As the Express's designated food guy, I get my fair share of emails and tweets from readers asking for restaurant recommendations and other food-related advice: Where should I bring great-aunt Sally, who is hard of hearing and only eats organic food? What Oakland restaurant serves a good version of [insert obscure international food item]?
So, today I'm launching a new recurring column, What's Eating You, wherein I provide answers to your most pressing East Bay-centric food questions. Send your questions to Luke.Tsai@EastBayExpress.com, with the subject line "What's Eating You." Every couple of weeks I'll pick out a letter to highlight. My first reader question comes from Oaklander (and former Express staff writer) Ellen Cushing.
I am in a massive brunch rut and know there are 10,000 new restaurants in the East Bay that I have yet to try. Do you have any rad brunch recs beyond the Aunt Mary's-Chop Bar-La Note axis of sameness?
Here are a few possibly-new-to-you weekend brunch options that serve something other than your standard bacon and eggs, gussied-up French toast, and Eggs Benedict variants.
1. Handlebar (984 University Ave., Berkeley)
Three words: Hash. Brown. Patties. Handlebar is Fivetenburger proprietor Roland Robles' new West Berkeley bar, and his truffle-oil-infused hash brown patties are crispier and more flavorful than the ones you secretly love at Mickey D's. Robles also makes a killer breakfast sandwich and a deep-fried version of a pig in a blanket that might be the most decadent brunch around. And Handlebar is the only place I know of that serves a Monday brunch, during which every customer gets a free brunch cocktail.
2. Kingston 11 (2270 Telegraph Ave., Oakland)
It's not widely known, but Kingston 11 just launched Sunday brunch service. I'd return again and again for the restaurant's signature Jamaican Breakfast — a kingly spread of saltfish and ackee; plantains; bammy (cassava flatbread); and dense, biscuit-like fried dumplings.
3. Michel Bistro (3343 Lakeshore Ave., Oakland)
This Provence-style bistro and relative newcomer to the Grand Lake neighborhood's burgeoning food scene serves more interesting brunch dishes than your typical French restaurant. Yes, there are omelets and excellent pain perdu, but also tasty open-face sandwiches and, if you're up for it, bison tartare.
4. Gaumenkitzel (2121 San Pablo Ave., Berkeley)
Gaumenkitzel isn't exactly new, but the German restaurant is so thoroughly underrated that I try to mention it as often as I can. The brunch menu features wholesome, elegant versions of traditional German breakfast dishes: spaetzle with soft-scrambled eggs and senfeier, or boiled eggs in mustard sauce. Bonus points for being one of the most kid-friendly restaurants around.
5. Bartavelle (1603 San Pablo Ave., Berkeley)
At Bartavelle, the outdoor seating (with a view of the Acme Bread parking lot) is about as casual as it gets, but the shareable meat boards and the avocado toast are good enough to merit a special trip. On weekends, make sure you arrive early enough so that they haven't run out of the best breakfast items (i.e., the savory porridge), or else late enough — after 11 a.m. — that they've started serving lunch.
Farewell, My Captain
Uptown Oakland's compact restaurant row has suffered another casualty: Captain & Corset (2212 Broadway) has closed after only four months in business. Sam Patel, one of the Ike's sandwich empire executives who owns the restaurant, said that he and co-owner Paul Fitzpatrick have applied for a full liquor license and will wait to see whether it comes through before making any final decisions about the future of the space. But closed is closed: Patel confirmed that, regardless of what happens down the road, the restaurant isn't retaining any of its employees.
In May, Captain & Corset replaced a string of short-lived wine bars in the small space sandwiched between Plum Bar and Ike's. The project touted a veteran management team headed by consulting chef Sophina Uong (of Picán, until recently), general manager Carlos Nieto, and director of operations Kiri Eschelle. The restaurant launched with a fun menu — chips and miso dip, braised lamb tacos — and, for a while, all seemed well.
But by July, Nieto and Uong had both cut ties with Captain & Corset. When reached by phone, both cited deep philosophical differences with Patel. Uong said there was a conflict over money, too. While she admitted that she made the mistake of never obtaining a formal written agreement, Uong said she was paid far less than she had been promised for designing the menu, training the cooks, and getting the restaurant off the ground. Patel said he and Uong had simply disagreed on the direction the restaurant should take. "It was us parting ways with her, not the other way around," he claimed.
Meanwhile, Eschelle said she was never actually paid anything for the branding, design, and build-out of the space — instead, the owners told her that she would eventually receive equity. The silver lining, if there is one, is that if Captain & Corset is to ever be resurrected in some form, Eschelle will be the one to do it.
"I own the Captain & Corset brand and have every intention of using it again in the future," she said.