Every college campus ‘cross the country is infested with street-side greasy spoons and fast food-product storefronts. Fortunately for Cal students, North Berkeley is also home to the California cuisine revolution, which features fine locally produced foods at reasonable prices.
If you’re one of those folks who’s not human until they’ve had a cuppa joe, ideally a café machiatto with a fresh-baked, still hot pecan “snail” breakfast roll—both for just $3 total; and if you want to enjoy your java at a sidewalk café table sharing news of the day with many of Berkeley’s most interesting and famous folks, the Cheese Board’s morning café is for you. While the “cheese” part of the internationally renowned Cheese Board is closed Mondays and doesn’t open ‘til 10 a.m. the rest of the week, that doesn’t stop several hundred folks from stumbling in for their “wake up” sacramental every weekday morning. Even when the Cheese Board ain’t open for cheese, the worker collective members still manage to get up extra early to bake fresh snail rolls and scones and muffins and breads and brew fresh coffee and steam up all sorts of specialty drinks Monday through Friday from 7 a.m.-10 a.m. Then it’s over. Unless you want cheese. Located at 1504 Shattuck Ave. in North Berkeley.
Nearby resides the original Peet’s Coffees and Teas, birthing place of the Neo-American barista movement. Stop by the corner of Vine and Walnut to see where Starbucks stole their best ideas and in the process created the new world java-order. Fresh coffee ground and brewed all day long. Also close by is the North Berkeley French Hotel. A nice place to stay and not too expensive, but the best part of the French Hotel is it’s café downstairs, a great place to people watch, study or just sip coffee. Ask Angelo to decorate your cappuccino with one of his trademark foam creations.
If you’re still there around 11:30 a.m., the Cheese Board Pizza Collective opens for lunch and dinner Tuesday through Saturday. Not only do they make the finest, fresh baked vegetarian pizza you’ll find anywhere, the Pizza Collective also features the hottest free live jazz show you’ll find short of the jazz boat nightclubs floating on the River Seine—without the expense and trouble of flying to Paris. Scat singers, piano and vocals, piano and bass, trios, quartets—it’s all happening here and it’s totally free. The crowd on the listening from the sidewalk is often larger than the crowd inside chowin’ down. If you’re a jazz fiend, this is the hot spot for what’s cool in jazz (and of course, they have great pizza). 1512 Shattuck Ave. in North Berkeley, open 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m. and 4:30-7 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday.
After all that eatin’ you’re probably suffering a little energy slump. Fortunately Masse’s Pastry Shop is close by and Wednesday through Monday you can get a cappuccino and a cappuccine, or maybe a fresh fruit tart, or one of their pastry filled cannelloni to perk up your energy level. When you see another one of their incredible bridal cakes leaving the shop you know you’ve made the right decision. Forget school and order a special cake to celebrate your decision to become a local food critic! Masse’s makes cakes for every occasion. Recently they baked a cake for Chevrolet’s 50th anniversary of the Corvette with spun sugar Corvettes. For a UC neurologist’s celebration they made a cake that looked like a human brain. And of course they make wedding cakes—Paul and Marsha Masse’s favorite was a three-dimensional pirate ship with billowing sails. Traditional wedding cakes are actually la specialité de la maison, but why limit yourself? Located at 1469 Shattuck Ave. in North Berkeley, open from 8 a.m.-6 p.m. every day but Tuesday.
Sometimes you need a little food to go with your sugar. If you like sushi good and cheap and if you like your décor over-the-top plastic and tacky, featuring life size figures of Betty Boop and Godzilla, palm trees and god knows what else dripping off the ceiling and hanging off the walls, Party Sushi at 1776 Shattuck Ave. is your jungle in the dining department. The food is delightfully inexpensive: two pieces of Nigiri from $1.75 to $3.45, with most around $2; three pieces of sashimi from $1.95 to $3.75, averaging around $2.50. They also serve reasonably priced teriyaki plates, tempura rolls, party platters, alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages and desserts. The food’s fresh, tasty and inexpensive but the décor is the kicker—it’s hilarious. Open 5:30 p.m.-9:30 p.m., closed Tuesday.
Some folks won’t eat meat. Some folks won’t even eat anything derived from an animal. I’m not one of those folks but that doesn’t stop me from enjoying a great vegan meal. Cha-ya Vegetarian Japanese Cuisine at 1686 Shattuck Ave. offers food so good you’ll forget that it’s politically correct and good for you, too. No faux meat products here—they’ve mastered the art of making vegetables taste both filling and delicious. Kozara (small dishes) from $4 to $5; sushi from $3 to $4; udon and soba noodle plates from $6 to $8; and full on combination dinner plates from $13 to $17. This place is tiny, so don’t bring a big crowd. And expect to wait a bit. But it’s worth it. Open 5 p.m.-9:30 p.m., closed Monday.
For great beer and burgers everyday of the year, Triple Rock Brewery and Alehouse at 1920 Shattuck Ave. near University Avenue can’t be beat. The game is playing (any game) on the large screen TVs hanging from the ceiling, there’s shuffleboard in the back, and there’s peace and quiet upstairs on the rooftop garden. This place is easily big enough to accommodate the entire slate of clowns and candidates currently running for California governor (remember to recall whoever wins) plus the Rock has great beers in nearly every style, fresh brewed on premise and on tap. Student pricing is the rule here.
Got a hot date and want to pretend you’re a great cook? Stop by Gregoire Take Out Restaurant at 2105 Cedar St. at Shattuck ten minutes before she shows up and serve her four-star-quality, cooked-to-order, fresh French food. We’re talking Freedom Food here, the kind of freedom that allows you to dash home from school at the very last minute and still be able to pull off a full blown dinner without raising a sweat. There’s no place like Gregoire. After calling in your order you can pick up everything including appetizers and desserts and drinks and have it on your table just few minutes after you get home. Chef Gregoire Jacquet, formerly of SF’s Ritz Carlton, uses fresh, locally grown, organic, natural ingredients in his daily selection of 12 different entrées that includes everything from red meat to fish to vegetarian. Try the marinated Montana New York steak in anchovy butter ($16) or the baked Sea of Cortez scallops in puff pastry torte with tomato sauce ($15). And don’t forget dessert—the bread pudding ($3.50) is to die for. It ain’t the cheapest but it’s certainly the best. Open 11 a.m.-4:30 p.m. for lunch and 4:30 p.m.-9 p.m. for dinner. Closed Sundays. Call 883-1893 to order in advance.
When mom and dad are picking up the tab, or if you’ve decided to pop the big question, or if you’ve just been accepted to Boalt or Hastings Law School with a full scholarship, there’s only one place to go: Chez Panisse. Frankly you can’t afford it otherwise. Downstairs dinner with wine averages $100 to $150 a person but then again this place is world famous for it’s food. Upstairs, the café runs a little cheaper but it’s never inexpensive. After all, this is the restaurant that Alice Waters built, the very birthplace of California cuisine. Reservations nearly always required. Located at 1517 Shattuck Ave. 548-5525.