The King’s Feet gives comforting Italian classics the vegan treatment

This new Berkeley restaurant from The Butcher’s Son team makes creative, plant-based Italian fare that, while not traditional, is deeply flavorful and satisfying.

Ricotta and spinach stuffed manicotti, a wild mushroom pizza and a piece of Tiramisu, all courtesy of The King's Feet in Berkeley. Photo: Pete Rosos
The King’s Feet in Berkeley specializes in all-vegan Italian fare, including pastas, pizzas and desserts. Photo: Pete Rosos

Classic Italian dishes — many heavy on cream, cheese and meats — aren’t typical vegan fare. But Peter Fikaris and Christina Stobing have given Italian cuisine a successful vegan makeover at their new restaurant, The King’s Feet, on University Avenue.

The brother-sister team did a similarly impressive turn at The Butcher’s Son, their vegan delicatessen and bakery further east on University, that usually has a line out front. Early enthusiastic reviews suggest the deeply flavorful, plant-based dishes available at The King’s Feet, located in a large, comfortably appointed space formerly home to Pizza Moda, may soon have similarly long lines.

“We were approached by Elliot Harrison, the owner of Pizza Moda, about partnering to open an entirely vegan Italian restaurant in Moda’s place,” Fikaris told me in an email. “Opening a vegan Italian restaurant was something we had talked about doing for years. With The Butcher’s Son already producing the products needed, it made sense to move forward with the project. Italian vegan food like what we’re offering had been lacking in the Bay Area, so we were very motivated to create The King’s Feet.”

With the siblings in charge of the restaurant’s concept, menu and recipes, and Harrison running its day-to-day operations as the manager, the partners had originally planned to open a sit-down restaurant. But then the pandemic happened.

The King’s Feet co-owners Christina Stobing and Elliot Harrison; Peter Fikaris is the third business partner. September 26, 2020. Photo: Pete Rosos

“Our opening date was set for a week after the shelter-in-place hit. We decided to push out our opening date until mid-April. But we realized the situation with COVID could go on for months, which we could not afford to wait out. So we opened mid-April with takeout only,” Fikaris said.

The partners are exploring if and how they might use their large parking lot for outdoor dining. For now, hours are limited to 5-7:30 p.m., Thursday and Sunday, and until 8:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, which Fikaris says is less than ideal.

“Our business hours have been cut in half and we’re only open four days a week at the moment, which is crazy. It takes hours to prep for service and set up, to only be open for a couple of hours and then shut it all down again,” Fikaris said. “The situation for dine-in service restaurants right now is very desperate.”

The indoor dining area of The King’s Feet is currently closed; the owners are considering using their large parking lot for outdoor dining. Photo: Pete Rosos

On my recent visit, pickup was quick and easy, and service was friendly and helpful. A table set up at a side entrance had hand sanitizer, napkins and a cup of clean pens for signing the receipt, which was set out for me in a glass. There was no line when I arrived, just a couple of masked people chatting and nibbling on takeout on a long bench along the outside of the building, where it was easy to socially distance.

The current menu offers a couple of appetizers, salads, desserts, more pasta and pizza options, as well as California wines by the bottle or glass, canned beers and Italian soda. Although all ingredients are plant-based, the menu uses traditional, typically non-vegan names for many ingredients, like pepperoni, chicken and the various cheeses.

“We initially planned on a more entree/pasta-heavy menu with fresh house-made pastas, but far more pizzas were selling than anything else. Fresh pastas weren’t working as a takeout option as they were sticking together after sitting in a box for a while. We still have a few pastas and appetizers on the menu but we’ve shifted to primarily a pizza place,” Fikaris said.

Four pasta dishes were on the menu the Sunday night I ordered. The manicotti of the week was terrific — no complaints at all. The brown compostable takeout box contained three pasta shells stuffed with whipped ricotta, ground Beyond Beef (a pretty good approximation to slow-cooked, ground beef), mushrooms and fennel, all blanketed in a creamy Alfredo sauce, topped with sundried tomato, vegan mozzarella and Parmesan, chopped parsley, deep-fried rosemary and crushed red chili flakes.

According to Fikaris, the cheeses at The King’s Feet are primarily made from cashews and coconut oil, with the “cheesy” flavor coming from a rejuvelac (fermented grain milk) made from sprouted quinoa. Dairy can be a challenge for vegans and obviously critical to making a decent Italian dish. I’m not sure I could separately identify the various cheeses, but the combined effect was rich and very satisfying.

The baked manicotti at The King’s Feet. Photo: Pete Rosos

The calamari appetizer ($9), King Trumpet mushrooms heavily breaded with a seasoned panko crust, deep-fried and served with a creamy orange chili fish dipping sauce, was chewy like squid, and nori bits gave it a seafood-y taste. It was plenty for four people.

The Caesar salad, a mix of chopped little gem lettuces, house-made dressing, fried capers, Parmesan, croutons and lemon, comes in two sizes ($8 for small, $13 for large). Tasty, salty and satisfying, the dressing is lighter than a conventional Caesar.

The menu has seven wood-fired pizzas from which to choose and a build-your-own option. If Yelp endorsements are any indication, the Silence of the Clams ($21), made with spinach, Maitake mushroom clams, shaved Parmesan, fried capers, garlic wine sauce, scallions and pickled red onion on a creamy white sauce, is a big favorite.

The wild mushrooms pizza is topped with chanterelle, oyster and truffle oil-marinated wood ear mushrooms, a white sauce, kale, garlic cloves, fennel, Parmesan and black pepper. Photo: Pete Rosos

I tried the Pepperoni Bianca ($28), which had a generous scattering of spicy, house-made Impossible Meat pepperoni that provided a lot of flavor. There was also white sauce, roasted garlic, spinach, mushrooms, mozzarella and Parmesan, all on a sourdough crust. The crust on the Bianca was closer to bread, with a heavy crumb and on the chewy side. (Fikaris says crusts differ in thickness and bubbliness, pizza to pizza. A gluten-free option is available for all pizzas and pasta dishes.)

The thickly cut pepperoni looked like slices of chunky tofu sausage, rather than the paper-thin rounds typically associated with the topping. The mozzarella was more like a thick sauce. The pizza was good eating, but like the Caesar dressing, maybe suffered a bit for semantics. The names of the ingredients set the eater up to expect a particular appearance and texture, but deliver something different. (This might bother non-vegans more than vegans, though.) Other options for pizza include sausage, wild mushrooms, margherita, chicken pineapple, and chicken pesto, ranging in price from $16-$28.

“When dine-in service resumes, we’ll definitely expand our menu. Since we haven’t had the opportunity to offer dine-in service yet, knowing what sort of restaurant we actually are is up in the air. We could just be a pizza place with other options and not know it yet,” Fikaris said.

There are two desserts on offer, New York cheesecake ($6.50) and tiramisu ($8). The tiramisu — made with gluten and cashews, alternating layers of sponge-y cake and sweet cream, and spiced with cocoa and espresso — was delicious. (Not surprising, considering the well-done confections at The Butcher’s Son.)

The tiramisu at The King’s Feet. Photo: Pete Rosos

Portions at The King’s Feet are generous. The five dishes we ordered fed four people with leftovers. In sum, very well-done vegan Italian fare, great service and a convenient location. And if you, like me, are wondering about the significance of the name:

“The name means of the highest quality, top-shelf,” Fikaris said. “Historically the feet of a great leader, a king, queen, spiritual or religious leader, were always kissed, washed, held. We wanted something original, a name that would stand out. We have a slight tarot theme worked into our concept and this fits with that.”

The King’s Feet takes pre-orders by phone (510-841-5200) beginning at 4 p.m. for pickup from 5:30-7:30 p.m., Thursday and Sunday; 5:30-8:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday. It’s recommended to call in orders early, as some items sell out.