Nellie's Soulfood Plots a Triumphant Return to West Oakland

Plus, Preeti Mistry brings 'Indian Neapolitan' pizza to Emeryville.



The past year has seen a slew of iconic, decades-old Oakland restaurants close their doors — Genova Delicatessen, Dorsey's Locker, and Art's Crab Shack, to name just a few. And whether they've shuttered because of rents or because the owner was ready to retire, one thing is clear: Once an old-school place like that closes, it's almost always gone forever.

Nellie Ozen wants to buck that trend. Her West Oakland restaurant, Nellie's Soulfood, which she opened some fifty years ago, closed back in June. Even at the time, Ozen said that decision was mostly because her daughter Quinnette wanted to retire. Ozen, on the other hand, still felt like she had a lot of cooking left in her — even now that she's in her mid-eighties and has to rely on a walker.

The latest news: Ozen tells What the Fork that she is very close to finalizing the terms of a deal that would allow Nellie's Soulfood to reopen not far from its former location at the corner of 3rd and Adeline streets in West Oakland. Essentially, Ozen would take over food operations for a nearby bar that has an underutilized kitchen.

Because the space is quite a bit smaller, Ozen won't be able to serve the full Nellie's menu, but she said she plans to bring back all of the classics — her oxtails, chitlins, fried fish, and greens simmered with smoked turkey tail.

The terms of the agreement are still being worked out, but Ozen estimated that the deal is about "90 percent" certain to happen. In fact, she's optimistic that the new incarnation of Nellie's will be open for lunch and dinner — and ready to start dishing out pie and cornbread dressing for the holidays — by the second week of November.

After all, Ozen said, Thanksgiving always was one of her busiest times of year.

Neapolitan by Way of India

If you are a fan of Juhu Beach Club and have perhaps hoped that the stylish Indian restaurant would stay open all day, or that chef Preeti Mistry would try her hand at making pizza and breakfast pastries — well, here's good news: Last week, Mistry announced that she and her wife and business partner Ann Nadeau are opening a new all-day restaurant called Navi Kitchen in Emeryville's Triangle neighborhood, at the former Basic Cafe spot (5000 Adeline St.).

The basic concept will be American cafe-style foods reimagined with Indian flavors: rotisserie chicken with a burnt masala brine, pizza with toppings like chaat masala frying peppers, and tikka masala mac and cheese — plus an assortment of housemade biscuits, quick breads, and other baked goods.

The headliner will probably be the pizza, which Mistry describes as "Indian-Neapolitan." You may be familiar with the "Indian pizza" restaurant genre, which has been somewhat of a phenomenon for a while — it's a natural fusion dish to have developed if you consider the similarities between pizza dough and naan.

When reached by phone, Mistry explained that these Indian pizzas tend to feature that puffy, all-American, Papa John's style of pizza crust, which then gets weighed down with dozens of toppings. Mistry said her pizzas will be closer to the Italian Neapolitan style in terms of size and shape, and the toppings will be more "subtle" — more along the lines of what you'll find at places like Pizzaiolo or Arizmendi. The dough itself will be a hybrid. Mistry uses Italian "00" flour, but replaces the olive oil with yogurt and ghee.

Navi Kitchen will be a casual, counter-service restaurant with lots of outdoor seating — the idea is for it to be very kid- and family-friendly, Mistry said. One more notable feature: There will be a "spice bar," where customers can buy freshly ground spice blends such as garam masala and chai masala.

The restaurant's ETA is February or March of 2017.