Being foodies, the idea of a neighborhood jam-packed with gourmet food stores and farm-to-table restaurants, we had to check it out. On a recent trip to California’s most progressive town, we ate our way through the Gourmet Ghetto in Berkeley and lived to tell about it.
Here are 10 things we learned from Berkeley’s Gourmet Ghetto:
1. The term ‘ghetto’ is not always a bad thing.
Get ready to have ‘ghetto’ redefined after a visit to the neighborhood with a high concentration of incredible eateries/culinary shops affectionately named the Gourmet Ghetto.
2. Not all tours are created equal.
An Edible Excursions Culinary Walking Tour is THE way to go if you’re short on time or have never been there before. We’re not usually the tour-going types, but the Edible Excursions Gourmet Ghetto tour, led by local Berkeley foodie expert Emunah Hauser (in photo below with pastrami sandwiches), was informative, fun and quick-paced.
3. Chez Panisse is Chez Perfection.
The Gourmet Ghetto was born in the late 60s and early 70s in Berkeley, when the counterculture was changing everyone’s life. Sustainable farming and “you are what you eat” are mottoes still very much in evidence. Alice Waters and her restaurant Chez Panisse were leaders in establishing the Gourmet Ghetto. Although Chez Panisse is not included in the tour, we HIGHLY recommend saving room to have a late lunch or dinner at Waters’ upstairs, more casual cafe.
4. Most of the pastrami you eat is made in… wait for it…Detroit!
We wish we were kidding. Not many delis, even iconic New York City delis, make their own pastrami anymore. Saul’s Restaurant & Deli, the first stop on the tour where you’ll sample an incredible pastrami sandwich, still does. You’ll also get to sample their house-made celery root soda.
5. The coffee revolution has roots in Berkeley.
The original Peet’s Coffee, a forerunner in the second-wave coffee revolution, was opened in Berkeley in 1966. Two of Alfred Peet’s employees, owner and founder of Peet’s Coffee, went on to start Starbucks. On the tour, you’ll see the Peet’s Coffee Museum with memorabilia and get a sample of coffee.
6. Cheesy is cool.
The place to meet locals on Saturday in Berkeley is the Cheese Board Co-op. Serving up only one kind of wacky, vegetarian pizza (think lime and potato?!) per day, the Cheese Board is buzzing. Between customers sampling and buying exotic cheeses to the live music to the legendary pizza, it’s an essential hub of the Gourmet Ghetto. Check their website to find out what the pizza of the day is.
7. Butchers can be sexy.
The Local Butcher Shop, a stop on the tour where we sampled divine roast beef sandwiches with grapefruit, arugula and goat cheese, specializes in sustainably raised, local meat. And they’re sexy for three reasons: 1. Husband/wife owners are hipsters (in photo below) 2. Butchers look more like mixologists in their spiffy uniforms of 1920s-style ties and hats. 3. They buy the whole animal from farmers within 150 miles of Berkeley.
8. Real chocolate doesn’t taste like Hershey’s!
Most high-end chocolates found in grocery stores (even Whole Foods!) have yucky additives like soy lecithin (GMO riddled) and hydrogenated vegetable oils. Claudio Corallo‘s chocolates, made from cocoa beans grown on his plantation in West Africa, will open up a whole new world of enjoying untainted chocolate. Even if you’re not on the Edible Excursions tour, the staff is happy to offer an educational chocolate tasting. Don’t miss sampling the Cocoa Nibs chocolate bar!
9. Certain teas, like jasmine, are all about the balls!
How tightly wound or how perfectly shaped, that is… Imperial Tea House was an education in tea! Did you know that next to plain water, the most popular drink on earth is tea? With an impressive selection of many of the world’s finest, rarest, and most highly acclaimed teas available, this is the place to experience the tradition and artistry of one of life’s oldest and most rewarding pleasures. Who knew you could learn so much about “the way of tea” in one 20-minute excursion.
10. You don’t have to go to Italy to get kick ass gelato.
At Lush Gelato, they make their own daily in small batches using organic and local ingredients whenever possible. Even their cones are made fresh daily, and cups and spoons are biodegradable. With outrageously wicked flavors like Orange Picante (Orange + Habanero Pepper infused Chocolate Chunks) and Drunken Earl (Earl Grey Tea & Strawberries soaked in Bourbon), this is not your average gelato experience, although they do have traditional flavors as well that are equally scrumptious.
* Other stops on the tour included Soop (amazing housemade soup) and Vintage Wine shop (see photo below, great stop for affordable, lesser-known wines).
Edible Excursions Berkeley Gourmet Ghetto Tours, Thursdays 11am-2:15pm / Saturdays 10am-1pm, $75
For more ideas on what to do besides eating in Berkeley, head to VisitBerkeley.com.