The Gourmet Ghetto

Every day I ride my bike the 2.25 miles up  Milvia from my house to the Gourmet Ghetto, taking in the smells of each eatery as I breeze past them. They each remind me of different things, different times in my lives, different jobs I have had over the years, and how very fortunate I have become to be living in this great city, surrounded by Ground Zero of the food revolution. Every scent that drifts past reminds me of how lucky we are to have this, and how desperate I am to share it with everyone.

Au Coquelet is always the first, the distinct smell of traditional American comfort foods permeates the corner of University ave that it occupies. Fried eggs, bacon, melted cheese, potatoes…Day or night, til 1 in the morning… their presence is always a beacon for those late nights on the ride home when everything else is closed… and I have been known to ride miles for their cheesecake (since they won’t tell me where it was bought).

The next is Oscars. Unmistakably, burgers and grilled onions. This is one place I can sadly say I have never been in my 8 years living in and around Berkeley. So much of my life was spent as a vegetarian… and that “Veggie” sticker on the window was so unconvincing alongside the savory smells that wafted out of that place. Maybe now that I have retired from my vegetarianism, I will consider visiting the place whose smell taunts my hungry ride up the hill every morning.

Then Virginia Bakery. I don’t know their baking schedule, but they never dissapoint with the thick sweet smells of cakes and cookies and other treats that linger around the block and the nearby elementary school, whos’ teachers are likely bloated from the glut of good food in the neighborhood.

Next, there is Gregoires. I pray I never meet the man, my urge to kiss him would be overwhelming. That Willie Bird Sandwich made me a believer… those damn potato puffs made me a follower. I am never at a loss for something to eat there. I can never get enough of that place, though I reserve my visits there for the 1st and the 15th of the month.

How can you possibly hit this next stretch of North Shattuck without knowing right away that you had come up on the Cheeseboard. Even hours before the pizza place opens, the Cheese Shop and bakery are terrorizing the neighborhood with the smell of absolute divinity. Those Corn and Cherry Scones! Those fresh baked English Muffins! Crusty hot – from – the – oven baguettes with french butter! Hallelujah! Working across the street from this place is the worst part of every day… pining away wondering what’s on the menu, watching people walking in and out smugly with their half-eaten slices, fishing for an extra 1/2 sliver by asking every other customer picking up a pint of Thai Red Lentil to go with their pizza “So… what kind of pizza is that?” Cheeseboard how you haunt me.

Every day I find another reason to love Berkeley. Today as I was shadowing Lisa with “In the Kitchen With Lisa” Culinary tours, we stopped in at Saul’s Delicattessen. Let me just say plainly that over the years, I have not given this place enough credit. I will again have to lean heavily on blaming my vegetarianism for this, as I could find very few things to eat there 6 years ago, and I kind of brushed it off since then. My recent rediscovery of the joy of Pastrami was just in time for todays tour, because Saul’s served up some Niman Ranch Pastrami on Acme Rye with Deli Mustard that I might be willing to kill for. If you throw in that homemade ginger soda they let us sample… its a done deal. This place has made a lot of changes over the past few years, throwing out the notion that “traditions” would be destroyed by modern ideals… they have embraced the beauty of California cuisine, bringing quality and sustainability back into the food chain, recognizing the connection between the health of the earth, and the health of our bodies. Taking a step like that isn’t easy, especially for an established business with old-school clientele such as theirs. I really admire what they are doing, and will definitely be going back again for that Pastrami sandwich. I didn’t even look at the menu when I was there! Who knows what kind of amazing things are awaiting me!!! I better bring an army to order one of everything and let me taste ALL OF IT! I can’t wait to see what I will find to eat tomorrow…

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