Neighborhood Profile: A Josie Renaissance in Berkeley

I don’t know if you noticed, but I was absent all of last week. In hopes of regrouping, I headed up north. My parents have lived in Berkeley for quite some time now and I’ve often overlooked the city as just a hippy-dippy eyesore. However, I saw things differently this time. Northern Ca is usually too cold for this gal, but last week was hot.  The cool East Bay breeze was ballooning past the warm city and many relaxed people were sitting under old trees eating in a communal fashion. The city felt calm and familiar. I felt connected to the city in a way I had never felt connected to before. If a city’s food culture could be described with a sense of colorful personality, then there was most certainly something inwardly beautiful about Berkeley this time around. Here is my recount of my week in the bay city.

Allow me to preface this post with a disclosure: I fully acknowledge that the small pleasures I had in Berkeley could have easily been heightened by my crappy week in Los Angeles. I really don’t want to talk about what happened specifically, but I turned to the city looking to regroup. A short trip to a city I had been to numerous times before expelled to me far more than a gradual look in to my future, but rather, an introspective look into my past. I’ve said it many times before, but this blog is therapeutic for me. It allows me to be open. In real-time life, I usually bottle a lot of things up. Thank you for allowing me to express my sentiments somewhat anonymously here on the blog. In fact, one man whom I was dating (and whom I had no clue even read the blog) once said to me, “Josie, I read your blog and I feel like you’re more honest with your readers than you are with me.” I think he’s right. I know this blog will not reveal to me how to solve the problems of life, but it does have a practical application in my life – It allows me to pause and reflect. Thank you for listening.

Below are a few tough facts I had to face this week:

Tough reality No. 1I am weak: Twice a year, and with enough cause, my weakness is sufficiently strong enough to get me into trouble. Whether its related to my mom’s chemo, falling in love, a change of environment, or merely a subtle bout of gloominess, it seems that sometimes I find myself totally inoperable. Maybe I am just weaker than most, but I’m working on it. Stay aboard for the ride.

Tough reality No. 2 Bye Bye, Mr. Burger: As you know Venus comes and goes in Josie’s life rather frequently. “Burger” is a nice man who I had been enjoying a once a week downtown bliss with. He is a good guy and a supremely good-looking and lovable fellow. If funniness were measured by a barometer, he’d be high in mercury. (BTW – I also can’t have foods that are high in mercury, so maybe there’s something to that one.) At any rate, he’s got his problems but overall, he is boyfriend material; he is your Aidan Quinn. (Or as we all know, the kind of guy you hope you end up with after you’ve straitened your shit out.) But this week he confronted me with a set of facts (over the phone no less – at least it didn’t involve a post-it), and I was thrown off by his words. What he had to say was simple: I wish to no longer see you. Sadly, he now seemed as implausible a boyfriend as I seemed a girlfriend. I tried to resist but I stopped myself. I was far too tired with my own problems and I cared not to meddle with fate in any way for the time being. Burger was done. I spent a few listless nights trying to figure out what the hell went wrong but I couldn’t explain it. All I knew was that I still coveted him like a childhood amusement. Fu-king sick, right? Why is it that we want what we can’t have? Fortunately, for once in my life, I listened to my brain and I no longer attempted to explain it. My brain was back in groove and I only hoped to move on. He’s a nice guy and I think we can be friends… Ok, maybe not good friends… Ok, maybe acquaintances. Ok, no more dating for Josie-Lu; she’s just not good at it. Let’s leave the real work to Carina, the professional. 🙂

Despite these tough facts, I stayed in Berkeley and ate well. Below are a few food high points of my trip.

Hey look above! It’s the only food truck in the city. Just kidding. My sister claims that there are more trucks other than this hot dog stand, but I have my serious doubts because I saw no such evidence to the contrary. We passed the Pyramid Brewery in Berkeley (I LOVE that beer) but then moved on to the Emerbay Public Market.

A 10 minute drive out of Berkeley and you can be at the Emerybay Public Market . The EPM houses endless aisles of ethnic and local cuisine. Or as I told my sisters, the Southern CA equivalent of the mall’s food court (but only 10,000% better). As soon as you walk in you get the foodie chills. It’s like food DisneyLand. Ok, better analogy: Imagine your dilated eyes after seeing an enormous room stacked with only hundred dollar bills! Not only could you see it but imagine the thought of consuming it. You only get that feeling a few times in your life. For me, it often happens with food.

Busy people at lunch buzz around in suits or tie -dyed shirts and Birkenstocks. HS kids who have skipped school skateboard over to the EPM to get a cheap bite and roam the wide aisles.

Here is a list of the local vendors:

Aguililla Taqueria 510-652-5610 L,D
Bangkok Thai 510-601-1038 L,D Menu
Bay Burger 510-653-3358 L,D Menu
Bodega Pasta 510-595-7841 L,D Menu
California Vietnamese Cuisine 510-658-7364 L,D
Crispy Fry 510-655-9955 L,D Menu
EmeryBay Café & Hafbrau 510-654-5959 B,L,D Menu
EmeryBay Produce 510-654-2525 L,D
Figaro Gelato 510-655-8822 L,D Menu
Hannah’s Cookies 510-658-4207 B,L,D
Jamaica Place 510-654-0199 L,D Menu
Mediterraneo Pizza and Panini 510-653-1005 L,D Menu
Noodles, Etc. 510-547-8989 L,D
Pamir Afghan Cuisine 510-601-1152 L,D Menu
Philly CheeseSteak 510-653-8853 L,D
Sara Mediterranean Deli 510-923-1588 L,D Menu
Sorabol Korean 510-601-5959 L,D Menu
Star Sushi Grill 510-601-5959 L,D Menu
Sweis Gyros & Pita 510-654-6575 B,L,D Menu
Wazwan Indian Cuisine 510-655-3398 L,D Menu
Yaki Ichiban 510-420-1038 L,D Menu

To top it off the Emerybay Public Market is a Bay Area Green Business. As you can imagine, there’s a cafe on every corner. The EPM not only has food but also a Borders. Not only can you eat there, but you can also read your heart out, too.

My sisters were showing me the wonders of Berkeley’s food culture and so their next recommendation was pizza. Berkeley is famous for Zachary’s, which my sisters like, but both insist that Zachary’s doesn’t compare to the Cheeseboard Pizza Collective. So like any uncouthie, I had to try both. We strolled into Zachary’s at around 4P and sadly, all they had was one slice of veggie pizza. It was large and we had to try something there, so we settled and took the veggie. The kind staff seated us and sliced the pizza in three equal slices. It was good’ish but I was eager to try my sisters’ favorite. Next up: The Cheeseboard. The Cheeseboard Pizza Collective is interesting in that it has 12 owners. All the owners work there and there is no manager and no boss. They all work together and in fact are celebrating their 40th year in 2010. To another 40 years, CbC. Thank you for a great slice of pie.

We got to the Cheeseboard and as we walked up, we saw the line wrap around the corner. My sister, Haley, took a peak inside to see what the specialty pizza was and to her surprise they were serving her favorite. The pizza had roasted potatoes, caramelized onions, mozzarella, gruyere cheese, garlic olive oil, and fresh herbs. It sounded amazing. The line moved fast and we soon got our pizza. (Sorry Zachary’s but my Berkeley pizza vote goes to The Cheeseboard.) The only problem was that there were so many people inside that was no place to sit down. I admit, that isn’t a terrible problem for a restaurant, so we sat with many others under an old tree outside in mother nature’s own dining room. I loved the pizza and the warm sun. Vespas and Priuses whisked by, but the city was calm. It was cool to be in a different spot with different people. The famous Chez Panisse is across the street from the Cheeseboard Collective and they were gracious enough to let me take a few photographs. I will be back, Ms. Waters.

I am now back in LA and even though I’ve casually put Berkeley away, I am left naturally curious for more. So consider yourself warned Berkeley: I’ll be back. Thank you for a wonderful and hospitable visit. You made my week.

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