Berkeley has long been considered the birthplace of California Cuisine thanks to Alice Waters, proprietor of the famed Chez Panisse restaurant. But did you know that she was by no means the first to set up shop in the area? Nor was she the last. In fact, the two block area in and around her restaurant known as the Gourmet Ghetto started offering organic, local and gourmet food & drink as early as 1966 and the area has continued to attract like minded proprietors ever since including Alice (1971) and many of her disciples right up to today. Taste your way around and learn all about it on Edible Excursions fantastic food tour through the area. Here’s some of what you’ll see:
The first to set up shop in the area was Alfred Peet founder of Peet’s Coffee on the corner of Walnut & Vine. Undoubtedly, this coffee shop where they roasted their own beans and served rich dark brews reminiscent of the old world was the birthplace not only of the Gourmet Ghetto but of cafe culture in America. Intellectuals from the nearby university would gather over a cup of coffee, take in the aromas and idle away the hours deep in conversation. I once worked for a woman who would drink nothing but Peet’s and had beans shipped to her on a regular basis — nearly 30 years ago.
Did you know . . .
Employees of Peet’s had a grand vision to grow the business exponentially and globally. Wishing to keep his operation small so he could control the quality of his product better, Alfred Peet passed on the idea and his employees went on to found Starbucks.Coffee isn’t the only warm drink we consume. The art of tea goes back for centuries and you can sip some of the finest and get a real education at Imperial Tea Court.
This wonderful little tea house that also serves dim sum and stir fries is part of a small food court serving up some of the areas finest bites.
Grab some soup (the red lentil soup was some of the best I’ve ever had), Sushi, Gelato and sit out in the courtyard to enjoy.
Or get a chocolate education at the tiny but lovely Chocolate Alegio. Here they specialize in chocolates made from bean to bar by Claudio Corallo on a small island off the coast of Africa. Nothing but minimally processed cocoa and sugar plus nibs or orange peel for texture and added flavor. You will be amazed at the quality even compared to some better known high quality, small batch chocolates you may be more familiar with. I think we all bought gobs to take home. And when I went back for mine post tour, there was an hour long private tasting going on. Another great idea for an activity in the ghetto.
The fun continues with sandwiches at Saul’s Restaurant & Delicatessen — Jewish Deli gourmet style where they serve up a mean house made pastrami on locally made Acme rye bread and delicious if not unusual celery soda.
Then there is the sandwich of the day at one of the newer proprietors in the area — The Local Butcher Shop run by a husband and wife team, both ex-employees of Chez Panisse, bringing pasture raised, farm-sourced, whole carcus butchery to the scene with great success. The place was packed on a Saturday morning.
Looking for something more French perhaps? My favorite stop on the tour had to be Gregoire. The tiniest of places set up in what was once a single car garage attached to an apartment building offering up true French fare to go. The menu changes weekly and all meals are served in a proprietary, one piece cardboard take out container. High quality, high volume food without the overhead. Whatever you do be sure to order the potato & cheese croquettes made from a secret house recipe. Divine!
And what would all this food be without a little wine. Vintage Berkeley sells great bottles of small batch wines from around the world all under $25 a bottle. Nice to know that quality comes at affordable prices. And some of the graphic design was fun as well.
There’s so much more to see and eat in the area. Check it out for yourself.
Edible Excursions offers tours in both the East Bay and San Francisco. The Gourmet Ghetto tour is offered on Thursdays and Saturdays and is $77/person. Come hungry!