Bert Johnson/File photo
Grocery Cafe is expanding its Burmese offerings to go way beyond tea leaf salad.
Hidden away in an East Oakland residential neighborhood, Grocery Cafe (2248 10th Ave., Oakland) is already a one-of-a-kind restaurant
. Regulars at this tiny Burmese cafe sit on repurposed church pews while feasting on tamarind-spiked deep-fried samusas
, steaming bowls of catfish chowder, and the most potent fermented tea leaf salad in town. And if chef-owner William Lue has his way, customers will soon be able to enjoy one more hard-to-find specialty: Burmese-style barbecue.
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To help make that a reality, Lue recently spearheaded a successful $10,000 Kiva microloan campaign
, as a poster on the food discussion forum Hungry Onion
first noted. The money will pay for the construction of an outdoor grilling/dining area in front of the restaurant that will have room to seat nineteen diners. Lue said his tentative plan is to purchase a rotisserie grill equipped with a spit, which he hopes to use to host a weekly suckling pig roast once the weather warms up.
In terms of what Burmese barbecue actually entails, think more along the lines of grilled meat skewers rather than the slow-smoked meats of the American South. Lue explained that the meats will be marinated with aromatics such as cilantro, shallots, lemongrass, and moringa. Tamarind is used as a souring agent instead of vinegar. And Lue said that if customers are receptive to it, he hopes to grill many of the innards and other offal cuts that are ubiquitous at Burmese street stalls — the snouts, gizzards, intestines, and such.
Lue said the construction of the outdoor barbecue area, which he hopes will be complete by April, is part of recent efforts to expand the Burmese offerings at Grocery Cafe. In a similar street food vein, he plans to designate Fridays as “Fry Days,” during which the restaurant will serve various fried street snacks, including one that Lue likened to Burmese-style ballpark garlic fries.
On the other end of the spectrum, the restaurant also recently started serving formal Burmese banquets, available with at least one day’s notice for groups of eight diners or more. For roughly $25 a person, diners can share eight family-style dishes, including several that aren’t on the regular menu — for instance, a Burmese seafood “cioppino.”
Banquet customers can bring their own beer or wine with no corkage fee, and sometimes, if Lue is in a particularly good mood, he’ll even pick up his accordion and play a few tunes. To our knowledge, no other Burmese restaurant in the Bay Area regularly offers this kind of banquet.