The stark, unyielding writing of Joan Didion, and candy-colored paintings of Wayne Thiebaud, two artists who died in December, both worked to fix in time vivid moments of California culture, its darkness, its beauty (and in the case of Thiebaud, its food). They added to the way we thought about our region and state, and ultimately added to the way we thought.
In that spirit, it can be said that many of the following restaurants helped fix in time a local era and viewpoint, and contributed to our own histories. One allowed immigrants and their children familiar tastes of faraway homes and childhoods. One served really good pizza, the great cultural leveler, to countless dates and crowds. And one was among the cream of the crop for special-occasion dining. Remember them well, locals! As they can never be replicated, not even with magical thinking. As always, please send tips to firstname.lastname@example.org.
BABETTE BAMPFA This one gets a pass, as it is not closing but simply moving house: After nearly 10 years, award-winning cafe Babette’s last day at BAMPFA was Dec. 22, as owners Joan Ellis and Patrick Hooker have opted to move out of the museum and into their own brick-and-mortar at 2033 San Pablo Ave. Look for the cafe’s 2022 opening to reanimate the Berkeley space left behind by Lanesplitter’s exit (see below). Babette BAMPFA was at 2155 Center St. inside the U.C. Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive.
LANESPLITTER BERKELEY Well this is it. Berkeley must make a clean break and say a firm, healthy good-bye to a come-as-you-are, classic pizza restaurant that has, for better or worse, moved on after 23 years. But how can we live without them? We have so much history! And have eaten so many slices (with so much beer) at those wooden picnic tables, both inside the cozy dining room and within the confines of the protected back garden patio! Those action figures, what will become of them? Two decades of first dates, and group gatherings, celebrations and casual family fun — when Lanesplitter first opened its Berkeley flagship in 1998, many of our hairstyles were…bigger. Nosh watched the chain grow into four locations, then two, and now there is one. Hang in there, Lanesplitter Emeryville, and hang in there Berkeley. And welcome Babette (see above), we’re so glad you’re taking the space. Lanesplitter Berkeley was at 2033 San Pablo Ave.
FILIPPO’S RESTAURANT It’s often the cheerful, low-key restaurants that feel like they’ll be there always, and Filippo’s in Rockridge, at the corner of College and Manila avenues, was one such reliable outpost. For 30 years it served the neighborhood with family-friendly Italian food in a warm, upscale-casual trattoria setting. The restaurant was founded in 1992, by Philip Raskin (presumably the “Filippo” behind the name); most recent owners Geovanni and Cynthia Vicente proudly kept up the restaurant’s soulful menu, wine list and service. A note on the website says, “Filippo’s has closed up shop. Thanks for all the support along the way,” and on Nextdoor a note from Geovanni ended, “…we will miss you dearly, thank you, thank you.” Oliveto’s closing down the street may be getting all the press, but plenty of local customers and families will remember Filippo’s friendly neighborhood appeal. Filippo’s was at 5400 College Ave.
OLIVETO RESTAURANT AND CAFE What to say about this white-tablecloth Italian destination and its more casual, street-level cafe, both among the Bay Area’s finest? When Nosh editor Eve Batey broke the story in November of the Rockridge institution’s closing Dec. 31, there was a collective sucking in of breath — and hasty securing of final reservations. Founded by husband-and-wife Bob Klein and Maggie Blyth Klein inside the Rockridge Market Hall in 1986 (the year of Microsoft’s initial public offering, food writer Derk Richardson once reminded readers in a review), Oliveto shared many values, and sometimes chefs, with Chez Panisse — hands-on proprietors, teamwork, simplicity, relationships with farmers, consistent excellence, seasonality — but the Kleins headed to Italy for their inspiration instead of France. Dishes might include spit-roasted meats, wood-fired pizzas, delicate house-made pastas, high-end seafood. In 2014, Oliveto’s dining room itself made news, as the Kleins were among the first to try Meyer Sound’s ground-breaking speaker system to ensure acoustic intimacy at the table, elevating the restaurant’s already quietly luxurious appeal. As Batey noted, Oliveto’s chef’s roster over the years included acclaimed heavy-hitters Michael Tusk, Paul Bertolli and Paul Canales; Jonah Rhodehamel and then Brian Griffith helmed from 2010, and current chef Peter Jackson came on during the pandemic. The pandemic, whose risks and uncertainty the Kleins refused to cow to, even as they were of retirement age. “We wanted to go out with joy,” Bob Klein told Nosh, and indeed that one statement might soothe Oliveto’s brokenhearted public, as we digest this major change to our local dining landscape. Oliveto was at 5655 College Ave.
THE TRAPPIST This 14-year-old Oakland taproom, once a central point in the East Bay’s craft beer boom, shuttered on Dec. 31. Owners Aaron Porter and Adriana Porter Dominguez handed the business over to Santa Cruz brewery Sante Adairius Rustic Ales (SARA) on the last day of the year, it told patrons via email, with new owners Adair Paterno and Tim Clifford in attendance on its last night to meet the spot’s loyal fans. The taproom will eventually reopen as the Oakland Arbor, the SF Chronicle reports, at a date as yet unknown. Meanwhile, Porter and Porter Dominguez, who now live in the South Bay, tell the Chron that they’re opening a cafe/clothing shop in Los Altos, and hope to eventually open a new Trappist on the Peninsula. The Trappist was at 460 Eighth St. in Oakland. — Eve Batey
ANDY’S ORIGINAL CHICKEN [Begins typing in Openings…] Not new but new to Nosh is Andy’s Original Chicken in Richmond, an apparently delicious fried chicken outlet that comes highly recommended. Apologies for not covering its June opening sooner, as…wait, apparently it has already permanently closed. Ugh, pandemic! [Moves paragraph to Closings.] Seriously, wishing luck to the business owners. Even after only six months, you made fans and will be missed. Andy’s Original Chicken was at 969 23rd St. in Richmond.
THE JUNKET Nosh stopped by this El Cerrito Plaza favorite right before Christmas in search of imported European treats, and found empty shelves. By that evening, the reason for the mysteriously quiet deli was all over social media: After 42 years, married deli owners Bruno and Cindy Frisch and their family announced The Junket was closing for good. Generations are lamenting the loss of their beloved source for German and British imported products, from snacks and condiments to beer and canned haggis, as well as the shop’s famous sandwiches made with specialty breads, meats and cheeses. But most importantly, the community will miss the loving hospitality bestowed upon them by the Frischs. For all of The Junket’s forty-two years, German-born Bruno and British-born Cindy (by way of Jamaica) worked the shop’s counter, stocked the shelves and provided top-tier customer service. “People came here with their children and I would watch them grow up,” Cindy Frisch told Berkeleyside after The Junket’s 40th anniversary in 2019. Meanwhile, the Frisch’s own children Gary and vegetarian daughter Schatzie (meaning “little treasure,” a nickname from her dad), themselves grew up at the deli, and spent years helping with the family business.
In an email to Nosh, Schatzie (creator of the deli’s ironic headcheese art) shared the following note of farewell on behalf of the family: “The Junket was my parents’ Fountain of Youth. When the pandemic hit in 2020, Cindy was but a spry 90-year old and Bruno an energetic 89-year old. They had previously worked 6 days a week, (and enjoyed working at The Junket even on their days off). ‘Shelter at home’ took effect. My parents and their employees aged 65+ complied. Cindy still went to The Junket in the evenings when the customers were gone, and worked remotely from home…but it was difficult. Bruno and Cindy are very social. They missed their friends, who were also their customers at The Junket. The Fountain of Youth was no more. And really, The Junket is not The Junket without Bruno and Cindy.” Nosh wishes good luck and health to all, and hopes the many, many stories of gratitude and fondness pouring forth bolster the spirits of the Frischs as they and their staff bid the Plaza auf wiedersehen. The Junket was at 235 El Cerrito Plaza in El Cerrito.
MILLIE’S KITCHEN Lafayette lost a long-loved neighborhood institution in December with the closure of Millie’s Kitchen, a gathering place for homestyle breakfast and brunch since 1975. According to the East Bay Times, the family-friendly diner-style restaurant was most recently owned by Eva Clement, a 14-year-long employee of Millie’s who bought it when Millie herself retired in 1989. Now Clement is doing the same, and promises a new ownership announcement in 2022. For now, though, the comfort-food standby, an affordable bastion of bygone Lafayette, is closed after nearly five decades. Millie’s Kitchen was at 1018 Oak Hill Road in Lafayette.
Featured photo: Lanesplitter/Facebook