Lamb Kebab Plate with served with homemade purple-cabbage sauerkraut, mashed lentils, and pickles of fennel, carrot and celery.  Wendy Goodfriend
Lamb Kebab Plate with served with homemade purple-cabbage sauerkraut, mashed lentils, and pickles of fennel, carrot and celery.  (Wendy Goodfriend)

Camino Team Opens The Kebabery in Oakland’s Longfellow Neighborhood

Camino Team Opens The Kebabery in Oakland’s Longfellow Neighborhood

When I pulled up in front of The Kebabery on Market at 42nd Street in Oakland, there were no signs of life behind the wide garage-door storefront. And then, like magic, the door rolled up at 5pm to reveal the cheery, light-bathed kitchen staffed with folks prepping for the night.

Russell Moore, one of the most celebrated chefs on the east side of the bay (Camino, Chez Panisse) has just opened this pretty shop with his partner and wife Allison Hopelain and new collaborator Brian Crookes, in Oakland’s Longfellow neighborhood. Moore is best known for his open-fire grilling at Camino, and The Kebabery amplifies that theme with a small menu of kebabs: currently, lamb, chicken, and trumpet mushrooms; which you can order on skewers or in a sandwich of homemade flatbread.

Chef/Owner Russell Moore (left) Chef Traci Matsumoto-Esteban (2nd from left), Brian Crookes (far right).
Chef/Owner Russell Moore (left), Chef Traci Matsumoto-Esteban (2nd from left), Brian Crookes (far right). (Wendy Goodfriend)

Before you complain about the prices, which Yelpers are already doing in force just two weeks in, go to consider that everything on the menu is organic. If that matters to you, and perhaps you even try to shop organic, then the price bump makes sense. And beyond being organic, this compact menu proudly highlights the (mostly) local purveyors featured in every dish, including farms Tomatero and Mariquita in Watsonville, Straus Creamery in Petaluma, Giusto’s (for flour, also in Petaluma), and Napa Whole Spice in Napa, for the seasonings that go into the marinades and rubs. In my estimation, the quality is evident in the flavor-saturated, intensely focused food. So, $15 for a kebab, two salads, and homemade flatbread, including tip, isn’t as outrageous as it sounds, at least not in these parts.

The Kebabery interior.
The Kebabery interior. (Wendy Goodfriend)

The less transparent part of the pricing structure involves the no-tipping policy. Many Bay Area restaurants have jumped on the trend of adding a service charge to the bill to boost the pay-grade of woefully under-valued restaurant staff. But this is the first restaurant I’ve encountered that doesn’t state that percentage on the bill. Rather, the flat price simply includes a tip. It will be interesting to see how this plays out in the local scene; I think most people want to see a breakdown of what they’re paying, especially at a counter-service place such as The Kebabery. But the public will, no doubt, weigh in on this.

Kebabery menu on the wall at the counter.
Kebabery menu on the wall at the counter. (Wendy Goodfriend)
Kebabery chef and staff preparing dishes in the open kitchen.
Kebabery chef and staff preparing dishes in the open kitchen. (Wendy Goodfriend)

Now about the food, which is the reason to go. There are three kebab options: ground lamb mixed with herbs, marinated chicken, and trumpet mushrooms rubbed in spices. You can choose to order one of the three on a plate (with two salads and flatbread or lentils) or as a sandwich (on flatbread with one salad). All are served with thick, whole-milk yogurt and fermented chile paste.

Lamb Kebab Plate with served with homemade purple-cabbage sauerkraut, mashed red lentils, and pickles of fennel, carrot and celery.
Lamb Kebab Plate with served with homemade purple-cabbage sauerkraut, mashed red lentils, and pickles of fennel, carrot and celery. (Wendy Goodfriend)

Two of us ordered almost everything on the menu. A lamb kebab plate with BN Ranch lamb from Bolinas was perfectly grilled to medium, ever-so-slightly pink, infused with herbs and spices, and served with homemade purple-cabbage sauerkraut (lightly fermented) and pickles of fennel, carrot and celery. Instead of flatbread, we ordered the mashed red lentils, an earthy gluten-free starch that goes well with the spiced meats.

Chicken Kebab Plate, in a marinade of turmeric and other spices, grilled skin-on and served with flatbread, a raw carrot salad with caraway and mustard seeds and mashed beets.
Chicken Kebab Plate, in a marinade of turmeric and other spices, grilled skin-on and served with flatbread, a raw carrot salad with caraway and mustard seeds, and mashed beets. (Wendy Goodfriend)

Another plate had the chicken kebab, in a marinade of turmeric and other spices, grilled skin-on and served with a raw carrot salad with caraway and mustard seeds, and mashed beets. The leavened flatbread, homemade with identity-preserved whole grain from Central Milling in Logan, Utah, is briefly grilled as well, chewy and hearty, but light in texture.

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Both dishes were served with thick yogurt and spicy-salty fermented chile paste, best used combined. We ordered a third skewer, a la carte, of trumpet mushrooms, also turmeric-laden, big and meaty, and sweetly savory when grilled.

Skewer of trumpet mushrooms.
Skewer of trumpet mushrooms. (Wendy Goodfriend)

Portions aren’t huge, but neither are they small, and they’re quite satisfying in terms of both flavor and food combinations on the plate.

A non-alcoholic hibiscus punch was especially refreshing, tartly sweet, a spot-on pairing for the spice-driven food.

Hibiscus punch.
Hibiscus punch. (Wendy Goodfriend)

The only quibble I had with the whole experience regards the meager wine list. There’s a Riesling, a Provencal rosé and a California Pinot Noir, all of which seem a bit randomly chosen, and all overpriced at $8 for a small glass, no matter how you do the math. And the server knew nothing whatsoever about the three wines available, which seemed odd, given all the thought that went into this restaurant. There are two beers on tap as well, Social Kitchen SKB Pilsner and Fort Point Villager IPA, at $5 a glass.

The Kebabery menu.
The Kebabery menu. (Wendy Goodfriend)

The space, which reminds me of the design version of an indoor-outdoor taqueria in Rosarito Beach, is gorgeous with its white tiles, wooden benches, and substantial, graceful wooden chairs imagined by California College of the Arts students.

Interior space at The Kebabery.
Interior space at The Kebabery. (Wendy Goodfriend)

We didn’t make it to the TCHO chocolate pudding, but it seems likely that we will be back to try it, kids in tow.

The Kebabery exterior.
The Kebabery exterior. (Wendy Goodfriend)

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The Kebabery
4201 Market St.
Oakland, CA 94608 [Map]
Ph: (510) 922-1601
Hours: Thu-Mon, 5-9pm; closed Tue and Wed
Price Range: $$ ($15 kebab plates; $12 kebab sandwiches)
Instagram: @thekebabery_oakland

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