Almost every morning, Pizzaiolo (5008 Telegraph Ave., Oakland) open its doors early, not to sell pizzas or gin-and-tonics or frilly frisée salads, but instead to sling doughnuts, espresso drinks, and — most precious of all — the sweet, sweet nectar of a free wi-fi connection. The Temescal institution is one of a growing number of restaurants that are taking advantage of the morning hours, when their dining rooms would normally sit empty, to dabble in the coffee-shop business.
Pizzaiolo has been hosting its coffee-and-doughnut mornings since 2007. It has been called the best-kept secret in Oakland, but it might actually be the worst-kept — the place is always packed, with writers and work-from-home types, and even snagging a seat at the bar can be a challenging task.
In an effort to expand my wi-fi-leeching horizons, I checked out two new, equally worthy morning coffee-and-pastry programs — plus another that will launch in the coming month. Here's the lowdown:
Homestead (4029 Piedmont Ave., Oakland, 510-420-6962, HomesteadOakland.com):
Morning hours: Tues.-Sat. 8 a.m.-noon
Foodstuffs spotted: assorted doughnuts, savory strata, quiche, and more
Coffee situation: drip coffee and espresso drinks made with beans from San Francisco's Contraband
Hard as it is to believe, this quaint Piedmont Avenue newcomer is even cozier during the daytime than it is at night. The food offerings — if an old-fashioned chocolate-glazed doughnut with the airy texture of a French cruller was representative — are notably great, and served with the kind of meticulousness you won't find at Starbucks. Thick slices of eggy, savory strata (a bacon version and another featuring beet greens) were warmed in a small skillet. I even saw one of the cooks assembling an elaborate yogurt parfait to order. But the best part about mornings at Homestead is that the place isn't MacBook Central as of yet — during my visit, the crowd was mostly bookworms and friends enjoying relaxed conversation.
"Morning" hours: Mon.-Fri. 7:30 a.m. until 6:30 p.m. or sold out, Sat. 8 a.m. until 6:30 p.m. or sold out
Foodstuffs spotted: sweet and savory croissants, scones, house-baked sourdough bread
Coffee situation: McLaughlin's Organic Sumatra (self-serve)
For "Mornings at Nick's," there's no wi-fi and only a handful of tables, so the main attraction is the extensive pastry program that Nick's Pizza chef-owner Nick Yapor-Cox and head baker Aron Ford have developed. The highlight is a wide selection of seasonally specific applications of flaky croissant dough — chocolatines, croissants topped with fruit, croissants stuffed with mushrooms, and more. I loved how dark and crunchy the bottom of each Nick's croissant was, yielding a deeply caramelized, buttery flavor that was an especially nice counterpoint for a woodsy roasted chanterelle, thyme, and ricotta filling. Unlike the other morning coffee programs I visited, "Mornings at Nick's" doesn't actually end in the mornings — pastries are usually sold through the start of dinner service, and the house-baked sourdough breads are available until the pizzeria closes each night.
Adesso (4395 Piedmont Ave., Oakland, 510-601-0305, DopoAdesso.com):
Morning hours: TBA, but probably Mon.-Sat. 8-11:30 a.m., starting in late January or early February
Foodstuffs planned: Sicilian-style cornetti, fresh ricotta, jams, salumi, bread
Coffee situation: TBA
According to Adesso owner Jon Smulewitz, in Italy, the bar where you downed your last drink at night is often the same place you get your coffee in the morning. So, since the restaurant's primary identity is as a salumi and cocktail bar, it makes sense that Smulewitz plans to start doing coffee service in the mornings. Food-wise, the focus will be on traditional Italian treats: Sicilian-style cornetti (Italy's version of a croissant), fresh house-made ricotta, and, of course, a selection of salumi. Smulewitz said he expects to kick things off at the end of January or the beginning of February. The setup should offer something for everyone: morning commuters looking to pick up a grab-and-go pastry, laptop users, or people who want to catch the big soccer match on TV.
LIBA Falafel to Open Uptown Location
LIBA Falafel, one of the Bay Area's longest-established "new school" gourmet food trucks, has announced that it will open its first brick-and-mortar location in Uptown Oakland, at 380 17th Street. Owner Gail Lillian, who founded the business four years ago, said she's in the process of raising funds for the project but expects to open by the summer of 2014. The LIBA food truck will also continue to operate.
The defining feature of LIBA Falafel's food-truck setup is its "falafel bar," an impressive spread of some fifteen different salads, toppings, and condiments, many of them seasonally inspired — not just your standard hummus or cucumber salad, but also things like braised eggplant, fried onions, raw beet salad, and a veritable rainbow of crunchy pickled things.
Lillian told What the Fork that the restaurant will have the same basic setup, but with a bigger emphasis on seasonal fruits and vegetables. She's also not finished expanding her business: Once the Oakland shop is up and running, Lillian plans to start scouting locations for her next restaurant, this time in San Francisco.