On Sept. 12, folks meandered up and down Solano Avenue, from Berkeley into Albany, during their favorite East Bay festivity—the Solano Stroll. While the event is now over for 2021, this may be just the moment for our own Solano Stroll, with stops along the way for some sweet treats. The shops listed below are stand-outs—but by no means our only options. So we’ll take our time, make new discoveries and while we’re at it, take home some deliciousness for friends and family.
Starting in Berkeley at 1820 Solano Ave., the aroma wafts us into Lavender Bakery, which has served baked goods made from authentic European recipes since 2018. The light-filled space has art on the walls and display cases filled with a mouthwatering selection of pastries, from fancifully shaped and decorated cookies to specialty cheesecakes—try the matcha green tea—and truly French delicacies, such as almond chaussons. “Chausson” means “slipper” in French, likely referring to the item’s shape. They are made with flaky French recipe puff pastry and are très appétissant. Possibly the most famous offering is the Burnt Almond Dessert, which features both vanilla and chocolate cake layered with amarillo Bavarian filling, whipped cream and candied almonds.
Note: there is currently no indoor seating.
Ice cream lovers will congregate at iScream, across the street at 1819 Solano Ave. The family-owned business is beloved locally for its small-batch artisan ice cream and sorbet, made with organic dairy products from Marin’s Strauss Family Creamery and organic fruit from local farmers’ markets. They also make their own hot fudge, caramel sauce and waffle cones.
Flavors rotate, but popular choices include Honey Lavender and Chocolate Malt. Sorbet fans swear by the Grapefruit Sorbet. Be aware that iScream is currently takeout only, open 2–8pm every day.
Chocoholics, start your engines. Wandering down to 1709 Solano Ave. puts us smack-dab at the Dutch door of The Xocolate Bar … and, honestly, we might never leave. Founded in 2006 by life partners Malena Lopez-Maggi and Clive Brown, The Xocolate Bar is an East Bay treasure, featuring “clean ingredients and ethical sourcing” combined with charming and sometimes whimsical design. The house-blend chocolate is organic and fair trade, and there are vegan and gluten-free goodies available. In 2020, the Bar “decolonized” its craft chocolate selection from other countries and now showcases a selection of made-at-origin bars.
We stand outside and scan the current items—marzipan, house-made with ground-almond filling; the “omg bar,” made with honey-roasted pecans and salted caramel; and the perfect host/hostess gift, the four-piece “Cocktail Time” truffle box, made with California craft liquors. Then we ring the bell and await pure scrumptiousness.
Continuing on into Albany, we find ourselves in a Frozen Dessert Wonderland. First up is As You Wish Frozen Yogurt, at 1205 Solano Ave. Founded 10 years ago by Bonnee and Abraham Elterman, the popular fro-yo shop has modified its service to keep customers safe: It’s still self-serve yogurt, but staff adds the requested toppings, which include fresh fruits, berries and more exotic choices such as chocolate-covered sunflower seeds and chocolate-covered baby marshmallows. The six daily yogurt flavors include three standard and three rotating.
Pre-pandemic, As You Wish was the first business in the area to create a permanent parklet in partnership with AC Transit, and the outdoor seating evolved into a popular neighborhood meet-up. The Eltermans recently opened Hal’s Office next door, serving Counter Culture coffee and indulgences from Firebird Artisan Breads, Little Fig and La Noisette.
Interested parties need to stroll on Friday, Saturday or Sunday from noon to 6pm in order to take advantage of the cart selling Randy’s Best Ice Cream. Brandon Nguyen, nicknamed “Randy,” has been a chef in Michelin-starred restaurants, but started his ice cream business this year in front of the still-closed Albany Twin theater. He’s now migrated the cart to 1154 Solano Ave. in front of the Raven & Rose Salon. Note: cash isn’t accepted.
Using organic Clover milk and heavy cream from Producers Dairy, he creates a rotating list of flavors. One recent list featured Vietnamese Coffee, Chocolate Salted Pretzel and Melon Yuzo, among others. These are sold in pre-packed, single-serve containers. To check which flavors are in stock, and to see if he’s sold out, visit Randy’s Best Ice Cream on Instagram. Nguyen says, “We want to bring a new variety of ice cream for people to enjoy without losing the nostalgia.”
Last, but by no means least, is Mr. Dewie’s Cashew Creamery at 1116 Solano Ave. Berkeley natives Ari and Andrew Cohen both require foods free of dairy, gluten and soy, so in 2011 they created their own cashew-milk ice cream and opened Mr. Dewie’s, which became an instant hit. The homemade cashew ice milk uses only natural, organic and healthy ingredients, with no fillers, additives, preservatives, gums or oils. Flavors range from chocolate coconut to lemon creme to turmeric spice and everything in-between. They also sell gluten-free cashew ice milk sandwiches and their own line of vegan chocolate and caramel sauces.
Currently, there is no indoor seating, so we buy our treats, sit outside and watch life on Solano Avenue stroll on by.