (at 41st), Oakland


A SPECIAL GOODBYE The Bay Area’s oldest African grocery store, Specialty Foods in Old Oakland, is closing. Although the store planned to shutter Sept. 28 after 42 years in business, it has extended its last days to sell off its remaining inventory. Yesterday, the shop announced it would offer items at a 40% discount.

Specialty Foods was opened by Filipino immigrants, Baltazar and Adelaida Castro in 1977. First called Oriental Lucky Mart, the Castros started by selling Filipino groceries, but in the ’80s began to offer African specialty ingredients for its growing West African customer base. Immigrants from Nigeria, Ghana and other nations living across the Bay Area would seek out the Castro’s shop for seasonings, sauces, palm oil and other hard-to-find African staples. In 2009, when Baltazar died and Adelaida retired, their daughter Nina Cruz took over the business. She changed the name of the market to Specialty Foods, Inc., but has kept its focus on African goods.

Nosh spoke with Cruz on the phone, who said there were many reasons for closing the store, but the main factor is to put “family first.” Cruz is about five weeks away from having her first child. She explained that running the store is an all-consuming job; in her family’s 42 years of owning the market, they only took two or three vacations together. Cruz said she had hoped to find a new buyer to take over Specialty Foods, but couldn’t find one who could commit to the business like the Castros did.

Cruz said the final day of business will depend on how fast she sells the inventory — it could be a few days or a week from now — but that the store still has plenty of its most popular items, like frozen Jamaican patties, salt fish, fufu flours and African snacks. If you’ve yet to visit Specialty Foods, head over to this Oakland institution before it’s too late. (Thanks to Liam O’Donoghue of the East Bay Yesterday podcast for bringing this news to our attention.) Specialty Foods, 535 8th St. (between Washington and Clay), Oakland

[Updated: Oct. 9, 1:23 p.m., 3:16 p.m.] ET TU, CLOVE & HOOF? Late last week, an application for ownership change went up at Oakland’s Clove & Hoof butcher shop and restaurant. According to the notice, a new eatery called The Liberties from Jacob’s Restaurant Management, Inc. may take over, but Clove & Hoof owner John Blevins told Nosh that the restaurant is still open and plans to be “for a while.”

Clove & Hoof was opened in 2014 by Blevins and Analiesa Gosnell. The business focuses on whole-animal butchery using sustainably raised animals from California ranches, like Jenner Family Farms, Llano Seco, Devil’s Gulch and Emigh, which it offers as raw cuts at the meat counter or prepared in various delicious sandwiches and other dishes at its restaurant.

If, and when the sale, becomes finalized, Blevins said the restaurant will likely not change much, as he plans to stay on as a consultant to train the new management team “to sustain the same quality.” The restaurant will be in good hands under the new owners, he added, as it “has extensive experience in the restaurant industry.” So, it sounds like we still have a chance to get our fix of C&H Burgers, but just for good measure, we recommend heading down there soon — and often. Clove & Hoof, 4001 Broadway (at 40th), Oakland

FAREWELL, FERTILE GROUNDS A tipster sent us word that Fertile Grounds Café at 1796 Shattuck Ave. is no longer in business. A sign in the window, spotted last Wednesday, said the café would be closed temporarily, but when Nosh attempted to call the café yesterday, the phone number was no longer connected. We were able to reach the owner at Fertile Grounds via Facebook, who confirmed that the cafe was sold, but had no further details to share.

The Mob Plate featuring planted-based barbecue and side dishes from Vegan Mob.
The Mob Plate featuring planted-based barbecue and side dishes from Vegan Mob. Photo: Vegan Mob

VEGAN BBQ IN OAKLAND Over the weekend, Oakland’s new veg-friendly restaurant, Vegan Mob, was the one to get mobbed. Formerly a pop-up, chef-owner Toriano Gordon’s plant-based soul food and barbecue has a devoted following. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, an hour before the restaurant’s grand opening Saturday, a line of people had already wrapped around the day-glo neon green building (last occupied by Merritt Bakery, but best known as the Kwik Way Drive-In). Within six hours, Vegan Mob had completely sold out of food, not only for the day, but for the next day, too. Gordon replenished his supply and reopened Monday. So what’s the fuss about? Bay Area vegetarians and vegans are wild about his meat- and dairy-free versions of gumbo, barbecued “meats,” po’boy-style sandwiches and sides. Another favorite is the Barbequito, which stuffs vegan brisket (sourced from Oakland’s Veg Hub) into a tortilla, with mac n’ cheese, coleslaw, BBQ baked beans, guacamole and Gordon’s signature “mob sauce.” Vegan Mob is open 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5-9 p.m., Tuesday to Friday; 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., Saturday and Sunday. Vegan Mob, 500 Lake Park (between Walker and Rand), Oakland  

NOODS TO KNOW El Cerrito’s well-liked regional Chinese restaurant, Noodles Fresh, is opening a second outpost in Berkeley. Tipster Sean Rouse spotted an ABC notice for the new restaurant to come on Shattuck Avenue, in the space last occupied by Barclay’s. According to co-owners Tom and Wenyan Petersen, the new location will likely open in early 2020.

As with its original San Pablo Avenue location, the Berkeley Noodles Fresh will offer a wide variety of Chinese noodle plates, soup bowls and rice plates, including many vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options. The Petersens said the locale to come will offer the same lunch menu as in El Cerrito — dishes like Jiangxi Noodle Salad, Guilin Beef Tendon Stew and Sichuan Dan Dan — but a whole new dinner menu. Refreshments will include Chinese imported teas, local craft beers, California wines and sparkling juices. Noodles Fresh, 2430 Shattuck Ave. (at Channing), Berkeley

CHAI THAI UPDATE Chai Thai Noodles Berkeley will open on Thursday; it will be on the ground floor at the Higby Apartments. The restaurant took to Instagram to announce its opening day. This will be the fourth restaurant for the owners, who operate Chai Thai Noodles in Oakland and Hayward, and Saap Avenue on Piedmont Avenue in Oakland. Chai Thai Noodles, 3015 San Pablo Ave. (at Ashby), Berkeley

East Bay Provisions at the Claremont hotel in Berkeley.
East Bay Provisions at the Claremont Club & Spa in Berkeley. Rendering courtesy of Matt Winter of M. Winter Design

CASUAL EATS AT CLAREMONT HOTEL This week, the Claremont Hotel shared news of a new casual café coming to its grounds. Under the direction of executive chef Arwi Odense and executive pastry chef A.J. Thalakkat, East Bay Provisions will serve artisan coffee, breads and deli sandwiches, for dine-in or take-out. Expect the café to open in late fall.

East Bay Provisions will be the first new dining option to come to the Claremont since its flagship restaurant, Meritage, closed in early 2018. In case you’re wondering, the café is not taking over the Meritage space, but is found at the hotel’s carriage entrance. The Claremont’s remaining full-service restaurant, Limewood Bar & Restaurant, is still open, but the opening of East Bay Provisions will temporarily suspend service at its poolside Bayview Café (to reopen next spring). East Bay Provisions at Claremont Club & Spa, 41 Tunnel Rd., Berkeley

Signs for Northside Berkeley favorite Snack Shack, which relocated to Euclid Aven
Northside Berkeley favorite Snack Shack relocated to Euclid Avenue. Photo: Joanna Della Penna

FUNKY LITTLE SHACK Last month, Northside Berkeley’s Snack Shack did a little switcheroo, closing its four-year-old spot on Hearst Avenue and reopening in bigger digs around the corner on Euclid. Snack Shack is now in the former Matiki Island BBQ space, where it offers more seating for diners hungry for its munchie-satisfying menu of burgers, sandwiches, salads, loaded waffle fries and milkshakes. As noted by the Daily Cal, co-owners Scott Wortmann and Rachel Spector have converted the former Snack Shack location to Snack Box, a quick-service restaurant that will remain open until the space’s lease expires in a year. Snack Box’s focus is halal fried chicken and portobello mushroom sandwiches, cheesy ramen noodles and craft beers. Snack Shack, 1828 Euclid Ave. (at Hearst), Berkeley; Snack Box, 2505 Hearst Ave. (at Euclid), Berkeley

BERKELEY GETS ITS MO’JOE BACK We’re happy to report that South Berkeley coffee shop Mo’Joe has reopened, following a small fire that shuttered the ground-floor café in early August. It’s been back in business for about two weeks now, according to co-owner Adil Mouftakir. Although some reconstruction was necessary, Mo’Joe was able to bounce back fairly quickly, as it was primarily affected by water damage caused by the building’s sprinkler system, set off by the blaze. Mo’Joe Café,  2517 Sacramento St. (at Dwight), Berkeley

A bag of coffee beans and packaging from Higher Land, a new micro coffee roastery in Berkeley.
Higher Land is a new micro coffee roastery in Berkeley. Photo: Higher Land

COFFEE + ART Berkeley has a new micro-coffee roastery called Higher Land, run by married couple and artists Sabrina Zheng and Lobsang Thinley. Higher Lands started selling its small-batch specialty coffee online earlier this year. Along with being organically grown, naturally processed and locally roasted (at Berkeley’s CoRo), Higher Land’s coffee is fair trade; the couple primarily sources its beans from small lot farmers around the world. Higher Land currently offers three single-origin coffees — a light-medium roast from Colombia, a medium roast from Ethiopia and a medium-dark roast from India — and two blends, Sun & Surf (light roast) and Moon & Tides (dark roast). Zheng, a graphic designer and ceramicist, created the company’s branding and packaging; Thinley, a freelance filmmaker, is the one with the coffee background. The couple are still active in the arts community and see this foray into coffee as a new way to connect with like-minded people, many who are “side-hustle” artists, too. For now, Higher Land sells its coffee on its website and at various maker markets around the Bay Area. Its next appearances will be at the San Francisco Coffee Festival (Nov. 2-3 at Fort Mason) and Renegade San Francisco (Nov. 16 at Fort Mason).

JUICY FRUIT On Oct. 19, Ruth Bancroft Garden & Nursery in Walnut Creek will host a unique tour and tasting event highlighting some of the garden’s lesser-known edible plants — cactus and palm fruits. Garden curator Brian Kemble will lead two separate tours, a morning session at 10 a.m. and an afternoon session at 1 p.m. Tickets are $35 ($30 for members). Ruth Bancroft Garden & Nursery,  1552 Bancroft Rd., Walnut Creek

A TRIBUTE TO JULIA CHILD An upcoming Sunday Supper at Homestead Restaurant raises a glass (or two) to the beloved departed chef and television cooking icon, Julia Child. The menu will start with French-inspired snacks served on a board — cheese, radishes with sea salt and herb butter, duck liver pate. The main course is classic Julia: Coq au Vin, braised chicken with baby carrots, turnips, hen of the woods mushrooms, served with scalloped potatoes and petit greens salad. And finally, dessert will be a bittersweet chocolate mousse. Seatings are available between 4:30 and 8:30 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 20. Homestead Restaurant, 4029 Piedmont Ave. (at 41st), Oakland