There is yet another new cafe that recently opened in the Grand/Lakeshore neighborhood of Oakland, and this one is not only worth a visit but a return trip, too. The first thing I heard about Joseph Dunbar’s Kitchen 388 was that they were doing housemade pop-tarts, and since I do them for my business Marge, I had many friends writing me to go and check it out. Scope out the competition, so to speak. Then I heard they serve Four Barrel coffee, and I’m a big fan of Four Barrel and have a hard time finding it in the East Bay. Do note that they serve drip coffee and cafe au laits, but currently aren’t doing espresso drinks. So if you have your heart set on a foamy latte, you’ll have to keep traveling up the street.
Upon walking into Kitchen 388, you may feel like you’re in your favorite college cafe. The interior is a little-bit-sterile with bright art on the walls. They’ve tried improving the ambiance by adding Strauss bottles filled with flowers and a nice bar for cream and sugar, but it still feels dated. But that’s about where my criticism ends. The folks are warm and gracious and seem genuinely happy to be working there. The food is affordable and truly delicious. The menu isn’t necessarily revolutionary or anything that you won’t find at another great local cafe, but they’re doing it really well.
For breakfast, we ordered the Baked Eggs, Salmon Tartine, and the Banana Nutella Pop-Tart. I’m not quite sure where you can go in town and get a lovely breakfast for $5.95 — a few bucks more for a coffee. This was a delightful surprise. The Baked Eggs were simple but tasty with a little basil on top and ripe summer tomatoes on the side. The Salmon Tartine was fantastic — I’ll be back for this. Really great bread, a generous portion of salmon, a dollop of cream cheese, juicy tomatoes, onions and capers: hearty and delicious. And the pop-tarts that everyone’s been talking about. What’s the verdict?
They were good. I must say. The pastry is more soft than flaky but the amount of filling is perfect: they don’t come off as too spare or too gloppy. I chatted with the pastry chef, Alicia Toyooka, and she explained that they’re having a tough time keeping up with demand. She’s currently doing three varieties: a strawberry/rhubarb, a pecan, and the banana nutella. Everything is housemade and seasonal, so when strawberries and rhubarb are out of season she’ll start to look towards pears and apples for inspiration. Alicia noted that they don’t have much in the way of large-scale bakery equipment at Kitchen 388 so she’s literally been doing every batch of dough the old-fashioned way: no mixer, cutting the butter into the flour by hand each morning. I respect this. While her decision’s born from necessity and lack of space/equipment, I choose to do my pie dough this way because I really do think you can tell a difference. And this is evident in Alicia’s pastry, too.
While we didn’t have lunch, they offer a nice selection of salads and sandwiches and other small sweets (slices of apple cake and cookies). They also sell housemade jams and pounds of Four Barrel coffee to take home. As far as what’s in the cards next, it looks like extended hours and possibly some exciting evening pop-up dinners and other events. Kitchen 388 is currently open from 8-4 but they’re revisiting this and want to get a feel for the neighborhood before they decide what they best move will be here. As for pop-up dinners, it sounds like this is a preliminary idea, but Oakland could use a little after-hours food buzz; bring it on, Kitchen 388. We’re waiting.