Success, with Reservations

Mobile food in Oakland gets another little nudge. Plus, Christmas dining options.

Last week, the Oakland City Council took baby steps forward on its mobile-food policy, unanimously voting to allow food pod events in districts one through four until January 2013. Before the vote, 27 speakers spoke in unified support of the resolution. Even the president of the Oakland Restaurant Association, an organization with congenital allergies to mobile food, had some positive words to share.

It’s a measured win; it will be many months before Oakland adopts the progressive, comprehensive mobile-food policy of say, Emeryville. This temporary resolution only allows for food-truck events, leaving a trillion details to be worked out in the big-picture plan (curbside vending for individual trucks, food carts versus food trucks, etc.). Nonetheless, many event organizers are breaking out the confetti.

Matt Cohen, the man behind San Francisco mobile-food juggernaut Off the Grid, has sent trucks into North Berkeley, Marin, and San Mateo, but has long licked his chops over Oakland’s untapped market. And while he is cagey talking about potential “pod” locations, Cohen said Old Oakland is attractive, especially near the new popuphood venture at 9th and Broadway.

He also said Off the Grid’s loyal following gives him an advantage in location scouting. “Unlike other events, we don’t have to be right in the middle of things,” he said. “Off the Grid has enough marketing reach that we can pull in customers from all over.”

Karen Hester, organizer of Bites off Broadway, intends to apply for two evening events, one at the intersection of 19th and Harrison and the other at her prior spot in front of Studio One Arts Center. As far as her first location on Broadway in front of Oakland Tech (shut down by the police in July), she’s a little gun-shy. “I really don’t have the energy to fight that battle right now,” she said.

Zac Silverman, owner of burger truck Doc’s of the Bay, also plans to enter the food-pod scrum, running one lunch event and one for dinner. He is very supportive of Off the Grid and Bites off Broadway, but ambitious young Silverman would prefer to be his own boss. “It’s appealing to work directly with the city, keeping all my revenues and not working through a middleman,” he said.

Silverman won’t go on the record with his desired spots, though he doesn’t anticipate location competition among the organizers. For his daytime spot, he wants to set up where there’s “a lot of office density” and not enough food options. For nights, he’s thinking of a well-trafficked neighborhood where the restaurants close up early. (Think you can guess?)

When the resolution passed last week, I naively thought I’d be eating Oakland street falafel within weeks. Turns out event organizers won’t be applying for permits until February 1 at the soonest (Hester suspects it’ll be later than that). There’s no big rush — food pods are less fun in winter. Still, don’t underestimate the languorous pace of Oakland politics.

OMFG, OMFG Is Closing!

At least one food-pod organizer is not psyched for the city’s interim policy. Elizabeth August, longtime mobile-food advocate and oft-thwarted event organizer, announced Saturday that her Oakland Mobile Food Group brand and website is up for sale. She is also selling the Guerilla Grub food truck to focus exclusively on her catering business.

“I am so done with food trucks,” she said. “I don’t care to be an organizer and I don’t care to be a participant.”

August believes the interim food-truck policy is too little, too late, and will ultimately be rife with red tape and cost-prohibitive permitting (including health, fire, and police “encroachment” permits). “It’s a political gold star for a couple of councilmembers, but ultimately the whole thing is a load of crap,” she said. “At some point I’ll be sad about leaving mobile food, but right now I’m just disgusted.”

Among August’s complaints are the recent eviction of food trucks from Art Murmur, the city’s closure of an artisan craft fair she organized this weekend, and what she calls the “arbitrary dispersal” of conditional use permits in the past (see: Bites off Broadway).

Christmas Dining Options

Maybe you’re shell-shocked from Thanksgiving. Could be you’re Jewish, Muslim, or Wiccan. Or perhaps you’re just Christmas-indifferent, and would like a place to eat out while most of the world shuts down. With research assistance from Sylvie Boland, here is a handful of interesting options for December 24 and 25.

Bocanova: On Christmas Eve, the pan-American grill hosts its annual family-style crabfest. Menu highlights include Dungeness crab cakes with avocado habanero and fried beets; Mexican crab soup with cilantro aioli; fried padron peppers with pink sea salt; crispy cauliflower in mint and Serrano coconut sauce; and (of course) a roast crab entrée. The price is $50 per person. Call 510-444-1233 for reservations.

Revival Bar and Kitchen: This Christmas Eve dinner caught my eye for its straight-up Dickensian menu options. With this four-course menu, you can get chestnut soup, roasted goose, and Buche de Noel (aka Yule log), as well as more Bay-friendly fare like Dungeness crab salad and persimmon pudding. The prix fixe meal is $50. Call 510-549-9950 for reservations.

Beer Revolution: Beer Revolution’s workers have Christmas Day off, but owners Rebecca Boyles and Fraggle are prepping a special vegan potluck. They’re far from their families, and want to hang out with other folks in the same boat. Arrive around 2 p.m. for the food spread, but the bar will be open all day. Call 510-452-2337 for more details.

Saul’s Delicatessen: For the first time this year, Saul’s is parking a food truck outside the store, serving up freshly fried sufganiyot (think Jewish jelly donuts) and latkes. The party runs from December 23 through 26, but the promised “live Klezmer jam” is only on Christmas Day. Call 510-848-3354 for more details.


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