And now, an East Bay report from tablehopper intern Daniel Azarkman: It sounds like a foodservice fairy tale. ~HOMEROOM~ started as a conversation at a café between two people who didn’t know each other all that well. Though Erin Wade had worked as a cook in New York and Allison Arevalo kept a popular Berkeley-based food blog locallemons.com, neither had been on the administrative side of a restaurant. The pair felt strongly about the importance of locally-sourced cuisine, while agreeing on the need to make it more accessible. So, they thought, what could be less pretentious than mac and cheese?
They put together a repertoire highlighting different California cheeses and meats, and began by peddling their stuff from booths at events like the SF Underground Market. Meanwhile, they found a run-down space in Oakland and put their husbands to the task of building tables out of salvaged wood from Sequoia High School (architects Merites Abueg and Keith Morris may have helped out with the interior as well). The result is a whimsical nod to the American classroom aesthetic, complete with a chalkboard menu and a library catalog for storing your frequent-patron card.
After a hectic year, Homeroom will finally open for lunch on Tuesday February 15th, and will start serving dinner once they feel all is running smoothly. The owners held a pre-opening party on Saturday to thank the neighborhood for putting up with them, and to give people like me something to write about. I sampled three dishes that were surprisingly different considering they were all mac and cheese. First there was the Trailer Mac with an uncharacteristically complex cheddar, bits of Niman Ranch hot dog, and crumbled potato chips. The Mexican Mac came in an assertive chipotle-jack sauce, with loose chorizo from nearby Star Meats, chopped cilantro, and a lime wedge. My favorite of the night, though, was a riff on the Roman dish cacio e pepe—perfection with little more than a sharp pecorino and some sharper cracked black pepper. The cacio e pepe is February’s featured Exchange Student, Homeroom’s one chance a month to bring in a special cheese from abroad. These and seven other baked pastas in béchamel (vegan and gluten-free variations among them, using quinoa pasta and a gluten-free roux) will be on the opening menu, along with a few vegetable sides, salads, and homemade sweets.
Aside from the grown-up flavors, the menu breaks away from your nostalgic childhood standards in suggesting a beer and wine pairing for each mac dish. All beverage options are local, and most are produced on a small scale, like the Boeger tempranillo and Drake’s hefeweizen. There are even a couple of beer-based concoctions like ‘The Professor’ (half Pilsener, half lemonade), and a beer float using the super-bitter Old Rasputin Imperial Stout and Three Twins organic ice cream. For now there aren’t any chairs at the bar, which they’re also using as an overpass and a cashier stand, but single diners (and drinkers) can enjoy a seat at the rather large communal table. Open Sun-Thu 11am-9pm, and Fri-Sat 11am-10pm. 400 40th St. at Shafter, Oakland, 510-597-0400.