When Forage Kitchen, the Oakland “co-working incubator space” for food-makers, opened in Uptown Oakland a few months ago, I toured the big, shiny facility, fantasizing about what I would make if I had a few hours each month to cut loose in the professional kitchen, tricked out with six stockpot burners, a big deep fryer, two double-stack convection ovens, and even a VacMaster Cryovac. My more realistic thoughts turned quickly to what great up-and-coming chefs might come into the space, designed to lower the financial bar for entry into food entrepreneurism by offering hourly rates on kitchen access, as well as training and visibility for aspiring makers.
Pal’s Take Away, which debuted here today, will be a regular tenant, open Monday-Saturday from 11-5. Jeff Mason developed a cult following with his creative take on sandwiches at several locations in San Francisco before heading to the Easy Bay to claim “permanent pop-up” status at Firebrand Artisan Breads, which made perfect sense given Mason’s need for quality carbs to lay a base for his creations. Alas, nothing is permanent, and Mason stopped serving there back in June.
Flash forward to yesterday, when Pal’s resurfaced at Forage Kitchen with a terrific new menu of sandwiches, salads and sides, as well as a daily agua fresca, beer and boxed wine. The food will appeal to neighborhood folks who want bold, assertive flavors in surprising combinations that work.
The place is billed as a takeout joint, but there are several sunlit tables inside and even more outside, where you can sit and enjoy your meal. And even though the menu is small, I had a hard time narrowing what to try on my first visit. The bread of choice for the poached local albacore is Josey Baker, with a firm crust, moist interior, and the ability to contain the generous scoop of tuna salad loosely held together by homemade mayonnaise and punctuated with cornichons, daikon sprouts, oil-cured tomatoes, and potato chips. Yes, the kid-like gesture of the chips on the sandwich works, especially if you eat it all up while the chips are still crunchy.
We got a side of the flavor-saturated broccoli rabe with chermoula dressing, a welcome raw-garlic shot to the brain.
The American Kobe roast beef, cooked rare, is surrounded by pimentón cheddar spread and decked with more condiments than you can count quickly, including spicy red cabbage slaw and barbecue sauce, a weird combination that most people wouldn’t have thought of.
Any of the sandwiches can be made as a salad, and the lao sausage on little gems with wheatberries and Champagne vinaigrette is a winner. While I’m sure it would be delightful on bread, there’s something marvelous about the fatty sausage and the crisp greens that left me feeling as if I’d had a balanced meal. I mean, really, what more does a person need? The sausage is the best I’ve had in recent memory, with deep pork flavor accented by lemongrass and enough chile to keep me engaged without needing to wash it down with a beer. Because it is lunch, after all.
Coming soon are rotisserie chickens, “hippie bowls,” and “Thanksgiving angel wings,” the latter two of which shall be mysteries until unveiled.
This meal made me excited all over again about the other chefs now working in the space, including the following:
- Ayako Iino of Yumé Boshi, who makes umeboshi (salt-cured plum pickles) and other Japanese preserves.
- Ash Cheriyan of Thistle, who specializes in nutritionist-designed meals for home delivery.
- James Woodard and his Smokin’ Woods BBQ, which caters events large and small.
- Camilo Velasquez, who’s made this his headquarters for The Baconer, where he transforms heritage pork into various forms of bacon.
- Sally Rogers, of Nibble, who is on a mission to reinvent snacking.
Pal’s Take Away (at Forage Kitchen)
478 25th St.
Oakland, CA 94612 [Map]
Hours: Mon-Sat, 11am-5pm; closed Sundays
Price Range: $ (sandwiches $12)
Facebook: Forage Kitchen