Brendan Eliason twirls his finger in the air, indicating a radius beyond the barrels of wine that fill the old World War II submarine facility. "Within 100 miles from where we are, you can source everything — the best wine, meats, cheeses, and produce," he said. When Eliason's not extolling the wealth of culinary resources that the East Bay has to draw upon, you can find him at his Periscope Cellars (1410 62nd St., Emeryville, 510-655-7827, PeriscopeCellars.com). There, he fills the cold, damp winery walls and the adjoining tasting room and art gallery (the pieces from artists living in lofts above the winery and rarely from artists living in what Eliason refers to as "The West Bay") with warmth and enthusiasm for the East Bay community — particularly the restaurants.
"My new favorite place for breakfast is OB's Cafe in Old Oakland — killer grits and scrambled eggs," he said. While the one-man operation at 729 Washington Street seats no more than a dozen people, and the Southern-Creole fair is to die for, just don't offer the owner any suggestions. "OB doesn't put up with a lot of shit."
The potential for abuse, Eliason assures, is worth the amazing dishes. Perhaps that's why his favorite sushi in the East Bay is at Alameda's Yume (1428 Park St., Alameda, 510-865-7141). Some patrons chastise the curt nature and posted rules from the husband-and-wife team who run this eatery, but Eliason recognizes perfection hidden in their strictness. "This is not gringo sushi," he said. "Once their special rolls included locusts and the chef took his time to explain to me his process of selecting just the right locusts for sushi."
However, before you start to think it's all Southern breakfast spreads and locust sushi for the winemaker, know that you're apt to find him working late hours fueled by a can of PBR. A bourbon man, Eliason loves the top-shelf menu at Picán (2295 Broadway, Oakland, 510-834-1000, PicanRestaurant.com), but his wallet is usually more inclined to head to The Miz, better known as the Missouri Lounge (2600 San Pablo Ave., Berkeley, 510-548-2080, TheMissouriLounge.com). The East Bay landmark has staked its reputation on drinkable beer and an unchanging, local clientele.
Sometimes, though, change is good. "In the last ten years, more so than any other place in the Bay Area, Emeryville has changed," he said. "And it's been for the better." Eliason recalls a time when "the friendly ladies" walked the streets of Emeryville, but these days the best thing on a corner come from Seoul on Wheels (415-336-0387, SeoulonWheels.com), a roaming restaurant that infuses food cart items with a Korean overtone. "You'd never think Korean tacos, but they're amazing," he said. "They also have a Daniel burger that has spicy pork and kimchi." If you come across the cart on a Monday or Wednesday, on Hollis by Pixar or at 64th, be brave and try the Daniel burger for lunch — a juicy burger patty topped with cheddar cheese, crisp and spicy pork, mayonnaise, Sriracha chili sauce, lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, and kimchi. The creation is a little odd at first, but it quickly morphs into fusion heaven.
"I guess we can blame the Food Network," Eliason postulated. "With the increased interest in food, East Bay restaurants have increased in number and quantity and I don't see that coming to a stop anytime soon." And as for the "friendly ladies?"
"I saw one walking down San Pablo the other day and it was obvious she had taken a wrong turn," he said. "She wasn't working; she was trying to find her way the hell out of this place."