San Francisco’s Park Group opens an all-day dining spot in Oakland’s Paradise Park neighborhood.
Who knew this neighborhood, the locus of which is at San Pablo Avenue and Alcatraz Street in North Oakland, was once called Paradise Park? When café co-owner Rachel Herbert was flipping through possible names for the new space, opening today in the former Actual Café/Victory Burger location, she found herself researching the history of the neighborhood. Herbert and her wife, co-owner Dana Oppenheim, have three cafés in San Francisco: Duboce Park Café, Precita Park Café, and the ever–teeming Dolores Park Café. Imagine their delight to be able to carry on the naming parallelism.
Paradise Park offers a menu as diverse as the diets of its soon-to-be patrons. While there’s wine and beer, the bar is dominated by organic juices and smoothies. My favorite is the Popeye, with spinach (of course), celery and carrot, with a little ginger kick. Coffee is provided by the women-owned Equator in Marin, both Park Café Group’s own blend, a darker roast, and rotating single-origin selections. And there’s lots of pastries from local farmers-market favorite Starter Bakery.
The special kids’ menu includes gluten-free mac and cheese, Zoe’s hot dogs, and a sunflower nut butter and banana sandwich. (Sunflower nut butter is the new peanut butter in the current landscape of nut allergies, such that many kids have come to prefer it to the classic PB, verboten in many schools and summer camps.)
We tried a number of the mainstay lunch items, each of which was solidly conceived—in particular, the fried chicken sandwich, coated in a light tapioca batter and served on a challah bun with greens, carrots, radishes, pickled onion, and sriracha aioli. A twist on tofu, the housemade chickpea “tofu” looks like a wedge of the soy product, but is, in fact, akin to socca, the chickpea flower pancakes you see in Provence, here spiced with curry tones and available in any salad.
There are two burgers: grassfed beef and housemade quinoa, the former topped with Vermont cheddar and fried onions, and the latter veggie-laden, both served on brioche buns with perfect fries. It’s nice to be able to take a burger craving in either direction of the saturated-fat continuum.
Salad bowls are thoughtfully composed, too. We tried an all veggie version (vegan, in fact) with organic greens, grilled asparagus tips, carrots, radishes, mint, snap peas, pickled red onion, fried onion, and toasted peanuts with a light citrus vinaigrette. I loved the variation on the theme that comes with Vietnamese-style chicken sausage and vermicelli.
The kitchen’s signature dessert is a fried ice cream burrito! It’s kind of like a dessert chimichanga, a secret recipe of ice cream rolled up in a flour tortilla and flash-fried, sure to please kids and likely rev them up.
The shell of the former space remains, but Paradise Park has a much cleaner look and feel. The graffiti in the bathrooms has been freshly tiled over, a loungey area with a charging station has gone into a far corner, and a generous playspace for kids stretches across the back. What’s cool is that the room is big enough so you can see them from all the way across, allowing for some independence for both parents and children.
And the old Victory Burger space in the back retains the kitchen seating for those who want to be in a smaller section away from the main dining room, looking out onto the patio (which has a big communal table). The outdoor space, which opens onto the kitchen with the click of an electric garage door, will be used for themed pop-ups.
While they’ve kept the wall of stickers that evolved throughout Actual Café’s tenure, the other walls have gotten a serious upgrade with brain-stimulating isometric illustrations from Berkeley artist Nigel Sussman.
Oakland and Berkeley residents will welcome this happy, laid-back space, and I hope the newly reclaimed neighborhood nomenclature sticks. Paradise Park sounds like a good place to live.
Join Paradise Park Café for their Grand Opening Thursday, August 17, 7am–8pm
20% of the day’s proceeds will benefit the East Bay College Fund and Oakland Promise.
Ribbon Cutting @ 5pm with Jose Corona, Director of Equity & Strategic Partnerships for Mayor Libby Schaaf and Diane Dodge, Executive Director of East Bay College Fund.
Live music & surprise swag giveaways to follow.