Block Party



Shop, Eat & Play in Berkeley

Goods From the Gourmet Ghetto

    Berkeley’s Gourmet Ghetto is famed for being the home of Alice Waters’ legendary (and pricey) Chez Panisse. But the ’hood is also awash in delicious, affordable options for culinary satisfaction, both takeout and sit-down. And don’t forget the shopping—from clothing to comfy shoes to toothpaste to diamonds, the neighborhood has virtually everything covered, plus there is a lot to do on and near Shattuck Avenue.


1. Cheese Board Collective
    The venerable Cheese Board Collective has been a presence in the neighborhood since 1967. The shop has a vast array of cheeses—on a recent visit, there were at least 260 listed on the store’s giant chalkboard—along with breads, baked goods, coffee drinks and incredibly delicious vegetarian half or whole pizzas from the collective’s pizza joint a few doors away. The business is wholly owned by the workers, who are an extremely helpful and knowledgeable bunch. Feel free to ask questions about the huge collection of cheeses, and don’t be shy about requesting tastes. Insider’s note: Don’t forget the baked goods—the corn-cherry scones amaze. 1504 Shattuck Ave., (510) 549-3183,, open 7 a.m.–1 p.m. Monday (only precut cheese); 7 a.m.–6 p.m. Tue.–Fri.; 8:30 a.m.–5 p.m. Saturday; closed Sundays.

2. Black Oak Books

    Photos of famed authors—including Richard Ford, Paul Auster, Louise Erdrich, Grace Paley and the late UC Berkeley professor and poet Czeslaw Milosz—gaze down on you from the walls of this august Shattuck Avenue bookstore. Long a spot for free readings featuring both local and internationally recognized authors and poets, this shop is a haven for book lovers looking for both a bargain and the most recent literary fiction authors. Much of the shelf space is dedicated to used merchandise, and the entire back room is crammed with it. Black Oak has a great selection of previously read literary fiction, mysteries, thrillers, travel guides and most nonfiction you can think of, plus first editions and antique books. Meanwhile, the front tables are covered with the latest hardcovers and paperbacks. 1491 Shattuck Ave., (510) 486-0698,, open 11 a.m.–9 p.m. daily.

3. M. Lowe & Co.
    This lovely jewelry store next to the post office features a gorgeous collection of gems from the inexpensive to the pricey. Near the door, check out the assortment of silver items, and then head down to the estate displays. From Victorian necklaces to vintage cocktail rings, there are all sorts of temptations here. And if you happen to be shopping for an engagement ring, the selection beats the competition, hands down. They stock a supply of vintage rings from the 1920s and ’30s as well as modern, sleek styles. And don’t get us started on the custom designs—made from chunky gold with raw-cut gemstones from such far-flung spots as Indonesia, Sri Lanka and India. M. Lowe considers custom-made jewelry its specialty, so if you have an idea, come in to float it by the on-site goldsmith. 1519 Shattuck Ave., (510) 486-0613,, 11:30 a.m.–6 p.m Tue.–Sat.; closed Sundays and Mondays.


4. The Juice Bar Collective
    This little hole in the wall—which has been a worker-owned collective for more than 30 years—is open midday only and is dedicated to using organic produce as much as possible. Stop by for a smoothie or baked treat (decaf-espresso brownies are Block Party’s sweet Achilles’ Heel) or for lunch: The collective serves lots of veggie sandwiches, soups and salads but also a rich turkey shepherd’s pie and a great tuna salad sandwich. Another lunch favorite is black bean and polenta casserole with salsa. And at $5 a portion, you can’t really beat the price. There is indoor seating for only one or two diners, but the collective has recently invested in four new fancy outdoor tables with potted plants, making eating alfresco on Vine Street even nicer. 2114 Vine St., (510) 548-8473,, closed Sundays, open 10 a.m.–4:30 p.m. Mon.–Sat.

 5. Grégoire

    Another outdoor eatery that’s light on the wallet is Grégoire. Chef Grégoire Jacquet boasts that everything served at the restaurant is made from scratch, using local, organic ingredients and French cooking techniques. The care paid to the menu offerings certainly does show, and there’s no better place to pop in for such delicious and inexpensive lunch treats as smoked duck breast with cabbage and shiitake slaw ($7.50) or Australian leg of lamb stew ($8). Dinner (such as Dijon mustard and sautéed mushroom pork stew over pasta for $15) is slightly pricier but more substantial. And the menu changes every month, making the most of seasonal delicacies. If you’re really craving starch, try the potato puffs—probably not the healthiest for your arteries, but the taste is oh-so-worth-it. The staff is super-friendly, and the table in front of the restaurant makes your meal feel like a super-gourmet French picnic. 2109 Cedar St., (510) 883-1893,, open 11 a.m.–9 p.m. daily for lunch and dinner.

6. Cha-Ya
    The hordes of hungry patrons waiting patiently outside this tiny—five tables and a countertop—vegan sushi joint attest to the deliciousness of its offerings. Even if the idea of vegetarian sushi gives you pause, you owe it to your taste buds to try out this cuisine. Even if there’s a line, don’t fret. With unpretentious and efficient service, you’ll be sitting down in no time to enjoy veggie tempura and sushi rolls made with mushrooms, tofu, yams, avocados and more. 1686 Shattuck Ave., (510) 981-1213, 5 p.m.–9:30 p.m. Mon., 12 p.m.–10 p.m Tue.–Sun.


7. Kitchen on Fire Cooking School

    All the food and wine on hand in the Gourmet Ghetto may have you itching to try your own hand at the culinary arts. And even if you’re all left thumbs in the kitchen, Kitchen on Fire should be able to get you into the cooking action post haste. Founded by chefs Olivier Said (formerly at César) and MikeC in April 2006, the cooking school is just upstairs from the owners’ other venture, Taste. Classes—offered in the evening and on weekends—generally accommodate 16–20 students in an open, airy kitchen overlooking Shattuck, with all the accoutrements neatly stored at their fingertips. Students are urged to bring their own wine (and get discounts at both Taste and Vintage Berkeley, which is around the corner) to imbibe with the delectable creations they whip up. Classes run $60 and up; see the Kitchen on Fire Web site for current schedules. 1509 A Shattuck Ave. (upstairs in Epicurious Garden), (510) 548-2665,, call or see Web site for schedule.
8. Vintage Berkeley Wine Shop Tastings
    Berkeley is a pleasure for the senses and the pocketbook. Opened in early 2005 by Michael Werther, Peter Eastlake and his wife, Maya Elmer, the store features the best, interesting small-production wines the owners can find, and entertaining handwritten shelf talkers, offering recommendations and reviews of almost every wine, augment the shopping experience. FreeThe South of France meets Berkeley at this wine shop, located in a beautifully renovated former municipal pumping plant. From the lovely garden in front with lavender and irises to the selection of 150 wines all under $25, Vintage tastings are offered every day except Sunday. Taste one selected wine 4 p.m.–7 p.m. Mon.–Fri.; up to five wines are on offer for gratis tastings 2 p.m.–4 p.m. Saturdays. And check out the store’s extremely affordable wine club. 2113 Vine St., (510) 665-8600, Tastings: 4 p.m.–7 p.m. Mon.–Fri., 2 p.m.–4 p.m. Sat.; no tastings Sundays. Store: 11 a.m.–8 p.m. Mon.-Sat., 12 p.m.–6 p.m. Sun.

9. Elephant Pharm Classes

    Looking for a mother-daughter pampering session or to learn how to massage your infant? Head to the fashionably green Elephant Pharm pronto! The natural-thinking pharmacy offers a slew of free classes on everything from life coaching (“Getting the Love You Want,” etc.) to holistic health (“Ayurvedic Perspective for a Balanced Life”) to Hatha Yoga (bring your own mat) to Natural Makeup classes. No need to register in advance, though you may want to arrive early to make sure you get a prime spot; it’s also a good idea to call the pharmacy’s hotline to make sure there haven’t been any last-minute class changes. Free yoga in Berkeley? Who woulda thunk it? 1607 Shattuck Ave., (510) 549-9200, class and event hotline (510) 868-3096,; call or see the Web site for a schedule.

By Elise Proulx
Photography by Amy Perl

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