The food Chicago native Tish Moore missed the most after she went away to college wasn't deep-dish pizza, Italian beef sandwiches, or onion-and-pickle-topped hot dogs. No, what she missed was a more basic snack: popcorn.
So popcorn featured prominently in any care package her family sent her. And for ten years, every single time her parents flew out to visit, they made sure to pack some popcorn in their suitcase — every time except the most recent time. That's because, as of two weeks ago, Moore has launched her very own popcorn store, Scarecrow Popcorn (3435 Lakeshore Ave.), in Oakland's Grand Lake neighborhood. With that opening, Moore is hoping that Chicago-style popcorn might be the next big thing in the East Bay.
The Windy City's contributions to American popcorn culture include the invention of caramel corn and the first popcorn machine, both during the late 19th century. But according to Moore, Chicago's most significant popcorn innovation is the "Chicago Mix": cheddar cheese popcorn and caramel popcorn mixed together in the same bag. It's a simple but ingenious concept, appealing to snack fiends who enjoy the interplay of salty and sweet.
At Scarecrow Popcorn, the Chicago Mix isn't listed on the menu, but a rotating list of five popcorn flavors always includes cheddar and caramel, and customers can mix and match flavors for no extra charge. Priced at just $3, a small "sampler" bag (which I found too big to finish in one sitting) is quite a deal. Larger bags will run you $6 or $12.
When I visited the store last week, I chose a modified Chicago Mix: a blend of the caramel and white cheddar dill popcorns. The latter was the most unusual, and by far the most addictive, of the flavors; the dill adds a subtle, satisfying tang. And what Moore said is true: Mixing sweet and salty is definitely the way to go.
Other flavors in the current rotation include kettle corn and jalapeño cheddar. Moore said she'll be introducing a salt-and-vinegar flavor in the coming weeks, and eventually she plans to add a few chocolate-based ones as well.
A few items of scarecrow paraphernalia aside, the store is basically set up like a concession stand, complete with soft drinks and concession-size boxes of candy. Moore said when she was a kid, she liked tossing a package of Raisinets into her popcorn whenever she went to see a movie. (While the shop doesn't actively encourage customers to sneak food into the nearby Grand Lake Theater, its proximity to a movie theater is, at the very least, a fortuitous coincidence. An employee told me they plan to approach the theater, in an effort to be good neighbors, to see if some kind of arrangement is possible.)
For now, Scarecrow Popcorn is open daily from 11 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., though Moore said she might eventually stay open later in the evening on weekends.
By now surely you've heard of the cronut, New York City pastry chef Dominique Ansel's croissant-doughnut hybrid that has become a worldwide sensation. Until this past weekend, it hadn't, to our knowledge, been possible to snag even a copycat version in the East Bay. Oakland restaurateur Alexeis Filipello and independent pastry chef Amie Bailey teamed up to rectify that situation by hosting a croissant-doughnut pop-up at Filipello's restaurant, Stag's Lunchette (362 17th St.), this past Sunday.
Bailey and Filipello dubbed their creation the "faux nut" (a cease-and-desist letter made them scrap their original name, "croughnut"), and for Sunday's pop-up they sold three versions: Double G(ougin), Creamsicle, and Red Hot. At $6 a pop these weren't an inexpensive indulgence, but What the Fork sampled a few of the vanilla cream variety and liked them well enough. These were surprisingly large, puffed-up things. Between the crackly sugar coating and the soft, layered dough, they reminded me of morning buns more than anything else. Which wasn't a bad thing.
For now, the pop-up was a one-shot deal, but Filipello said it's possible that she and Bailey will do it again in the future.
It looks like Oakland will be getting its first Taiwanese restaurant. Diablo Dish reports that Pi Dan Noodle House is tentatively slated to open this coming spring at the intersection of Grand Avenue and Broadway. Specialties will include Taiwanese-style beef noodle soup and zha jiang mian — noodles topped with a bolognese-like sauce made with ground meat and fermented black beans. Owner Allison Chen said she plans to keep the prices low ($7-$10 a dish), but wants to create a more pleasant, modern space than your typical Chinese hole in the wall. ...
Fans of Berkeley's ICI Ice Cream now have a new spot to get their fix. The cafe/bodega section of Uptown Oakland's Duende (468 19th St.) now serves ICI ice cream sandwiches and grab-and-go sundae cups all day, Berkeleyside Nosh reports. The partnership makes sense: ICI owner Mary Canales is married to Duende's Paul Canales.