Augie’s Montreal Deli takes over Brennan’s; Chez Panisse tries breakfast

Plus: Oakland Restaurant Week returns; Popoca aims for a brick-and-mortar; Square Pie Guys is coming to Oakland; more East Bay food news.

Montreal-style smoke meat sandwich from Augie's Montreal Deli. Photo: Augie's Montreal Deli
Augie’s Montreal Deli will bring its smoke meat brisket to 700 Essex Way, the former home of Brennan’s Restaurant. Photo: Augie’s Montreal Deli

Augie’s Montreal Deli pays its ultimate tribute to Brennan’s

Lex Gopnik-Lewinski, owner of Augie’s Montreal Deli, has always had a soft spot for Brennan’s Restaurant, the now-closed Berkeley institution that for 60 years, served hearty, old-fashioned hot plates of carved meats and sides. His family had been regulars since the late ’80s and he knew many other locals were too, so for the past two years since Brennan’s closed, Gopnik-Lewinski has paid homage to the defunct hofbrau by serving up Brennan’s-style hot plates at Augie’s on St. Patrick’s Day.

This year — hopefully, in just a few days — Gopnik-Lewinski will pay the ultimate tribute to Brennan’s when he reopens his nearly three-year-old Montreal-style Jewish deli in the space that last housed Brennan’s. Augie’s moved out of its original space, at 875 Potter St., on Dec. 24. Gopnik-Lewinski said the move happened because his lease was up and as Augie’s wasn’t in an ideal location anyway, finding a new space seemed like the best choice. Upon walking into the vacant Brennan’s Restaurant, Gopnik-Lewinski said, “it feels like home.” And, the new spot has plenty of free parking — 24 dedicated spots! Gopnik-Lewinski also told Nosh that he is looking into reopening the bar at the new space by bringing in an outside partner to run it.

While Gopnik-Lewinski had hoped Augie’s would be open at the new spot by now, it’s looking like grand re-opening will be on Jan. 9 or 10*, or whenever he can submit the final remote fire alarm permit — “We’re just waiting on one little piece of paper,” Gopnik-Lewinski said. [*Gopnik-Lewinski gave Nosh an update on Jan. 7 that it’s likely the restaurant will not be open until Jan. 13 or later due to city permitting delays.]

When that day comes and he can open the doors, Augie’s will serve its smoke meat brisket sandwiches, salads and plates; latkes; poutine and other favorites, but there’s more in store, and yes, there’s a Brennan’s hook. Gopnik-Lewinski tells Nosh there will be a Brennan’s plate, featuring brisket, boiled cabbage and potato, on Augie’s everyday menu “to respect the space we are moving into.” He’s also hoping that fellow Brennan’s fans will help him decorate the restaurant with old photos of Brennan’s — even pictures of their families enjoying meals there. “We have some room on the walls and would like to pay respects,” he said. Augie’s Montreal Deli will be at 700 Essex Way (at University Avenue), Berkeley


Seawolf Public House reopens on Saturday

In early December, Dan Hagerty, owner of Seawolf Public House, got some bad news — he would have to temporarily close the Jack London Square pub immediately due to a leak in the basement that had caused severe water damage to the building. Necessary repairs were extensive, Hagerty told Nosh; he ended up having to replace his whole walk-in and throw out all the inventory inside it. Worse yet, he had to lay off his staff while the business went dark. Hagerty said the unfortunate circumstances truly felt like an appropriate “finale of 2020.”

Like most other restaurants, Seawolf had been struggling since March to make it on takeout sales, and before the abrupt closure, Hagerty was planning to sell Seawolf branded merch and redesign the menu to offer take-and-bake dishes just in time for the holidays. He had to put that all on hold to deal with the more urgent matters at hand.

With repairs made and inventory restocked, Hagerty said he is in the process of bringing back his staff this week, and by Saturday, they will be ready to welcome back customers for takeout. Hagerty plans to start Seawolf back up slowly, to ensure things restart without a hitch. Still, the pub will be up and running with its regular hours and full takeout menu this weekend to ensure customers get their favorite grub. The neighborhood regulars have “supported [Seawolf] like crazy,” Hagerty said, adding jokingly, “They hang out at Seawolf more than I am at Seawolf… I couldn’t be here without them.” Seawolf will be open 9:30 a.m. to 9 p.m., Saturday; 9:30 a.m. to 8 p.m., Sunday; 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m., Tuesday through Friday. Seawolf Public House, 350 Fourth St. (at Webster Street), Oakland

Chez Panisse experiments with breakfast service

Alice Waters, right, stands in front of Chez Panisse on Jan. 6, the day of the restaurant's first breakfast takeout service. Photo: Doug Ng
Alice Waters, right, stands in front of Chez Panisse on Jan. 6, the day of the restaurant’s breakfast takeout service. Photo: Doug Ng

This morning, Chez Panisse had a breakfast service, offering a.m. delights like English muffins, homemade granola, galette des rois (a King cake, celebrating Epiphany), and coffee to-go on a first-come, first-served basis. (According to owner Alice Waters in a post on Instagram, this is the first time that Chez Panisse offered breakfast since the restaurant tried a brunch service for about two months in the ’80s.) Berkeleyside staffer Doug Ng was on the scene this morning, where he joined a queue of excited customers waiting to get their breakfast treats. Waters was on-site, standing outside and surveying the scene.

We checked in with general manager Varun Mehra last night, who said Chez is in the process of developing its morning menu and plans to start doing regular breakfast service by February. Chez Panisse, 1517 Shattuck Ave. (near Vine Street) Berkeley 

Oakland Restaurant Week is back

Oakland Restaurant Week starts up again this Thursday, and you’ll have until Jan. 18 to take advantage of specials from a good number of eateries — for now, nearly 40, and likely, more to come. For this iteration, Oakland Restaurant Week is expanding its cast of participants to include more food-and-drink businesses who’ve been hurting during the pandemic, including several breweries, wineries, pop-ups, food trucks and caterers. Along with a solid list of great returning restaurants, this year’s roster includes notable newcomers to the event, like Eating Saigon, from chef Hai, who’s been hawking home-cooked Vietnamese dishes to neighbors in North Oakland and Emeryville for the past five years (he also owns a well-regarded restaurant in Saigon); Kitava, which makes the food at the new gluten-free Buck Wild Brewing Taproom; Grand Lake Kitchen Dimond’s new pizza operation, Carbona Pizza; downtown gem Daughter’s Diner and a surprise guest appearance by Berkeley’s Limewood Bar & Restaurant. Support your local restaurants!

Popoca aims to become a brick-and-mortar

Popoca chef Anthony Salguero cooks most of his dishes on comals set over a wood-fire grill. Photo: Momo Chang

[Updated Jan. 11] For the past year, chef Anthony Salguero has been holding court at the Classic Cars West beer garden, impressing Oakland diners with his Salvadoran cuisine at his permanent pop-up Popoca. Salguero — a chef with a fine-dining background — cooks up pupusas, along with traditional (but lesser-known in this area) Salvadoran dishes, using local, seasonal California ingredients. What sets Popoca apart is Salguero’s set-up, a grill hovering above burning logs of wood, where the chef cooks or finishes most of his dishes — the smoky flavor from the burning wood adds another dimension to even a simple bean and cheese pupusa.

This week, Salguero announced on Instagram his intention to transform Popoca from a pop-up to a dedicated brick-and-mortar restaurant. The vision, he wrote in his post, is to create a restaurant “centered around an open outdoor kitchen with the fire at its center, visible to those dining, so that the warmth and offerings of the embers may show not only in the food but in the space as well.” But rather than move to a new location, Salguero will be staying put to make his vision a reality. According to Eater SF, Salguero will be taking over Classic Cars West with the help of Brandi Brown, former co-owner of FOB Kitchen. Salguero will be launching a Kickstarter on Jan. 11 (a link and more details to come on Popoca’s Instagram page next week). If you’ve yet to try Salguero’s food and need a bit of convincing, take note that Popoca is participating in Oakland Restaurant Week. From Jan. 7-18, it’s offering two $20 takeout specials — one with a wood-fired roasted chicken sandwich, the other with two cheese, chayote and parsley pupusas; both plates are served with casamiento (rice and beans mixed together), escabeche, curtido, crema and a dessert. Popoca, at Classic Cars West beer garden, 411 26th St. (between Telegraph and Broadway), Oakland

Square Pie Guys bring Detroit-style pizza to Old Oakland

Detroit-style pies from Square Pie Guys. Photo: Square Pie Guys/Facebook
Detroit-style pies from Square Pie Guys. Photo: Square Pie Guys/Facebook

San Francisco’s Square Pie Guys, a pop-up turned restaurant that popularized Detroit-style pizza in the Bay Area, is opening an outpost in Old Oakland, taking over the former Benchmark Pizzeria space. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, owners Danny Stoller and Marc Schechter (who in 2018, made 100 pizzas to feed unhoused residents at an East Oakland encampment) had actually planned to open their debut restaurant in Oakland, where they live, but their SOMA spot got off the ground first. The Oakland Square Pie Guys location, which will be counter-service and have outdoor seating once that’s allowed again, will serve a similar menu to the one offered at its San Francisco restaurant. Expect several varieties of rectangular, cheddar cheese-topped pies, salads, burgers, chicken sandwiches — and thanks to its full liquor license — cocktails. Square Pie Guys aims to open in February. Square Pie Guys will be at 499 Ninth St. (at Washington), Oakland

Koolfi Creamery names a new ice cream flavor for Kamala Harris

Kamala Blossom, an ice cream flavor from Koolfi Creamery, features lotus seeds, rose water and pistachio. Photo: Koolfi Creamery
Kamala Blossom, an ice cream flavor from Koolfi Creamery named after Kamala Harris, features lotus seeds, rose water and pistachio. Photo: Koolfi Creamery

San Leandro-based Koolfi Creamery, which specializes in Indian-inflected ice creams, has named its newest flavor, Kamala Blossom, in honor of Vice President-elect Kamala Harris. Koolfi owner Priti Rama Narayanan explains that “Kamala” means “pink lotus” in Sanskrit, so the flavor includes lotus seeds, along with two other common Indian dessert ingredients — rose water and pistachio. In a release shared with Nosh, Naranyan explains the ice cream is not only a tribute to Harris becoming the first Black, first Indian-American and first woman vice president of the United States, but a nod to her Indian immigrant mother and to all strong, ambitious women who defy the odds and stand up for themselves.

Naranyan identifies as queer and runs Koolfi with her wife Madhuri Anji, who also feels a strong connection to Harris. “Kamala officiated the first gay marriage in California after DOMA (the Defense of Marriage Act) fell,” Anji said. “To see someone who is biracial and of Indian heritage, like me, so visibly support gay marriage truly mattered to me and I think someone who stands for equality and fairness is much needed in DC right now.” Kamala Blossom is a limited edition flavor that’s currently available online at Koolfi’s website and at several Bay Area stores, including Bomaby Spice House in Berkeley and Farmer Joe’s in Oakland.

Sarah Han is Senior Editor, Nosh of Berkeleyside and Oaklandside. Email: sarah@berkeleyside.com.