Dine-and-Date: Berkeley’s “Gourmet Ghetto”

Food Lists Dine-and-Date
Dine-and-Date: Berkeley’s “Gourmet Ghetto”

San Francisco’s sunny East Bay neighbor, Berkeley, is home to the one and only “Gourmet Ghetto,” also known as the birthplace of California Cuisine. Don’t let the name fool you—this culinary goldmine is filled with countless specialty shops, casual eateries, upscale restaurants, bakeries, sidewalk cafes and more. Not to mention, it exudes all the eclectic and diverse hippy vibes that colorful “Bizerkely” is known for. If the saying “the key to the heart is through the stomach” has any validity at all, treating your date to a day of exploration through one of NorCal’s most unique cities will have ‘em falling in love in no time.

1. The Cheese Board Collective
So long as neither you nor your date are lactose intolerant, The Cheese Board Collective will solidify the chances of a second date. This collective opened as a small cheese shop in 1967. Today the cheese store offers an espresso bar and more than 400—yep, 400—different types of cheese, along with freshly baked breads and pastries daily. The pizzeria located a few doors down whips up pizza of the day that is absolutely worth the line, which often times is long. That said, live music is played every day, making the line fly by. Using fresh ingredients, unique cheeses and a homemade sourdough crust, this pizzeria offers a new vegetarian pizza daily. Each as enticing as the last.

2. Saul’s
Sauls.jpgPhoto by Chelsea Davis
You don’t have to be in New York City for an authentic Jewish delicatessen experience. With more than 100 seats for you and all your friends, Saul’s deli offers specialties ranging from latkes and blintzes to its famous chopped chicken liver and braised brisket sandwiches. For an unbeatable combo, order the house-smoked pastrami sandwich which features thick cut pastrami brined for days, spice rubbed, long-smoked, steamed and served on warm Acme rye, along with a bowl of chicken matzo ball soup and a house-made celery-tonic soda to wash it all down. Be sure to grab a couple traditional hamantashen or black and white cookies to go.

3. Gregoire
Gregoire.jpgPhoto by Chelsea Davis
Located right around the corner from the renowned Chez Panisse, Gregoire is known as the first high-end artisan takeout restaurant. Owned by French-trained chef and owner, Grégoire Jacquet, this small, yet charming carryout offers seasonal menus and serves both lunch and dinner. Dinner items include items such as the grilled marinated lamb T-bone while the sandwiches include options such as the fried buttermilk chicken with spicy cole slaw or the roasted leg of lamb with bell pepper stew and goat cheese. Though the sandwiches are impressively stacked, you simply cannot miss out on Gregoire’s crispy potato puffs, which have gained cult-like status in the Bay Area. They are that scrumptious. Crispy on the outside, yet buttery and dense on the inside, these puffs are akin to fried mash potatoes balls on steroids. If you can, grab a seat on one of the outdoor picnic tables as your food is prepared in the cozy kitchen beside you.

4. The Local Butcher Shop
Butcher.jpgPhoto by Chelsea Davis
This establishment is a carnivore’s dream. With a slew of knowledgeable butchers who also happen to be polished, trained chefs, The Local Butcher Shop offers everything from patés, sausages, deli meats and stocks to stews and even dog food, all of which is made in house. In addition, it sells rendered fats, bones and innards. Because these butchers only purchase whole animals, they can carve any cut you desire on the spot. Swing by at lunch to pick up a “sando of the day” which features specials such as the braised pork leg with BBQ sauce, slaw, pickled red onions, jalapeño vinaigrette and aioli on a sweet deli roll.

5. Alegio Chocolaté
Alegio.jpgPhoto by Chelsea Davis
This chocolate shop is a no-chew zone; in other words, it’s for real chocolate connoisseurs only. Sweeten up your date night with a chocolate tasting at Alegio Chocolaté, which prides itself on not using vanilla to up the flavor of their chocolates, unlike most brands. In addition to sampling some of the highest quality bean-to-bar chocolates around, you’ll learn about its history and how their chocolate is made, and have the chance to ask any and all the questions you may have about the world of cocoa. Indulge in unique flavors such as the pepper and sea salt crystals (fleur de sel) and the crystalized ginger or crystalized orange in 70 percent cocoa. On your way out buy a few bars for the road.

6. Five
Five.jpgPhoto by Chelsea Davis
For an impressive dinner, head over to Five. Situated in Hotel Shattuck Plaza in Downtown Berkeley, Five is a stylish, classy, fine dining restaurant, sans pretension. With a glamorous chandelier, fully stocked bar, large white columns, high ceilings, dark wood furniture and plenty of natural light, Five is a romantic restaurant, perfect for a night out. The menu is filled with “familiar favorites reinvented” using the best ingredients California can offer. Cheers to a successful date with a variety of craft cocktails which incorporate in-house created shrubs and bitters, or opt for wine or local brews. Appetizers include seafood bites such as pan seared day boat sea scallops with a savory fried confit pork belly or fried soft-shell crab with a squash risotto; or opt for a decadent fusilli mac and cheese with smoked gouda and bacon. In addition to innovative salad options that include a roasted root vegetable and goat cheese salad and the heartier pear and smoked duck breast salad, seasonal grilled and roasted vegetable sides are offered. Mains embody the “go big or go home” mantra with choices such as the pink peppercorn grilled pork chop with butternut squash puree and wild mushroom boudin; homemade gnocchi with shredded braised lamb shank; and a garlic thyme butter grilled sword fish with a roasted cauliflower duo. Definitely save room for dessert. With options like the dulce de leche swirl cheesecake, chocolate banana shortcake with strawberry sorbet and the butterscotch pudding, you can’t go wrong.

For those of you who rather have a professional guiding you through the ins and outs of the Berkeley food scene, check out Edible Excursions, an award-winning food tour company. Ask for Rebecca Sibrack, who in addition to being incredibly knowledgable of the Bay Area culinary world, is a talented personal chef herself.

Hailing from California, Chelsea is an inquisitive dessert enthusiast and Golden State Warriors fan. Since graduating from Columbia University, she has amassed a colorful professional background, with experiences in industries that include news production, radio, public relations & media communications. Upon realizing that her true passion revolves around traveling the world, immersing herself in new cultures and eating, she is now a full-time freelance journalist, based in New York City. Chelsea’s work has been featured on Thrillist, The Daily Meal, Yahoo! and MSN, among other nationally recognized outlets. Follow her on Instagram and her blog .

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