12/05/2008 CONTRA COSTA TIMES.COM
I’VE NEVER UNDERSTOOD why the birthplace of California Cuisine is nicknamed “Gourmet Ghetto.”
But mine is not to reason why. It is to eat — and eat is what I did on a recent culinary tour of the famed North Shattuck Village in Berkeley.
North Shattuck Village runs along Shattuck from Delaware to Rose, with a short jog up Vine Street. The epicenter is Chez Panisse, which needs no introduction. But what’s sprung up around Alice Waters’ famed restaurant is a smattering of artisan eateries that make this neighborhood a dining destination.
Lisa Rogovin is what you call an Epicurean Concierge. She takes “foodies” on walking tours of the Gourmet Ghetto that highlight local restaurants, wineries, bakeries and collectives. Her list includes such longtime favorites as the original Peet’s Coffee in Walnut Square and the popular Cheese Board Collective.
But all along Shattuck and Vine there are eclectic new offerings, like the shops inside Epicurious Garden.
Once a family-owned electronics store, (and before that, a movie theater circa 1916), Epicurious Garden is now home to eight gourmet food purveyors. My favorites are the sweet spots, Alegio Chocolates and Ciao Bella Gelato. But Picoso has savory Mexican food and Soop has — you guessed it — hearty homestyle soups. No matter what you order, you can take it out to the garden and dine near a soothing waterfall.
Other offerings on the culinary tour include cupcakes from scratch (they really do taste better) at First Bite Cupcakery and Bakery; crispy potato puffs at a little eatery called Gregoire’s; and New York pastrami at Saul’s Delicatessen.No decent dine-around is complete without wine, and Vine Street has one of the most interesting locations for a wine shop — an old water pumping station. A historic landmark from the 1930s, the East Bay Municipal Utility District building is home to a neighborhood wine merchant called Vintage Berkeley. There are free daily tastings from 4 to 7 p.m.
Taking a tour of the Gourmet Ghetto, it’s easy to see why Berkeley’s new slogan is “Come for the Culture, Stay for the Food.” It’s a good thing I live close enough to come back — again and again.