Bay Area Resources
produceWhere to even start out here? It’s a magical land of year round farmer’s markets, where you can buy fresh and local food anytime of the year! If I’m not going to a market, Berkeley Bowl is my pick for awesome selection and price – I take visitors here jus to blow their mind with the selection of produce in California. My favorite CSA I’ve found so far is Full Belly – a farm in the Capay Valley just north of San Franciso, it’s reasonably priced, flexible, and you get a nice variety of produce, including fruit and even some legumes.
spices and coffeeOaktown spice, right here by Lake Merritt, has replaced Penzy’s for me as a source of freshly ground spices from all over the world and a great place to stock up on hard to find items. The Bay Area of course is home to about 1000 trendy coffee roasters, and many are good. Our favorite so far is a little place called Graffeo in San Francisco and San Rafael that’s family owned (Italian) and has been roasting coffee here for a century.
restaurantsI don’t need to tell you it’s a restaurant mecca out here. Here are just a few of our favorite places when I’m not in the mood to cook (by no means an exhaustive list):
Boot & Shoe Service, Pizzaiolo, and Penrose – All owned by Charlie Hallowell and all delicious. Classic California Farm to Table food with an Italian influence. Great pizza, great cocktails, great salads, great seafood.
Gather – Another Farm to Table experience, go here to have your mind blown by a vegan antipasta and then follow it up with the world’s best burger.
Southeast Asian – Champa Garden makes the most delicious drunken noodles and rolls I have had since Vietnam and Thailand – totally unassuming spot, and always busy, so expect to wait.
As for other Asian, there’s some crazy good stuff going on! Vik’s Chaat in Berkeley makes the most insanely delicious Indian street food I have ever had. It’s a crazy atmosphere and waits can be long, but I promise it’s a gem. The Ramen Shop in Oakland makes incredible ramen with homemade noodles and a bar that overlooks the busy kitchen. We also love their donburi – a rice bowl with pickled seasonal veggies and a farm fresh egg yolk. Burma Superstar is everyone’s favorite place for Burmese (think Indian meets Thai) – get their coconut rice, the samosa salad, the platha and dip , any noodles, and the homemade tofu.
In the mood for a sandwich? Genova Deli in Temescal makes a pretty killer Italian style cold cut sandwich complete with the world’s most giant pickle and farther South, in San Carlos, Refuge makes their own patrami for the best smoked meat sandwich I’ve had outside of Montreal + a wild selection of Belgian beers.
I have a total thing for Taqueria Sinaloa in East Oakland – food truck style and dirt cheap, their tacos are hard to beat. If you’re after something a little more upscale, we love Dona Tomas, especially for the Chili Rellenos and the margaritas. Comal in Berkeley makes a killer margarita too and with outdoor seating and a fire pit, it’s a pretty ideal spot to spend an evening.
And finally, If you find yourself in Big Sur, be sure to stop by the Big Sur Bakery for brunch or dinner – gorgeous little place and rustic delicious food and wine.
bakeries and sweetsHands down the best croissants I’ve had here are from Tartine, in San Francisco. Totally worth the insanely long wait – if it’s a nice day, get them to go and sit in Dolores Park. Arizmendi here in Oakland has grown on us since moving here – we love their pizza, their focacia with roasted garlic and their almond cookies. Our favorite ice cream is Ici in Berkeley, serving up Parisian style creams and ices in homemade cones. Farther south, the Penny Creamery, in Santa Cruz makes chocolate sorbet entirely worth the drive.
sustainable food and advocacyMany folks know I work for Oakland Unified in the Nutrition Services Department – we are working hard to transform the food culture here in Oakland and make fresh, healthy and delicious food accessible to all. Check out our work here. There are so many amazing partners in the Bay Area working alongside us; to name just a few: The Center for Ecoliteracy, The Community Alliance with Family Farmers, New Roots, The CA Farm to School Network, The HOPE Collaborative, The Oakland Food Policy Council, and CA Food Policy Advocates.
cookbooks Some favorites on my shelves: Every book written by Jeffery Alford and Naomi Duguid. This couple has made their life’s work travelling the world, photographing everything along the way, and writing cookbooks. Their books are part cookbook, part storybook, part geography lesson, and part cultural anthropology. Favorites are: Seductions of Rice, Beyond the Great Wall (cooking from the “other” China), and Hot Sour Salty Sweet. Tartine, by Elizabeth Prueitt and Chad Robertson is a gorgeous book filled with recipes from Tartine Bakery in San Fransisco. The great thing about this book: all the recipes work, which is not always the case for baking books. The Kitchen Diaries by Nigel Slater always inspires me. He chronicled an entire year in his kitchen – everything from spring salads to christmas dinner to take out. Very rustic, simple, and plain good food. Sunday Suppers at Lucques by Suzanne Goin is another seasonally organized book with beautiful menu ideas for dinners when you have more time. The A16 Cookbook by Nate Apleman and Shelley Lindgren is not only a source of inspiration for all sorts of Italian feasts, but also includes a lengthy section on lesser known Itallian wines. A new favorite is the Momofoko book by David Chang. It reads like a comedy and, at least so far, tastes pretty good too.
produce Russos, in Watertown, has a year-round selection of some of the best produce in Boston. I first knew Russos as a wholesale vendor (they will deliver absolutely anything seven days a week). It’s their retail store though that’s one of the secret treasures of this city. Great selection of hard to find asian greens and herbs, affordable prices, and fresh pasta and cheeses too. Another favorite place to buy produce in the summer is Siena Farms at the Copley Square farmer’s market. Baskets overflowing with rainbow colored carrots and vibrant greens, gorgeous sunflowers, as well as goodies from farmer Chris’ wife’s (Ana Soturn) bakery Sofra. Though extremely expensive, Siena Farms is just so visually stunning, I can’t stay away. Stillman’s Farm is another summer time favorite, making appearances at farmer’s markets in JP, Brookline, Somerville, Copley Square, and many more. Both Siena Farms and Stillman’s offer CSA shares in the summer where you pay ahead for the season and then pick up a weekly assortment of produce. It’s a great and affordable (less so with Siena) option to eat more local produce. Allandale Farm is one of two working farms in within the city of Boston. (The Food Project is the other. They also offer a great and affordable CSA in the summer – more info below under “Sustainable Food.”) Boston Organics is a really cool company that will deliver both local and sustainably farmed imported produce to your door. They have a myriad of different options (small, large, fruit, veggie, etc.) all explained on their website. There are so many other great options for produce in Massachusetts – www.localharvest.org is a great site to locate farms, CSAs, farmer’s markets, grocery stores, etc. in your area.
spices We are so lucky to have Penzey’s Spices in Arlington Heights. Until 2007, Boston area cooks could only buy Penzey’s spices online (still can), but now they have a retail shop where you can stock up on spices, herbs, salts, and peppers from all over the world. It’s a little kitchy inside, but there’s nowhere else in Boston you can buy 6 different kinds of cinnamon, each from a different part of the world with a different flavor profile. Try the Vietnamese Casia (not really cinnamon, I know) – it’s spicy and sweet and reminds me of eating valentine’s day cinnamon hearts, but better.
cheese and dairy Everyone’s favorite place for cheese in Boston is Formaggios, in Cambridge and on Shamut St. in the South End. And for good reason – they have an enormous selection of hard to find cheese from around the world, and staff who will walk you through all the choices. The Boston Cheese Cellar in Roslindale has a great selection also, though they’re not always as helpful as the folks at Formaggios. Whole Foods on River St. in Cambridge (I confess I worked there) is my favorite of the Whole Foods for cheese. The Wine and Cheese Cask (across from Dali in Somerville) is another favorite, and bonus they carry a wide selection of wine and Clear Flour bread. After returning from Vietnam and Thailand this fall (and a dose of Cipro to treat a nasty stomach bug), we were badly in need of some restorative good bacteria. We started asking around about raw milk and discovered Oak Knoll farm in Foxboro, MA. The farm itself is a bit disheveled looking, but don’t be deterred, the milk is fantastic. You have to call ahead to place an order and, in addition to milk, they also sell grass fed beef and free range eggs.
pasta Capone’s in Union Square Somerville has been around for 30+ years and sells some of the best fresh homemade pasta in the city. They recently started making their own ricotta, which alone is worth the trip. Dave’s Fresh Pasta, also in Somerville, is another favorite for homemade pasta.
chocolate Burdicks in Harvard Square is my favorite place for hot chocolate (get a demi, it’s insanely rich) and chocolate confections. Based out of Walpole, New Hampshire, they use all Valrhona chocolate and make chocolates flavored with everything from kirsch to cumin. In terms of brands of chocolate to use in baking, I like Callebaut (Belgium) as an everyday stand by, Sharffen Berger (Berkley, CA) for something more intense, and Valrhona (France, the “Valley of Rhone”) especially if I’m using it to drizzle or dip. Valrhona has a higher percent of cocoa butter compared with most chocolates which is why it melts so beautifully and also why it’s more expensive. Though Sharffen Berger was recently bought out by Hershey, they really paved the way for domestic bean to bar producers (people who take raw cacao beans and make them into chocolate.) A couple of American producers I like are, our very own Tazzo Chocolate, out of Sommerville, and Theo Chocolate, out of Seatle, WA.
bread and bakeries Hands down, my favorite place to buy bread in Boston is Clear Flour Bread, tucked away on Thorndike street in Brookline. Go on Sunday for their fire roasted tomato fogasse or stop in Tuesday or Friday for an Ancienne baguette. Everything’s good. This is a very small and very busy place on the weekends, so be prepared to stand in line. For sweets, I may be partial, but I love Canto 6 in JP, now owned by Susanne Young, a former employee. Canto 6 specializes in rustic European pastries and makes fantastic croissants, brioche, and palmiers. Sofra, in Cambridge, is a mediterrenean bakery owned by Ana Soturn and Maura Kilpatrick of Oleana. Everything’s good here – I especially like their donuts (I had one filled with sweetened butternut squash this fall. yum.) and the tahini shortbread. Again, this is a small and crowded place on the weekends. Just outside of Boston, I love A & J King Bakery in Salem. Great bread and rustic pastry from a husband wife team. And if you’re in the mood for a road trip, drive down to Jamestown, Rhode Island and visit Village Hearth Bakery for the best pizza this side of the Atlantic. They only do pizza Sundays starting at 4:00pm, but hot from the wood oven, it’s outrageously good and totally worth the drive.
meat I try to buy grass fed humanely raised meet as much as possible. Some sources in the Boston area: Whole Foods (ask lots of questions and read carefully), Savenor’s in Cambridge and on Charles Street, and John Dewar in Newton and Welesley (great locally owned butcher I just discovered). The most economical way to buy local grass fed meat is by far to get a Stillman’s Farm meat CSA. The bigger the share you buy, the less expensive the meat is per pound. So, if you can get some friends together or if you have a big family, this is a great option. Stillman’s also sells at the farmer’s markets during the summer. Another farm I’ve just been introduced to is Green Meadows, out of Hamilton, MA. They offer both a pork and beef share – it’s a larger share, and a one time pick up. You can also buy an entire side of beef which works out to only $5.50/lb for sustainably farmed grass fed beef, a VERY reasonable price. Of course that’s a little more than we could manage, but if you can rally some friends and family or you have a really big freezer, it’s a great deal.
fish I love Wulf’s on Harvard Ave in Brookline, and also New Deal Fish Market in East Cambridge. Recently, Cape Ann Fresh Catch started the Boston area’s first ever “CSF” (community supported fishery), which works just like a veggie or meat CSA. Customers pre-pay for the season and then pick up a weekly assortment of fresh fish and shrimp from Glouchester based fishermen. Again, it’s a much more economical route for local seafood.
cookware My favorite place to buy anything kitchen related is was Kitchen Arts on Newbury street, which closed this past year. Another great place is China Fair – though they have far less selection than Kitchen Arts, their prices are unbeatable. This is definitely the place to go for plates and other ceramic dishes.
sustainable food advocacy and awareness There are so many exciting organizations in and around Boston. I’ll just mention a few favorites. Slow Food is a great place to start connecting with the local food community. Membership is inexpensive and they offer a host of activities and classes to inspire you. Pick up a copy of Edible Boston. Beautifully photographed and full of interesting articles about local food, I look forward to each new edition. The Food Project is an amazing organization with land in Dorchester, Lincoln, and the North Shore. A working farm, they not only employ youth ages 16 to 18 on the farms, but in the process also teach about food systems, sustainability, and social issues. One of TFP’s main goals is to make healthy food accessible to everyone. They sell mainly at low-income neighborhood farmers markets; their summer season CSA is very reasonably priced; and they piloted the WIC EBT program at farmers markets, an idea which has now spread nationally. One of my favorite programs at TFP is Community Lunch where a local chef, with the help of the youth, makes lunch for TFP youth, staff, and members of the community using produce from the farm. The lunches are then enjoyed outside on the beautiful land in Lincoln. Scores of volunteer opportunities and more info is available on their website. Another favorite of mine is The Haley House, a multi-faceted non profit which was founded as a soup kitchen in the 1960s. Haley House still operates a soup kitchen in the South End, but they’ve now expanded and opened a bakery/cafe in Roxbury. The cafe serves as a training facility for teaching people the skills they need to get a job in the food industry. With an 85% job placement rate, Haley House is doing something right. Their newest program is called Take Back the Kitchen – a series of cooking classes for children and adults aimed at combating health disparities by teaching people to cook and make healthy food choices. As if that weren’t enough, Haley House aslo operates an organic farm in Winchendon Springs, MA.