The Hidden Café
1250 Addison, Ste. 111 ( Bonar ), Berkeley
good across an inviting stretch of lavish, verdant lawn, a two-story brick construction stands on the border of Berkeley ’ randomness Strawberry Creek Park on Addison at Bonar. Without any visible signage, the stately construct appears to want to remain anonymous. But inside, an competently named fresh restaurant — The Hidden Café — opened final week .
Unless you live or work in the area, you might be surprised to learn that this, a former furniture factory build from 1912, is an official historic landmark. now called The Strawberry Creek Design Center, it houses about 40 humble businesses, many focused on artistic or craft endeavors, including longtime Berkeley pasta company Phoenix Pastificio. Phoenix owners Eric and Carole Sartenaer opened the retail store in 2013, taking over half of the former French-inflected Café Zeste and subleasing the rest of the space, beginning to Johnny B ’ second in 2015, then most recently to Café Rene, which closed abruptly in March after about a class in business .
The two anterior businesses were standard, if not predictable eateries, serving chocolate, sandwiches and other familiar café offerings. The Sartenaers ’ newest subtenants, though, will buck that tendency. While The Hidden Café sells beverages and pastries, from there, it veers off on its own run, with a unique seasonal menu, a bohemian botanical-themed interior decoration and a chef who waxes poetic in the kitchen and on paper, and who isn ’ thymine afraid to experiment with his food.
The Hidden Café co-owners are Andy Kellogg, Luke Flaherty and James O ’ Brien Makowski. Kellogg is the co-founder of Adelines Lab, a community space for local artists where Makowski, a member who ran a poem workshop there, started making wildcrafted beverages and creative food offerings at the lab ’ s artwork shows. When Kellogg was approached by the landlord at the Strawberry Creek Design Center to take over the café, he brought on Makowski to handle the food. Inspired by the light-filled, high ceilinged build and the old-time natural environs surrounding the space, the owners knew they wanted to make this more than good an restaurant, but a community gathering outer space. “ This should be something special, ” said Makowski .
rather of menus, a serial of poems hang in the windows ; the pages held up by uneven strips of blue painters tape. Many of Makowski ’ mho poems speak to finding a remainder between what ’ s nutritional and nourishing with what pleases our senses ; others talk about the community that can be found in food. A poem good outside the door asks, “ what if rather of nip of zest one wanted wholly handful of flavor. ” The answer, it turns out, can be found precisely inside .
A Jack of all trades, Makowski has past food experience, but he besides was once a landscape architect, and some of his cognition and appreciation for plants can be seen on his menu. He infuses roots, berries, bark and other botanicals to make non-caffeinated beverages that are unlike drinks you ’ ll find anywhere else. The herb tea teas are offered strong or ice ( $ 4 by the cup, $ 7 by the bottle ). I particularly liked the Rosemary ’ s Geeky Mate, a refreshingly herb tea and earthy infusion with green copulate, rosemary and ginkgo leaves. Another made with chicory was warming and blue, even when iced. For those who need the caffeine fix, The Hidden Café offers pour-over coffee and cardamom cold brew ( it will finally offer espresso drinks, but during my visit, the car was not set up even ), and Chinese white, crimson and “ besotted ” ( plutonium ’ erbium ) tea .
Tacos are the chief significant menu item at the café, although purists may balk at the fillings in these non-traditional versions. Makowski was drawn to the dish because they are “ a form you can change as ingredients become available, ” he said, noting that many of his taco are vehicles to highlight seasonal vegetables. On my visit, the café was offering four unlike kinds : Three Sisters, a version made with roast summer squash, odoriferous corn and total darkness bean puree ; the Caprese, with fresh heirloom tomato, basil and mozzarella ; a breakfast taco ; and the Original, with italian blimp, tomato sauce, parsley and Parmesan cheese ( All tacos come in your choice of corn or flour tortilla, and are $ 3 a piece ). Makowski, who ’ s primitively from Chicago, says the Original was something he came up with after eating a chorizo greaser and wondered how italian blimp would taste in its place. He tried it and liked it, and the Original became one of his staple dishes that he offered at a ephemeral underground restaurant .
I tried all but the breakfast taco and, despite the initial mental side-eye I gave to the italian blimp translation, it was the most comforting and had the best flavors of the three. Makowski buys the blimp fresh from a local butcher and fries it to give it a crisp texture. Some parts were a little over-crisped for my taste, but I can see why this is a dish the chef keeps in his pocket.
Salads are besides bombastic and hearty, with additions of grains, nuts, fresh fruit or proteins. For the Strawberry Leaf ( $ 9 ), chopped strawberries, nutty farro, roasted crushed almonds and fresh mozzarella add bulge to a bed of frilled frisee. The grapeseed vanilla balsamic dress was ( thankfully ) more acidic than dulcet, even though Makowski said he added some fresh strawberries into the dress on a notion. The early salad on the menu was a deconstruct BLT, with chunks of torn toasted boodle, bacon and perfectly advanced tomatoes mixed in with cos lettuce. For those who are risk-averse when it comes to food-borne illnesses, you ’ ll appreciate the caveat on the menu that the “ eggy dressing ” is made with raw egg yolks. But, my friend who ordered the salad made it out barely finely .
For sweets, there are cookies and pastries made by Phoenix Pastificio adjacent door, but Kellogg said they ’ ll probably add some housemade desserts in the fall days, excessively .
The Hidden Café is fairly belittled, but it ’ randomness very charming with the combination of its old factory windows, wood furnishings and organic interior decoration, like a large hanging botanic wreath made by Kellogg ’ second wife, Asako Unome-Kellogg, who runs Chloe Hana Flower at Adeline Labs. There are a few tables inside, american samoa well as a bar at the rejoinder and along the windows, that all together seat about two twelve inside. On cheery days, a shaded table on the patio will tempt most to dine alabama fresco .
Workers at the offices in the Strawberry Creek Design Building are glad to have a new plaza to eat ( some stopped in on my visit, to say so ), but many who come upon this unconventional café will do so by chance. And what a delightful discovery it will be, before or after time spent in this old-time neighborhood park in Berkeley .
The Hidden Café is open 9 ante meridiem to 4 post meridiem, Wednesday through Friday ; 9 ante meridiem to 6 post meridiem, Saturday ; 9 ante meridiem to 5 post meridiem Sunday.
Sarah Han is Senior Editor, Nosh of Berkeleyside and Oaklandside .
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