Mary Gutierrez is on a mission. Every day but Sunday — the Lord's day — she fires up her wood grill and smoker in a nameless Oakland carwash lot at MacArthur Boulevard and Martin Luther King Jr. Way to hawk tamales for Jesus.
Actually, Gutierrez (originally from Puerto Vallarta, Mexico) operates her food stand to help support her family via sales of smoky, chewy-skinned grilled chicken (pollo al carbon), ribs with barbecue sauce that she buys at Costco, and the tangy fish ceviche she spoons onto crisp, commercially fried tortillas. But her delicious tamales — those belong to God alone.
Gutierrez is a member of the Iglesias del Dios Vivo, Church of the Living God. Every week, female volunteers at Light of the World San Francisco, the church's congregation in Rodeo, make about a thousand tamales. Church members are free to take and sell them, with the understanding that proceeds are to be donated back to the church.
I stumbled on Gutierrez' stand a couple weeks ago and thought the chicken tamales ($5 for two) were some of the best I'd had recently: a relatively thin sheath of masa surrounding a shredded mass of nicely seasoned chicken, even better with a few spoonfuls of Gutierrez' own tart, slushy tomatillo salsa. She told me to come back the following Friday, when she'd have pork tamales. But when I drove past the lot she wasn't there.
Then, last week, she was. Again, no pork, but the chicken tamales were as good as before. A bonus, as I waited for Gutierrez to warm them in her smoker: Her teenage son, Luis, showed me the Iglesias del Dios Vivo prayer book, with its photos of elaborate churches in Guadalajara and Mexico City — a form of evangelizing, sure, but a gentle one. Or maybe he was just showing me where my five bucks would end up. Still, the tamales themselves did a better job of evangelizing than a gilded heap of spires ever could. Praise Him — with a mouthful of chicken and salsa.
Look for Gutierrez' stand to be open Monday through Saturday, from about 10 a.m. till 5 p.m. If you don't see her? Don't give up.
The latest upscale food vendor to roll out of the East Bay is dispensing pancakes and fried egg sandwiches. Earlier this month, Alameda-based Nick's Wheely Good Breakfast Truck pulled up to a soft launch in Emeryville, then debuted a regular Sunday slot out front of Berkeley's Acme Bar, helping the Bloody Mary and Ramos fizz regulars get something solid in their stomachs.
Nick Bernard, 22, kitchen veteran of San Francisco's Anchor & Hope and San Rafael's Sage Catering, worked for eight months to get Nick's Wheely on the street after having a mini epiphany about the absence of an all-hours breakfast truck in the Bay Area. His initial plan was to roll it out in San Francisco, except the permit process there sort of kicked his ass.
Earlier this year, Bernard applied with SF's public works for five spots (two near AT&T Park, two in Potrero Hill, one in the Embarcadero), but the glacial pace of the approval process made him rethink. "I got redirected to the East Bay," Bernard told What the Fork.
Only problem with a breakfast truck is that most food truck traffic happens at lunch, or at night. So until he can attract regulars lining up for oatmeal or triple-layer French toast before work, Bernard's been hitting Emeryville for lunch, and appeared at last week's Bites on Broadway at Oakland Tech.
The bacon- and arugula-filled cheddar biscuit sandwich ($3) I tried last week was delicious, thanks mostly to the tender, craggy-surfaced biscuit itself. An order of whipped cream-topped strawberry shortcake French toast ($6) was configured like bread pudding, baked in custard — massive enough to sober the most hammered Sunday-morning drinker at Acme. No wonder they call breakfast the most important meal of the day — no matter what time you have it.
Soft-opening this week in Adams Point: Kitchen 388, which is starting off as a daily breakfast and lunch place, in the old Zoey's Bistro space at 388 Grand Avenue. The owner: Joseph Dunbar, who operated a boutique catering company in Berkeley before becoming a private chef. (Full disclosure: I once worked for Joseph Dunbar Catering, back when I earned my living in chef's whites.) An early draft of Dunbar's opening menu showed a breakfast sandwich, house-made pastries (including pop tarts) from ex-Noe Valley Bakery pastry chef Alicia Toyooka, lunchtime salads and sandwiches (pulled pork, grilled chicken), and coffee from Four Barrel in San Francisco. If you never made it to Zoey's, the high-ceilinged space is cool, with multiple skylights and open kitchen line. No table service, and since the seating capacity is just under 25, there'll be an equal emphasis on takeout. And consider: Given that Bar 389 is just across the street, Oakland could be witnessing the birth of a new destination microhood.