January 18, 2022

January 18, 2022
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Kowbird’s fried chicken and buckwheat waffle with honey butter. Photo: © tablehopper.com.

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The Southern Bird sandwich. Photo: © tablehopper.com.

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The Nashville-inspired Hot Bird. Photo: © tablehopper.com.

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Timeless candy apples. Photo: © tablehopper.com.

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The vintage horseshoe counter and new murals. Photo: © tablehopper.com.

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The exterior of Kowbird, with music playing inside and outside. Photo: © tablehopper.com.

Last Wednesday, I headed over to West Oakland for a preview lunch to check out the latest addition to the Horn Hospitality Group, ~KOWBIRD~. Founder and CEO Matt Horn’s fried chicken joint is a celebration of chicken and an homage to family gatherings, Sundays after church, and backyard meals with friends—he says, “To open a fried chicken concept in my home of Oakland is personal to me, it bridges family, love, soul, and good food.”

Kowbird opened last Friday for takeout, with a line that started at 7am and extended for blocks, just like when Horn Barbecue first opened. But what the public didn’t know is they were down two fryers over the weekend, which severely impacted service. How’s that for some Mercury retrograde shenanigans? Ugh. They are also changing their hours to be respectful of their team and output and are putting in a break in service—with such long lines, it’s a big push and they need to catch their breath.

Kowbird is on the corner of Peralta and 18th Street, where the former Pretty Lady diner has been feeding the neighborhood since 1949. The team kept the horseshoe counter with the vintage linoleum intact, plus some other original details, while adding murals with images of Black farmers and a soundsystem that plays both inside and outside. The music feels so personal—it’s a highly curated playlist of Etta James, Count Basie, Coltrane, Wycliffe Gordon, and others, “bringing the soul and love,” as Horn puts it. Horn Barbecue is about a 10-minute walk away, and their original pop-up was just across the street, so they are very committed to being part of the neighborhood and supporting the local community. Nina Horn, Matt’s wife, tells me they would eat at Pretty Lady often, and are honored that they had the opportunity to keep the location’s historic legacy in the neighborhood going.

They’re opening indoor seating this week (please be respectful and safe and don’t crowd, folks!), and will be placing benches along the perimeter of the building. They hope for approval for a parklet soon so they can offer outdoor seating.

The menu is centered on fried chicken, available in a variety of flavor combinations and either as a sandwich, plate, or with waffles! Call me a classic girl, but I love loved the Southern Bird, a downright huge, deboned, buttermilk fried chicken thigh that has layers of flavor in the crunchy, craggy dredge—they fry the chicken in aromatic rice bran oil, with chicken fat, herbs, garlic, and more. It comes on a Martin’s potato roll with housemade compressed pickles and their Kowbird sauce, which has a touch of tomato and honey to it, and that’s all I could be told (wink). This bird is major, so juicy and craggy and well-seasoned.

There’s also a Honey Bird, finished in a pickled mustard seed and aged honey sauce, and the Early Bird, with Southern-style gravy and a fried egg.

I was excited to try the Hot Bird, their West Oakland version inspired by Nashville hot chicken, which is brined for two-three days with buttermilk from the cultured butter they make, dredged, and finished with a dusting of a dehydrated, lacto-fermented chile powder. It’s fiery, but not too much—it has that kind of addictive heat that keeps you coming back for another bite, even though your mouth is getting progressively hotter (this happens to me when I eat Z&Y Restaurant’s chicken fried in explosive pepper, I just can’t stop). Good thing they have some housemade sweet tea here to cool your jets. I love that they use Duke’s mayo (my fave) and the bread-and-butter pickles are crucial to the balance and magic of this sandwich. Depending upon who made your sandwich, the pickles will either be on top of or below the chicken. On Sundays, you can get a fried catfish sandwich, with the option to order it Nashville hot.

Chef de cuisine Adam Lawrence walked me through their creative oyster mushroom vegan sandwich, which comes with a bean-based vegan aioli (instead of using aquafaba) that you drizzle over the hearty clusters of fried and seasoned mushrooms and carrot slaw. The dredge is full of cumin and coriander (which plays well with the cilantro in the slaw)—it also has a kick from serrano pepper juice. He has cooked vegan for over eight years, so he really wanted to help create a sandwich that would be as good as the chicken.

There’s a unique chicken-and-waffle combo, with a buckwheat waffle made with puffed buckwheat in a beignet-style batter, and a couple wings of that insanely good fried chicken. The hearty waffle is par-cooked and then fried (!) and served with their honey butter, which is made with caramelized honey and cultured butter, so it has a lot of deep flavor. (This reheats well at home, by the way.)

The sides are next-level: the rich fried cabbage with smoky country bacon is pretty special—I say get an order to bring home and put in your grilled cheese or try it on an English muffin topped with an egg (yes, I really heart leftovers). The three-cheese mac and cheese comes topped with crunchy dehydrated chicken skin, and I was telling a friend the dank fried gizzards are what gizzards aspire to be—they’re so good, don’t be afraid to try them, they’re the true chicken nuggets.

Dessert includes a variety of pies in the vintage pie fridge in the center of the restaurant, like sweet potato and pecan, and Key lime pie, and apple, but what will catch your eye are the glistening candy apples, an homage to Horn’s grandmother, who used to make and sell them at church and in the neighborhood. Horn remembers being a kid and he could barely get his chin on her dining table so he could gaze upon all the candy apples—you’ll have a similar feeling when you see them. I ended up cutting mine up into pieces at home because just in case you have a meeting, the red will stain your lips (and fingers!), which will make you look and feel like a kid again. You’ll find more pics of everything in my post on Instagram.

A couple more things: this spring will welcome Matty’s Old Fashioned, Horn’s Oakland burger joint (check out a pic of a preview burger I enjoyed last spring), and the release of his first cookbook: Horn Barbecue: Recipes And Techniques From A Master of The Art of Barbecue—presale available now via Amazon, or wait to buy it from a local bookseller when it comes out in April.

Open Wed-Sun 11am-3pm and 5pm-8pm. Follow updates at @kowbird. 1733 Peralta St. at 18th St., Oakland.  

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Bodega SF’s Sunday special of banh cuon, stuffed with wood ear mushrooms and pork. Photo: © tablehopper.com.

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Dry hu tieu noodles from Bodega SF (which I like to “elevate” with some Potli sriracha). Photo: © tablehopper.com.

Some SF old-timers and industry folks should recall the much-adored ~BODEGA BISTRO~, a fantastic Vietnamese spot on Larkin Street that closed some years ago, and was known for the kind and talented chef Jimmie Kwok (RIP). But thankfully, some extended family members have been running a Bodega Bistro pop-up out of the Rooster & Rice location on 18th Street in the Castro called ~BODEGA SF~, featuring original Bodega recipes and more for takeout (like their Sunday special of banh cuon, plus dry hu tieu noodles that help scratch the Ha Nam Ninh itch—I miss them and their dry #25 noodles so much—with phenomenal fish cake). The food is SO GOOD, and made with a deft touch.

But their time at this location is winding to a close—their last day will be Monday January 31st, and they hope to reopen in an interim location they just found around February 4th (at 590 Van Ness Ave. #304 at Golden Gate Ave.) while they work on their upcoming brick and mortar! That’s right, they’re opening a permanent spot! The new location is going to be in the Tenderloin/Union Square, formerly Mason House, which was only open for a couple months until Miss Rona cruelly closed it.

Chef Matt Ho and partners Eugene Kim and Adrienne Fornier (Nobu Palo Alto) will be opening a full-service restaurant, offering some modern/updated Northern Vietnamese dishes (Ho’s family is from Hanoi), with small bites and family-style dinners (with a mini pho for folks who just gotta have it at night—their beef pho really is on another level), plus a casual lunch, and there’s a full bar and lounge that will come later (plus: happy hour!). This also means the famous squab will be able to return! (This dish was a classic from Uncle Jimmie on Larkin Street!)

The space was a new build-out, so they’re just going to be doing some light updates, like a new paint job. There are 70 seats, and they will also continue to offer takeout and delivery. They’re aiming to open in March or April, and will be open six days a week for lunch and dinner, with a break in between service around 2:30pm. Follow their Instagram for updates, order takeout and delivery Wed-Mon 11am-8pm in the meantime, and don’t miss that banh cuon on Sundays! 140 Mason St. at Eddy.

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It’s time for SF to meet the Sloppy Joe at Little Red Window’s new East Coast Jewish deli pop-up. Photo: Little Red Window.

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These sandwiches will require two hands and lots of napkins. Photo: Little Red Window.

Pastrami lovers and my fellow sandwich fanatics: get excited. Coming in early February will be the latest concept to rotate through ~LITTLE RED WINDOW~, the takeout window attached to the Spanish Red Window restaurant in North Beach on the Stockton Street side. Chef Adam Rosenblum has been wanting to do this project all his life (he said to me, “This is my retirement plan!”), but lucky us, he’s rolling this out now.

He grew up eating in New Jersey and Maryland Jewish delis, so he understands the East Coast sensibility, and knows some insider dishes: like the Sloppy Joe, a deli sandwich that is like a Jewish deli club sandwich (not the sloppy beef-and-tomato sauce kind of sandwich) that he hasn’t seen outside of Jersey. It comes with three pieces of rye bread, two to three kinds of meats (it can be a combo of corned beef, ham, roast beef, or turkey), Swiss cheese, coleslaw, and Russian dressing. Adam will be doing turkey, roast beef, and corned beef on housemade rye. SIGN ME UP. (Read more about the origin of this awesome sandwich here, which has its roots in Havana!)

He has been dabbling with a pastrami recipe over the years, his favorite thing in life “besides my wife and kids” (cute comment there, Adam)! He was thinking it’s something the city could use more of, and he really loves the intersection of nostalgia and comfort that a Jewish deli brings. He notes, “It brings great comfort. It’s so simple, but when it’s done right, it’s so good.” With a city full of transplants, and the endless pandemic, it feels like the right time to launch. (It has been slim pickings—I was missing Shorty Goldstein’s so much, and am thankful Mark ‘n Mike’s came along to help fill the pastrami void.)

They will be curing their meats, baking their own breads (Rosenblum is currently trying some rye flour milled by Bayview Pasta), and making their own pickles and sauces. The window will offer sandwiches (the Sloppy Joe, a Reuben, pastrami, a tuna melt, and a build-your-own), plus chicken and matzo ball soup, smoked salmon plates (both hot-smoked and cold-smoked), and kreplach (Jewish dumplings he’s planning to fill with potato and onion). You may have noted no mention of bagels—it’s something he pondered, but the setup to serve bagels is kind of its own beast, and he’s choosing to focus on the deli side of things (for now).

Hours will be Tue-Thu 12pm-9pm or so, and Fri-Sun 10am-10pm (whenever the restaurant closes). There are some tables outside in the “spritz garden,” and you can enjoy adult beverages from Red Window, too. They’ll be wrapping up Little Red Window’s burger service (Adam is behind the epic Causwells burger), and plan to launch the Jewish deli menu on Tuesday February 1st. Follow @littleredwindow for updates and get ready to NOSH! 1500 Stockton St. at Columbus.

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The lightly updated interior of Key Klub (previously Hopwater Distribution). Photo courtesy of Key Klub.

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Nothing like a sunny Mission day on the rooftop. Photo courtesy of Good Good Culture Club.

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A capricciosa pizza napoletana from ‘Na Pizza. Photo courtesy of ‘Na Pizza.

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A birria pizza from Don Pancho Pizzeria. Instagram photo via @donpanchopizzeria.

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Fish cake bánh mì from Banh Mi Viet. Photo: © tablehopper.com.

There are a bunch of openings happening, so I wanted to make sure these are on your radar—you can go back to my earlier stories (linked) for details. Here’s a quickfire round:

I broke the news about the opening of the ~KEY KLUB~ back before the holidays, and they have officially opened/ended their soft opening period. Check out the menu (OMG, can we talk about the Key bumps? They did not! Cracking up over here.) The natural wine and beer list is so much fun, with plenty of small or larger plates to pair with them. Hours are Tue-Wed 5pm-11pm, Thu-Sat 5pm-12am. 850 Bush St. at Taylor.

Like I mentioned in my column in December, the colorful ~GOOD GOOD CULTURE CLUB~ was opening in the former Dear Inga/ temp Liholiho pop-up space in the Mission. It’s now open, check out the appetizing menus with Laotian and Filipino inspiration here. Rooftop seating, yes! Open Tue-Sat 5pm-9pm. 3560 18th St. at Dearborn.

Back in October, I announced ~‘NA PIZZA~ from the Roma Antica crew was opening in the former Pluto’s, and it’s now open, serving authentic pizza napoletana, as well as calzone, appetizers like mozzarella in carozza (fried mozzarella croquettes), and more. Open daily 12pm-10pm. 3258 Scott St. at Chestnut.

More pizza: opening inside La Vaca Birria in the Mission this Thursday January 20th is ~DON PANCHO PIZZERIA~, with a lineup of 12 pizzas with Latinx ingredients and inspiration, like one with birria (of course), the elotero with corn and cotija, a mole verde and chicken pizza, and there’s even one that pays homage to the space’s former incarnation as Discolandia. Sabrocito!! Here’s the menu. The pizzas feature housemade sausage and chorizo and is halal. 2962 24th St. at Alabama.

I was happy to receive an invite to a preview of the reopening ~FORT POINT VALENCIA~, a stylish taproom that was only open for five months before the pandemic struck. Chef Eric Ehler has moved on to That’s Outta Sight (party bread, we miss you), but they’ll be releasing a new menu soon. I didn’t hear back in time with their official reopening day, but I imagine it’s in the next couple weeks or so—the preview is at the end of this month. Will share more details once I receive them. 742 Valencia St. at 18th St.

After reading in Hoodline about the bánh mì shop that finally opened in the former nail salon on Divisadero, ~BANH MI VIET~, I reached out to speak with one of the owners for deets, but they didn’t get back to me in time for my deadline. No matter, I checked it out last week with a friend—it’s a tiny takeout spot. It’s great to have some well-assembled bánh mì in the neighborhood ($9-$10)—we tried their very fresh shrimp spring roll, fish cake bánh mì (with tasty fish cake—and the baguette is light and fluffy, with a somewhat crackly exterior), and we loved their lemongrass beef vermicelli, the perfect lunch dish. Also dug their Vietnamese iced coffee. You can grab a sandwich and easily head to Alamo Square. Open daily 8am-5pm. 518 Divisadero St. at Hayes.

This is sweet: some former customers (with restaurant industry experience) of Halu, the beloved izakaya spot that closed last year in the Inner Richmond, have reopened it as a yakitori spot: ~MOKU YAKITORI-YA~. (The rock posters have repoertedly come down, however.) Open Wed-Sun 5pm-9pm. 312 8th Ave. at Clement.

And in the Mission, the tiny ~MR. POLLO~ is back with a new chef, Graham Bellefeuille (Contigo) at the helm. He’s offering the space’s affordable menu (it’s four courses for $40)—the signature arepa course is still part of the experience. Open Tue-Sat 6pm-10pm. Book via Yelp reservations. 2823 Mission St. at 24th St. [Via Eater]

According to a post, the plant-based/gluten-free ~WHOLESOME BAKERY~ on Divis is going to start serving dinner Friday through Sunday in February as Wholesome Kitchen, offering housemade pizza, lasagna, soup, salad, along with a beer and wine list. 295 Divisadero St. at Page.

Across the Bay, ~SPLIT~ has opened their third location, this time in Uptown Oakland (the former dosa by dosa spot, sniff sniff), serving lunch to start, with breakfast and dinner coming at the end of January. There are also cocktails and boozy slushies, and outdoor seating. 2301 Broadway Ave. at 23rd St., Oakland.

The former Kebabery in Oakland is now ~JOODOOBOO~, focused on housemade tofu and a rotating selection of seasonal banchan available by the pound from chef Steve Joo. Open Wed-Sat 11am-5pm. 4201 Market St. at 42nd St.

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Chef Tanya Holland; photo via Facebook.

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The Ham on the Run sandwich in a gougère! Photo courtesy of Daughter’s Diner.

Some really unfortunate closures to report on, starting with ~FAMILY CAFE~ in North Beach, who announced they are closing January 29th. Customers have been coming out of the woodwork to say goodbye to this beloved Japanese daytime restaurant, so co-owners Jessica and Tada Furui (along with Ray Lee of Akiko’s) have been a bit overwhelmed and are running out of dishes early, FYI. They are currently open Tue-Sat 12pm-3pm, offering outdoor dining in their parklet only, and no take out. They are grateful for everyone’s love and support. 362 Columbus Ave. at Vallejo.

Across the Bay, the news that Tanya Holland had to close her iconic ~BROWN SUGAR KITCHEN~, after nearly 15 years in business, hit hard. Not only are her legions of fans already missing her epic buttermilk fried chicken and cornmeal waffles, but it’s really tough to see a longtime, Black, female-owned business that has been such a flagship business in Oakland close its doors. Read more in the Nosh piece here. Town Fare, Holland’s plant-based restaurant in the Oakland Museum of California, remains open.

I was very saddened to learn my lunch at ~DAUGHTER’S DINER~ a couple weeks ago was going to be my last. The family-owned, all-day restaurant from Justyna and chef Keven Wilson opened during the pandemic, and they gave it their best to make it through. The creative diner fare was so delicious, from the steak tartare to the brilliant warm duck confit salad to the hearty burgers, and will be missed by so many folks who were lucky to live nearby. Best wishes to them. 326 23rd St. at Webster, Oakland.

A tablehopper reader reported the neighborhood organic rotisserie spot, ~SPINNERIE~, has closed. 1401 Polk St. at Pine.