Oakland's picturesque Rockridge neighborhood has always been a highly desirable place to live and visit, but it's had a surprisingly tough time retaining some businesses and filling empty storefronts lately. There are exceptions, of course — Zachary's Chicago Pizza continues to be as popular as ever, as do À Côté and Cole Coffee. Nearby Elmwood in Berkeley has had some turnover as well, but these two 'hoods have also seen new businesses join the community.
There's no shortage of places to enjoy a glass of wine in the area, but no place is as kid-friendly — and as popular — as Toast (5900 College Ave., Oakland, 510-658-5900, ToastWineLounge.com), the new wine bar opened by friends (and moms) Heather Sittig and Kristen Policy. With a sizable front patio (where the occasional weekend barbecue fires up), this place beckons moms with strollers on a sunny day. Its wine selection is ever-changing, but count on uncommon varietals from small-time producers. And just because this is a wine bar doesn't mean the food is an afterthought; complementary Cal-Med-influenced small plates and entrées come courtesy of chef Peter Jackson.
Already a hit on nearby Piedmont Avenue, Nathan & Co (5636 College Ave., Oakland, NathanandCo.com) recently opened a second location in the old Crossroads Trading Co. store, and it appears to be doing gangbusters. Along with neighbor Maison d'Etre, plus Rockridge Home and Homesteader, Nathan & Co has further cemented Rockridge's status as a destination for home furnishings. Gifts are this store's forte, from kitchen utensils and drip-free candles to plush toys and cookbooks. It's the perfect place to browse or pick up a present — just be prepared for the bill.
Clementine (5322 College Ave., Oakland, 510-788-4564, OhMy Clementine.com) has been open for a year and a half now, but, sadly, many residents may not know the tiny shop exists. Nestled in a small storefront between Bryant and Manila avenues, this floral shop has a limited but exquisite selection of flowers, plus gifts (cards, jewelry, soaps) you'll want for yourself. The aesthetic leans toward "shabby-chic" — think delicate, feminine, and minimalist.
Already a local favorite, newcomer Southie (6311 College Ave., Oakland, 510-654-0100, SouthieOakland.com) is the more casual relative of neighbor Wood Tavern (both owned by Rich and Rebekah Wood). The menu — savory sandwiches during the day and small plates at night — changes daily, but the focus is on East Coast comfort food. Even more comforting is the Cheers-like vibe between staff and customers, complete with barstools where you can watch all the action in the open-air kitchen.
For a taste of Willy Wonka in Elmwood, head over to Powell's Sweet Shoppe (3206 College Ave., Berkeley, 510-658-9866, PowellsSS.com), an "old-time, old-fashioned, old-world candy store" and franchise with locations all over the state. You could get a head-rush from just walking into this place, which is stocked floor to ceiling with of all kinds of sweets, from old-school candy bars to obscure chewing gum to saltwater taffy and everything in between. Bulk bins? Check. Mint tins? Yep. Gooey gelato? Uh-huh. Bacon soda? Yes!
Where does the after-work crowd go to nibble on some locally sourced salumi and formaggi, while sipping on a glass of organic Sangiovese? That would be the clean, white-walled Enoteca Molinari (5474 College Ave., Oakland, 510-428-4078, Enoteca-Molinari.com). This place is all about savoring little bites in an intimate environment, proving (after the demise of Citron) that the neighborhood wants something a little more casual from its local restaurants.