I’ve had a love/hate relationship with Berkeley Bowl for years. I love it because it's usually the only place I can find escarole, the produce department has 20 different types of onions and more varieties of pears than I knew existed, and I've never seen more tomatoes loaded up in huge gorgeous piles of red, yellow, purple and green anywhere. It also has one of the best fish markets in the area, a plentiful butcher counter with diverse cuts of meat, and more bin-food items than you could ever hope to scoop.
Unfortunately, the negatives are so overwhelming that I rarely step foot in the place. The parking lot alone is reason enough to run for the hills. It's like demolition derby with aged Volvos trying to out-maneuver newer hybrids to stake their claims on the all too elusive parking spots. By the time I make it inside the actual store I need a valium, but am instead met with a melee of other crabby shoppers who are also irritated from their own parking lot experiences, sticky floors, and long lines. The whole place gives me a headache.
But after seven long years of planning, negotiating, and building, Berkeley Bowl has opened a new warehouse-style market just off Ashby in Berkeley near I-80. This is great news for anyone who loves what Berkeley Bowl has to offer but detests actually shopping there. With two large parking lots, a new and clean interior with pretty much everything the old store offers, plus a large café with ample seating, it’s the new go-to East Bay market.
Like the old store, Berkeley Bowl West has a vast produce section with plenty of beautifully ripe fruits and vegetables of all kinds abundantly laid out. The organic section, however, is a little different in that it is now set apart from the main fruits and vegetables area and shares a space with the bulk food aisles. This is somewhat convenient as it means you no longer have to discern which fruits and vegetables are organic while shopping. I must admit, however, that it’s sort of a pain to have to get your cucumbers weighed and the bag stickered with the price before you can leave the zone. Cemone, the woman who weighed my fruit, said they set up the organic section this way because the checkers had too many SKU numbers to memorize and this made the checkout area run more smoothly. She seemed very earnest and nice when telling me about their system, but I must say I'm skeptical about the merits of separately weighing and pricing everything only to have to get in line again later to check out. I will reserve judgment, however, until I'm there on a busy day.