by Anneli Rufus
A crowd gathered last Friday night amid 56,000 square feet of spiral staircases and scrap-metal sculptures at The Crucible in Oakland to attend the 2009 Indie Awards, celebrating energy-conscious and socially conscious local artists and businesses.
Among this year's honorees were the Awaken Café, which won the Greenie Award; HipLearning, which won the Youth Empowerment Award; Catered to You, which won the Newbie Award, the Grand Lake Theatre, which won the Pillar Award; Girl with a Truck, which won the Innovator Award; Margo Weiss, who won the Ripple Award; Khalil Shaheed, who won the Oakland Soul Award; and Cynthia Elliot, Rough and Ready Repairs and Woody's Drapery & Laundromat, who shared the Neighborhood Dynamo Award.
Meanwhile, attendees sampled treats proffered by local restaurants, caterers, and companies -- an eclectic, world-spanning and world-class feast that demonstrated once again Oakland's place among America's top food towns.
La Borinqueña Mexicatessen served its tender, justly famous tamales. Long lines awaited Thighbones Catering's crispy fried chicken and a macaroni-and-cheese so sleek, golden, and chewily cheesy that it wins my prize for the night's best. Banyan 14 served delicate, fragrant tomato-tamarind pad thai and No Worries Catering offered a long-awaited rarity: vegetarian Filipino cuisine, in this case comforting pansit and snappy faux adobo.
For palate cleansers, we alternated between earthy, dark, bracingly bitter puerh from Numi Organic Tea and fat-free, dairy-free, cholesterol free, but amazingly creamy and gelato-esque Rainbow Italian Ices. (Strawberry and piña colada were our favorites. It took a lot of tasting to make this decision, but that's us: Working hard to keep you informed.) Further frozen treats included hand-cranked scoops from Nieves Cinco de Mayo, a shop in Fruitvale Public Market. Corn (elote) ice cream sounds like a dare, but dios mío, esto es una sorpresa milagrosa.
Sambosas, the North African/Middle Eastern version of samosas, joined smoky collard greens, stretchy injera bread, and hot-hot-hot sauce on Ethiopian sampler plates from Shashamane International Bar and Grill. From New Orleans Bill came creamy-piquant potato salad with a peppery kick. ("This ain't your Mama's potato salad," warns the company's slogan. "It's my Mama's!")
Neldam's Danish Bakery was on hand with fun, fluffy frosted cakes. Across the aisle, Vice Chocolates set out plates of its hand-dipped Rasgasm truffles and fig-anise bars.
That's always the thing about Oakland, isn't it? You think you've tried everything. Then you turn another corner and -- what? Anise chocolate? Corn ice cream?
For nightcaps, Enat Winery served sweet, sunny Ethiopian honey wine. And then, delivering a nice jolt for the ride home: Awaken's organic coffee, mellow and bright. We're all winners now.