Pure Imagination: The Hidden Cafe conjures longing for a bygone era

Berkeley becomes an idealized hamlet when I’m not wandering about its city limits. My imagination gets stuck in the past. I generally drift back to the early 1980s when I visited my sister there when she was studying at the university. In comparison with San Francisco, it looked and felt like a sleepy town full of bungalows and trees and parks. I remember in cinematic detail, perhaps wrongly, wood-paneled rooms and enormous windows opening out onto overgrown gardens. In my mind, chimes and prisms reflected rainbows across rattan furniture. 

In this highly subjective, internalized vision, the Berkeley sunlight is always autumnal. It saturates every youthful memory of mine with an amber-colored light. I don’t want to suggest that The Hidden Cafe is an exact matchup with my imaginary construct of the place. But when I arrived at the front door, the cafe’s spirit did summon up an era that I’d considered long gone.

It’s easy to miss the entrance — hence the name. Tucked away on a residential street, you could walk by the Addison Street side of Strawberry Creek Park and never associate the congregation of park goers with a cafe. The front façade features several large windows. Looking inside, people were sitting at a communal table reading, talking and sipping drinks. An entire wall is a bookshelf. The view indoors looks directly out onto the park. The location is idyllic.     

Andy Kellogg owns and runs the cafe with his wife Asako. They’re coming up on the one-year anniversary of sole ownership. “We had a full food program and decided to change that when our partners left,” Kellogg said. The Hidden Cafe’s new model is to bring in chefs for a short residency. He explains that it’s not a commissary kitchen. “It’s a way for them to build a cuisine and hopefully get to the point where they can build and establish their own company.” 

The residencies last until they move onto their next phase. Kellogg added that the cafe also provides space for pop-up groups to try something out for a day or two. The Broke Ass Cooks, Bilal Ali and Keone Koki, have rebranded themselves as Michoz and run the kitchen on Saturdays, and half-days on Sunday. Their menu includes a couple of Peruvian-influenced dishes such as the Mich-Muffin, with chicken chorizo, egg, aji amarillo, American cheese, and pickled serrano on a toasted English muffin.   

Blake Hunter’s Hella Bagels shift opens the cafe on Sunday mornings. Hunter writes on The Hidden Cafe website, “The pop-up concept is perfect for me because I am learning through experience.” His pop-up menu includes a lox sandwich that’s “an homage to Jewish delis in New York” and a veggie sandwich that pays tribute to life in California. Hunter has also created unusual cream cheese flavors like mango peach and a vegan sunflower cream cheese to top his homemade bagels.   

Before The Hidden Cafe moved in, local chef Eric Sartenaer was operating his company Phoenix Pastificio in the building. Kellogg explained that they still share the kitchen with him. Kellogg was managing an arts building in Berkeley before starting The Hidden Cafe so the juggling of shifts and chefs doesn’t phase him. He came in with a clear vision to pair hospitality with the arts. “There’s just something very special about cafes and the way that people intersect and have conversations,” he said. The patio adjacent to the park has already served as a performance space. “We had a concert series over the summer,” he said, adding that it’s something he’d like to host annually.  

As for the sense of nostalgia the space evokes, it turns out that Kellogg isn’t originally from Berkeley. He is, however, a Bay Area native from Woodside. Kellogg says that it’s a mountain town there, and that he’s bringing part of that sensibility to the cafe. “My wife and I, The Hidden Cafe is our design,” he said. They built everything themselves. “We’re just trying to keep nature with the building, to make it warm and not too clean or too modern. That just didn’t seem to fit very well.”

The Hidden Cafe, open Tuesday to Sunday 9 a.m.-4 p.m., 1250 Addison St., Berkeley. 415.855.1029. thehiddencafe.life.
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