I noticed something this summer. It’s something I kept hearing from the college kids who returned home for break. Well, besides the footfalls on the front porch which came with much greater frequency when my daughter Margaret – my college freshman – was home. From my perch in my bedroom – I noticed there was a lot more traffic out there on the porch. It started with the footsteps – quick energetic ones – and then the door bell would ring. Our bell is a bit old and anemic so if you’re not used to it you’d never know it’s the door bell, but we do. After the bell, I would see the kids. And from them I heard a chorus – so happy to be back in Oakland and so excited to get to their favorite places and enjoy their favorite foods – food they’re not finding in their college towns. In fact One of my Favorite Girls of All Time looked at me when I asked her how much she loves Villanova – she said, “Well, the food isn’t good.”
It’s something I’ve heard before. I noticed it when my first daughter, Katie, went off to college three years ago. She missed a lot of things about Oakland – us – for one – SO MUCH. But we kept telling her she wasn’t missing anything. We’re here – still. We’re not going anywhere. And we’re not doing much – really. It was funny to hear how she was romanticizing – well – us. I mean it’s just us.
But she missed Oakland too. She said she missed its beauty. Her Strange New World, Chicago, was strangely flat. She missed how a few blocks behind our house the roads go straight up into some pretty big hills, which create some pretty great view spots from which you can see our entire world…. the San Francisco Bay, the Port of Oakland, the Will It Ever Be Finished Bay Bridge, the Ever Gracious Golden Gate Bridge, a little Marin County, a little Berkeley and of course some Oakland. She missed that. The view spot.
And finally she missed the food. She didn’t know it when we packed her off to college, we didn’t either really, that she had been spoiled by some great food. I’m talking about the way Oakland deals with food. It’s serious. It’s delicious. There are so many great food dreamers making their dreams come true in big and little ways – in brand new and a little older and even older still restaurants all over Oakland. It’s hard not to think that every place in the world isn’t teeming with incredible food opportunities like ours. I mean what’s a kid to do – a kid suddenly plucked out of Oakland.
I decided to ask all these kids what they miss the most. And I am revealing what I learned they might dream about as they face dinner in the dorms or try to find something to eat in their college towns. Well, the winner… the Number One missed food seems to be this–
Bake Sale Betty Sandwiches. Yep, that fried chicken sandwich with the cole slaw is ridiculous every time. Nobody minds the long line, not for one minute. But, I’ve got to be honest Betty – the kids are a little worried about your shrinking hours. They seem to think you need to be open longer and more often.
Then there’s Number Two. It was close – too. The second most popular Oakland food missed by college kids on campuses scattered around the United States… was this…
Yep. That’s the Cactus Crispy Tacos. There doesn’t seem to be a preference for beef or chicken. Whatever. It’s just the taco, so crispy, so slathered with guacamole, so good.
Gordo slid into third. The kids told me it was named the best burrito not just in Oakland but in America. I looked it up and found proof. I mean it says it right there in that link. Gordo was voted recently the second best burrito in America. That must be why Margaret’s always on the way back from or going to Gordo’s with Laura or Kate or Yalda.
And Zachary’s Pizza got a lot of mentions. It’s always good. The same good. Always a line, the same line. It even looks like the same people are in line. But if you are raised on Zachary’s, you don’t care. It comes with that particular food experience. Some kids also mentioned that the Caesar salad is pretty darn great.
The kids don’t really talk about this one – Five Ten Burgers. It’s a food truck. Once I took my daughter Margaret there with her friend Drew. We all decided the Eel River Grass Fed Beef Burger was the bomb. And so were the fries. Since then I’ve tracked that truck like a Native American might have tracked bison. I follow them on Twitter and Facebook. I always know where they are. And I intersect with them when I can. I am so crazy about Five Ten burgers I bring them up in conversations that aren’t even about food or blog posts that aren’t about food trucks. Here’s a picture.
Ok- I’m back. Now, when it comes to something sweet, these college co-eds know where to find it. There is often a mass exudes from our house to go to Cream. It’s two cookies filled with ice cream, any cookie, any ice cream… just about. The line forms there too every night. But apparently it’s worth the wait. The price is right.. just two dollars.
Cream is a grab and go situation but at Fenton’s, the kids say that on any night of the week they can get a table, order some ice cream and chances are good they’ll see someone they know. And the whole place is a little bit of a celebrity … it’s featured in the Pixar movie – Up!
Ici means “Here” in french. But it could mean – “The Line Forms Here.” A line forms there every night. The kids say those people aren’t the same ones they see in line at Zachary’s. They’re not just the locals. This line is international. They say people come from around the world to try the ice cream made with only with the freshest farmers market ingredients.
And the attraction at Ici isn’t just the ice cream. There’s usually someone there they know– scooping up the ice cream. This summer it was Mia- on the left.
Colonial Donuts – the one on Lakeshore – is the old standby. It’s open all night so it attracts the teenagers and young college kids who can’t get into bars yet. Over the years, just like at the view spot, a lot of little and big things were probably figured out over donuts at Colonial.
So, summer is winding down. One by one those freshman are peeling off for their sophomore year. They come by – say good-bye – and then they’re gone. They yell over their shoulders that they’ll see us at Thanksgiving. They all say that. And I’ve learned that we will see them at Thanksgiving until – we don’t. As their world begins to expand, the year comes that they don’t come home for that holiday and instead insinuate themselves with a family who lives closer to their college. A little later, they might skip a whole summer -like my oldest did this year – and opt, instead, for another opportunity like a job, an adventure overseas or a good internship. And then our world expands with theirs. In fact Katie’s decision to go to Seattle this summer lured us up there and to Vancouver where – among other things – we chased unfamiliar food trucks.
So it’s all quiet on the front porch now. The kids are gone. But I can’t help but think that no matter how far they wander – these kids will come back. I mean who wouldn’t want to come back to California – to the Bay Area. And in the meantime, we’ll be holding down the fort in Oakland. We’re here still – us, the views and all that fabulous food.