.The Best International Breakfasts in the East Bay

Plus a new-school wi-fi cafe is coming to Temescal.

As much as I enjoy going out for breakfast or brunch, it’s easy to fall into an American-breakfast rut. After so many days of sausage links and pancakes and Lord-knows-how-many permutations of bacon, it can get to be a little much. Last week, as I polished off an order of beef torta and fried egg over rice at Lucky Three Seven, the Filipino restaurant I reviewed this week (see page 26), I thought about how lucky we are in the East Bay to have a wealth of breakfast options that draw on culinary traditions from all over the globe. Here are a few of my favorites:

1) Eritrean breakfast at MLK Cafe (3860 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, Oakland):

This unassuming spot in North Oakland is better known for its better-than-average Ethiopian dinner items and bargain-priced (and surprisingly good) pizza. But mostly I go for the Eritrean breakfast — for kitcha fit-fit (crispy, toothsome balls of dough mixed with clarified butter and a traditional spice blend, like an East African take on spaetzle) and Eritrean-style “frittata” — juicy, onion-and-tomato flecked scrambled eggs that you scoop up with hunks of French bread.

2) Korean breakfast at Spoon Korean Bistro (933 Ashby Ave., Berkeley):

Traditionally, Koreans don’t really have foods that are specifically designated for breakfast, so it’s typical for the morning meal to feature rice, meat, and vegetable side dishes. That said, Spoon is one of the few East Bay Korean restaurants that are open at 9 a.m. A bowl of juk (rice porridge), served with a few banchans (little side dishes), makes for a satisfying breakfast that won’t weigh you down, and I can go for one of Spoon’s bacon rolls (bacon wrapped around seasoned rice) at any time of day.

3) “European” breakfast at Bartavelle (1603 San Pablo Ave., Berkeley):

Open for nearly a year now at the old Cafe Fanny site, Bartavelle serves California cuisine straight out of the Chez Panisse mold, but every time I have breakfast here, I feel like I’m in Europe. It’s all just so … civilized. Get one of the gorgeous savory boards (say, the one with French breakfast radishes, smoked trout, and a perfect soft-boiled egg) or a bowl of savory quinoa-and-rice porridge topped with ghee and sea salt — a wholesome, yet decadent, start to the day.

4) Filipino breakfast at Lucky Three Seven (2868 Fruitvale Ave., Oakland):

Breakfast at Lucky Three Seven looks a lot like lunch or dinner — some kind of meat served on top of a big bowl of rice, except with a fried egg or two added on top. The selection varies, but typical options include longganisa (sweet, garlicky sausages), bangus (milkfish that’s marinated in vinegar, then fried), and tocino (sweet cured pork). For a $5 breakfast, this little corner takeout joint is hard to top.

A New-School Cafe in Temescal

Call it a standard tableau for the 21st-century coffeehouse: a wall of shiny silver Macbooks and, behind them, a legion of new-generation “officeless” workers, clicking away. Spend enough time talking to local cafe owners and you’ll likely hear a few rants about the most egregious of these laptop drones, who squat all day, leeching wi-fi, often without purchasing more than a single cup of coffee.

But according to Dominick Scala, an Oakland-based writer and former bartender, there’s no reason the two basic cafe functions — a place to do work and a place to socialize and enjoy good food and drink — need to be mutually exclusive. And so Scala plans to open what he calls a “new school cafe dedicated to those who work from home” — a place that will embrace wi-fi addicts and other customers who, quite simply, need to get stuff done. The cafe, which Scala has dubbed Cafe Underwood, will be located at 308 41st Street (at Broadway) in Temescal.

Scala said the seed of the idea came when he was spending a lot of time working at cafes and found the experience frustrating. If you’ve ever worked at a coffee shop, you know the little dance you do — the search for a table and a free outlet, the internal calculation about how long you can wait before you’re obligated to get up and make another purchase.

Meanwhile, Scala’s wife works in the tech industry, where more and more startups are choosing not to have an office at all. Instead, they rent a conference room when they need to have an in-person meeting or, more likely, just meet up at a local coffee shop.

What Scala envisioned, then, was a place that would offer great food and coffee and a combination of free tables and private, for-rent office space. So, at Cafe Underwood there will be a wine-and-beer garden in the large outdoor patio area for customers who want to eat and socialize. Inside, there will be plenty of tables that work-from-home types can use for free — or for the cost of at least one cup of coffee — with plenty of outlets and, of course, free wi-fi. Need to make a phone call? No problem: There will be several phone booths in back so that you can talk without disturbing your neighbors. There will also be a couple of small private offices and, in the upstairs mezzanine, a large conference room, all of which will be available for rent.

Stag’s Lunchette and Bar Dogwood owner Alexeis Filipello, for whom Scala worked at Dogwood, is helping Scala develop the menu, which will slant Italian (think eggplant parmigiana; hearty, non-lettuce-based salads; and a small selection of sandwiches).

The cafe’s name refers to the Underwood brand of vintage typewriters, which Scala collects, and the decor will be a “tip of the hat” to New Orleans, so expect a more personal, less-sterile vibe than your typical office space.

Within the next week, Scala plans to launch an Indiegogo campaign to raise money for the build-out of Cafe Underwood, which is tentatively slated to open in February.

Editor’s note: We erroneously stated that Spoon Korean Bistro opens at 8 a.m.; it actually opens at 9 a.m. This version has been corrected.


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