Sunday, January 31, 2010

A Lot is Cooking at Summer Kitchen

Today was such a beautiful day (a brief break in the Bay Area from the recent rain) that I decided to take a walk to the Elmwood neighborhood in Berkeley. It's been awhile since I've been here, so it was nice to check out some of the new things in the area, including the 3-month-old Summer Kitchen Bake Shop.

Opened by husband-and-wife team Paul Arenstam and Charlene Reis, Summer Kitchen was inspired by their trips to Martha's Vineyard. The little place on College Avenue has the pristine beach cottage feel of Martha's Vineyard, but also has a bit of country living like Napa Valley. Its bright interiors can bring a summer feel even on a winter day.

Selling sandwiches and picnic-like food and a whole bunch of baked goods, this looks like a little stop on your way to someplace special, that last stop to pick up some amazing food before your final destination. But Summer Kitchen is in the dense Elmwood area, just a door away from the popular Ici ice cream shop and other little stores.

Arenstam is the former executive chef of Americano at the Hotel Vitale in San Francisco, and Reis once worked as a pastry chef at Chez Panisse (who hasn't it seems?). Arenstam is busy in the back kitchen preparing the menu, which changes with the season. Summer Kitchen also sells salads and soups, and everything is made to order. (For dinner, it offers up daily specials like roasted chicken, beef bourguignon, enchiladas or spaghetti, along with pizza.)

Along the walls, there's a country market feel with products that are high-end gourmet items that are all locally made. Things like these Happy Girl pickled items, Blue Bottle Coffee, and Blue Chair jams.

I decided to stay for lunch, ordering the pressed Cubano-braised pork sandwich with rosemary ham, Patch's housemade pickles, Swiss cheese and spicy mayo ($8.50). I love pressed sandwiches, and since this was made to order, it was nice and toasty. The meat was tender and easily pulled away with each bite, and I enjoyed the mix of savory meat with the cheese and especially the perfect pickles, bringing crunch and a slight sweet-tart taste.

The quality of the sandwich reminds me of Blue Barn, one of my favorite sandwich stores in the Marina in San Francisco. I really want to go back and try some of the cupcakes at Summer Kitchen, because it had some interesting flavors, including one that looked like a meringue. Instead, I went next door to Ici for some cardomom-darjeeling ice cream. I think that's one of the advantages of having lunch at Summer Kitchen -- its close proximity to Ici for dessert!

Summer Kitchen Bake Shop is open for lunch and dinner, but since it has very limited seating (one big table, a tiny table, and a few counter seats) this seems more like a place to pick up some amazing food to take home (or when summer arrives ... for a picnic). Whether its inspiration was Martha's Vineyard or Napa Valley, Summer Kitchen brings a fresh image of high-end country feel to Berkeley.

Summer Kitchen Bake Shop, 2944 College Ave., Berkeley. PH: 510.981.0538. Open Tuesday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. (Closed Monday).

Other slices of gourmet takeout:
Gourmet Ho-Down at Blue Barn
Casual Sandwich or Epicurean Delight at Il Cane Rosso
Gregoire: "Bringing Restaurant Entrees to Your Dinner Table"


Hungry Dog said...

That sandwich looks awesome! I'll have to try and remember this place next time I'm in Berkeley. I'd like to check out Ici too.

Spiele said...

beautiful pace to eat in

James said...

It's always interesting to see what changes are taking place in my old hood... seems more upscale/artisan than ever!

Carolyn Jung said...

What an adorable looking place. Plus, who can resist that name: Summer Kitchen Bake Shop. Just saying the name makes you think happy thoughts.