What happens when oodles of great restaurants move into the neighborhood? Well, the locals have a harder time answering the question: What’s the perfect foodie day in Oakland? The explosion of hip new places to eat and drink in Oakland, some spinoffs of well-regarded San Francisco food havens and others new openings for hot Bay Area chefs, has resulted in this exact dilemma. The answer is that there are a lot of choices. It’s a good problem to have, no?

So we’re on our way to a perfect foodie day in Oakland, as opposed to THE perfect foodie day. Here’s your day:

Get up early and head away from Downtown to a part of Oakland most folks won’t have been to—Oakland’s oldest neighborhood, West Oakland. No, it’s not scary, it’s industrial and new-business oriented and sweetly residential.

Brown Sugar Kitchen
In the middle of it all is a fabulous new trendy and hip breakfast restaurant, Brown Sugar Kitchen. When you get there, be prepared to wait to be seated…it’s usually not long and you can get BSK’s special blend drip coffee by Roast Coffee Co. (with refills) while you wait. BSK’s motto is New Style Down Home, and the cuisine reflects owner Tanya Holland’s African-American heritage and formal training at La Varenne Ecole de Cuisine in France. Try the scrumptious organic cheddar cheese grits with poached eggs, or buttermilk fried chicken and cornmeal wafflewith brown sugar butter and apple cider syrup (a must-have), or the BBQ shrimp and grits. This is serious food and you are in the ‘hood, but upstyle. Welcome to Oakland.

Lake Merritt
After a breakfast like this, a little exercise is in order. Head back downtown to beautiful Lake Merritt, the Jewel of Oakland. Oakland is the only city in the U.S. with a salt water lake in its midst, and Lake Merritt is also the nation’s oldest wildlife refuge, home to shrimp, fish, migratory and residential birds, clams, and crabs.

The water may look a little brackish, and that’s because it’s only 8 to 10 feet deep and is a mixture of salt and fresh water, the fresh coming from culverted streams that drain out of the Oakland hills and the salt coming from San Francisco Bay through a dam under the 12th St. bridge at the west end of the lake.

Maybe you don’t feel up to walking the whole 3.4 miles around the lake, but at least take a stroll partway. Notice the snowy white egrets and the pelicans diving into the shallow water. Notice the ducks, different colors patterns depending on which flock has stopped by on their migratory journey. If you’re feeling very ambitious, you can rent sailboats and paddle boats in the boathouse on the north side of the lake near the bird sanctuary, or catch an authentic Venetian gondola for a leisurely spin around the lake from the dock at Lake Chalet restaurant.

Luka’s Taproom
Time for lunch! Drive or walk the four blocks from the Grand Ave. and Harrison St. end of the lake to Luka’s Taproom, arguably the best neighborhood brasserie in Oakland. Luka’s is known for a great burger and frites, and for its huge selection of Belgian beers – 16 on tap and many more in bottles. I love a good burger, but in the interest of pacing, I also recommend the Oysters ($2.50 ea) or Mussels ($14) of the Day, or one of their really good salads like Iceberg Lettuce Wedge with Pt. Reyes blue cheese ($10), or Roasted Beet and Apple ($10). Or maybe just an order of Luka’s Belgian Style Fries served with three aiolis ($4,$6), with a refreshing glass of beer, of course.

Your afternoon is free for exploring. Here are a few interesting choices Oakland offers:

  • The Oakland Museum of California, 1000 Oak St., Oakland www.museumca.org
  • Oakland Art Murmur downtown galleries http://oaklandartmurmur.org/
  • Chabot Space & Science Center, 10000 Skyline Blvd., Oakland (requires a car) closed Mon & Tues, (510) 336-7300
  • A dockside tour of The Potomac, President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “Floating White House”, 540 Water St., Oakland (510) 627-1215
  • Kayak rental for a paddle in the estuary, California Canoe & Kayak, Jack London Square, Oakland, single $15/hr, double $25/hr.
  • A nap! (your place)

Bocanova
Happy hour at Bocanova, our final foodie stop for the day, starts at 3:00 p.m. Unless you plan to eat early (the kitchen opens for dinner at 5 p.m.), that’s probably a little early to start cocktailing but no worries…happy hour goes till 6:00 p.m. If you’re nibbly, there are delectable goodies to be had in the bar, like marinated Peruvian olives ($3) and Dungeness crab deviled eggs with chipotle aioli ($1.75 ea, minimum 2). Try one of their signature drinks, perhaps a Caipirinha (pronounced kai-per-een-ya) ($6). Now on to a delicious dinner.

Bocanova serves Pan-American cuisine, meaning the food of Central and South America, inspired by the flavors of the Mediterranean and the sustainably grown and raised food of northern California. Pork ribs with guava BBQ sauce ($15) appeals to me, as do sea scallops with Brazilian curry sauce ($21). Sweet potato and chipotle gratin ($9) beckons, and pear salad with Midnight Moon goat cheese ($12) does too. And the desserts – Happy Boy melon sorbet ($7 for a trio of sorbets), warm chocolate croissant bread pudding with Mexican chocolate ice cream ($8). Heaven!

It’s the perfect end to a perfect day. Now if we can just get someone to roll us home….

What & Where:
Brown Sugar Kitchen is open Tuesday – Saturday 7:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., and Sunday 8:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m. Closed Monday. Find it at 2534 Mandela Parkway, Oakland, phone 510-839-SOUL (7685).

Luka’s is open for lunch Monday – Friday 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. (and seven days a week for dinner). Find it at 2221 Broadway, Oakland, phone (510) 451-4677.

Bocanova is open 7 days a week. Happy hour is 3:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. Monday – Saturday. Dinner is served daily from 5:00 p.m. Find it at Jack London Square, 55 Webster St., Oakland. Phone (510) 444-1233. Reservations are a good idea.