Oakland's chicken and waffles scene is about to welcome a new member. Michele Wilson, chef-owner of San Francisco's recently shuttered Gussie's Chicken and Waffles, just signed the lease on a space at 2021 Broadway in Uptown Oakland, right next door to the Paramount Theatre.
Named after Wilson's grandmother, the new restaurant will be a breakfast, lunch, and dinner soul food spot called Gussie's Southern Table and Bar. Despite the elegant rebranding, Wilson said she plans to keep most of the old location's menu intact, as well as its practice of serving large portions at fairly moderate prices. She doesn't anticipate anything on the menu costing more than $18.
For Wilson, an Oakland native and resident, the move is a homecoming in more ways than one: She and her ex-husband opened the Oakland branch of the SoCal institution Roscoe's Chicken and Waffles in the mid-Nineties and operated it together for eight years. Indeed, the chef's chicken-and-waffles roots run deep: Growing up on the East Coast, her mother used to go to Harlem as a teenager to eat chicken and waffles at Wells Supper Club — often cited as the birthplace of the dish.
Wilson explained that before she opened Gussie's in the Fillmore district in 2009, people in the Bay Area often had to go to "less desirable areas" to satisfy a craving for authentic soul food. Her idea was to serve traditional Southern cooking — "like your grandmother used to make" — in a nicer setting. According to Wilson, Gussie's had a lot of success with that approach in San Francisco, but the chef decided to close the original Gussie's this past November after a kitchen flood sparked a series of other problems with the building.
The good news for fans of the old restaurant is that all of the popular items will still be available: the Cajun-spiced catfish nuggets, the shrimp chowder, and, of course, the many different variations of chicken and waffles. In particular, Gussie's was known for offering a wide array of waffles (sweet potato waffles, red velvet waffles, etc.) and house-made syrups. The menu will also feature a number of new soul food dishes, including a version of shrimp and grits and a Southern-style BLT with pimento cheese.
The previous tenant of the space was a clothing store called Ragsmatazz, so a full build-out will be necessary. A gay bar called The Port will take up the half of the building closest to the Paramount; Gussie's will be on the other side. It's a rather huge space — big enough that Gussie's will have not only a 2,000-square-foot first-floor dining area, but also a 4,000-square-foot basement lounge, where Wilson plans to have an area for live music and dancing, as well as a prep kitchen. And the restaurant will boast not one but two fully-stocked bars — one upstairs and another in the basement. Arcsine, the architectural firm that designed Duende, will design the space. Wilson is aiming for a September opening date.
It turns out that the former home of Vo's Restaurant (59 Grand Ave.) in Uptown Oakland won't sit empty for much longer: A new liquor license application posted on the window indicates that the owners of the San Francisco-based steakhouse Izzy's Steaks & Chops will open a restaurant called Cuba Libre in its place.
As of this printing, Izzy's owner Sam DuVall hadn't responded to requests for comment, but Edwin Recinos, who manages the restaurant's San Francisco location, said Cuba Libre will serve a "Cuban-American style of food," with a number of vegetarian options for diners who might shy away from Cuban cuisine's typical pork-heavy repertoire.
DuVall is no stranger to Cuban food, having operated a Hemingway-inspired white-tablecloth joint in San Francisco called Habana in San Francisco's Nob Hill neighborhood until it closed in 2006. According to Recinos, Cuba Libre will probably be ready to open by the end of April or early May.
Sadly, POP Sandwich (378 17th St.), my favorite back-of-a-convenience-store sandwich pop-up — whose banh mi-style sandwiches and low-key vibe I loved so much that I included the place in my list of quintessential Oakland restaurants last week — is packing up and moving to San Francisco.
Proprietor Ian De Leoz blamed the closure on permitting challenges after a recent ownership change at the Chez Mado convenience store, which housed POP. De Leoz said that he wanted to stay in Oakland, but didn't have any luck finding a new location on short notice. So when a prominent San Francisco chef asked him to bring his sandwich pop-up across the bay, he couldn't pass up the opportunity. De Leoz is keeping the details under wraps until the deal is finalized, but it sounds like he'll be bringing his lunch pop-up to a new bar that should open this summer in the Financial District. Still, De Leoz said that he'd love to eventually bring POP back to Oakland — and if you own some underutilized space with a kitchen permit, feel free to reach out to De Leoz via the POP Sandwich Facebook page.