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Mona Leena Michael’s The Mana’eesh Lady is one of the biggest pandemic pop-up success stories of the year. The Palestinian American chef has toiled at big-name Bay Area restaurants like San Francisco’s Serpentine and Oakland’s Dyafa (among many others), but when COVID-19 stopped the dining industry in its tracks, she started popping up at spots like The Libertine with her topped and baked round flatbreads called mana’eesh, which the SF Chronicle has characterized as “Palestinian pizza” that’s “reminiscent of the legendary Una Pizza Napoletana pie in texture.”
The wildly successful pop-up served its last za’atar and mozzarella mana’eesh on May 1, but Michael isn’t winding the business down. Instead, Michael announced in April, she will open a California-Palestinian restaurant called Lulu at 1019 Camelia St. in Northwest Berkeley, the former location of the cozy Nest of Comforts tea house, which shuttered last month.
Michael tells Nosh that her hope is to start serving customers by late July, but she’s realistic about the challenges of opening a business in the Bay Area, and says that she’s prepared for a launch around “the beginning of October.” In the interim, folks with a craving for her savory dips and cheesy mana’eesh can seek her catering services on a “case by case basis”; requests can be made via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Lulu, 1019 Camelia St. (near 10th Street), Berkeley
In February, the Cheese Board added Sunday hours, but this month, the worker-owned bakery-pizzeria announced that Sundays are once again a day of rest for the collective. However, this weekend, they’ll make an exception. On May 23, the Cheese Board will open from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. for a special cause — to raise money for COVID-19 relief in India through the day’s pizzeria sales. The menu will feature curried potato pizza; chaat masala-spiced corn, red onion and cucumber salad with raita dressing and — wait for it — two flavors of buffalo milk soft serve: cardamom and kashmiri saffron. Proceeds will go to Hemkunt Foundation, a humanitarian group setting up oxygen centers in India and a fundraising initiative started by journalist Rana Ayyub, which provides rations to underprivileged Indian communities.
Soft serve has been unavailable at the Cheese Board since the pandemic started, so Sunday’s dessert will be an extra special treat. When asked if this event will kickstart regular soft-serve service again, Cheese Board community liaison Ambri Pukhraj told Nosh, “honestly it depends on staffing. In short, TBD.” The Cheese Board, 1512 Shattuck Ave. (at Vine Street), Berkeley
According to a sign in the window of 4021 Broadway, Aman Kitchen, which promises “roti all day,” is preparing to open. It’s moving into the space that many folks still think of as China Hut, a 12-year-old takeout standby that shuttered last February, and was most recently occupied by next-door neighbor Teni East Kitchen. Details on the restaurant are scarce and an email to Teni East owner Tiyo Shibabaw didn’t get a response as of publication time. But this spot might be big news for vegetarians, as an Instagram page associated with the restaurant displays only plant-based dishes like mixed vegetables with Impossible meat and roti made vegan-style. Aman Cafe, 4021 Broadway (near 40th Street), Oakland.
When this correspondent spoke with Black Food Collective founder Rashad Armstead last fall, the Oakland chef and winner of season 41 of Food Network competition show Chopped, said that “it’s only thanks to therapy that I’m here talking to you today.”
Armstead, who operated Oakland spots Grammie’s Down-Home Chicken & Seafood and Crave BBQ, has been quite outspoken about his struggles to maintain his mental health in the face of systemic racism and the pressures of the restaurant industry, and now his mission has a new platform: The Me You Can’t See, an Apple TV+ series co-produced by Oprah Winfrey and Prince Harry about “illuminating stories that help lift the veil on the current state of mental health and emotional well-being.” Armstead says he shared his story with the show’s producers “with the hopes that it would start the conversation for others.” The series premieres on May 21 on Apple TV+.
After two or so years in business, Playt — a Hayward restaurant from the folks behind late and lamented Oakland spot Picán — looks like it has closed for good. Owner Michael LeBlanc, who described the spot’s offerings as “Sideways Southern comfort food” when it opened in 2018 with a menu of hot wings, gumbo and grits, didn’t respond to a request for comment, but Playt’s website is down, Yelp marks it as closed, its Instagram is dormant and its outgoing voicemail message says that it is “closed until further notice” as of Nov. 6, 2020. According to a Nosh tipster, a sign recently appeared on the restaurant’s door that suggested the spot might not reopen and thanked customers for their years of support. Playt, 1036 B St. (near Main Street), Hayward
North Oakland herbal-focused restaurant The Well Cafe has virtually expanded, opening a takeout and delivery-only outpost in Fruitvale, it said in an email to customers. The new outpost is inside the Oakland Food Hall at 2353 E 12th St., the CloudKitchens-owned commissary formerly known as Jingletown Eats. The new Well outpost’s menu of bowls, smoothies and toasts is most easily found via DoorDash, but owner Anwen Baumeister says it’s also available on UberEats, Grubhub and Postmates, or you can call to order takeout at 510-328-0539. Hours for pickup and delivery are from 7:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. daily. The Well, Oakland Food Hall, 2353 E 12th St. (near 23rd Avenue), Oakland
International collective Afro Soca Love is known for its weekend-long festivals of food, drinks, and music at locations around the globe — events that have been on hold for the last year to slow the spread of COVID-19. But now the celebration is back, this time as a family-friendly Black-owned marketplace featuring African American, Caribbean, African and Afro-Latin food vendors. It runs from May 29-31, with tickets (which are going fast) available here. Afro Soca Love, Lot 13, 341 13th St. (near Webster Street), Oakland
Save our Chinatowns, the food-focused, grassroots arts nonprofit behind the Oakland Chinatown-supporting ‘zine “Have You Eaten Yet,” changed its name to Cut Fruit Collective as of May 1, spokesperson Daphne Wu tells Nosh. She says the name change was prompted by the realization that they must “go beyond a dynamic of ‘saving’ one community to fully joining forces with and uplifting our fellow Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities.” They chose “cut fruit” as a name because “it’s such a shared love language across Asian diasporas,” Wu says. The group has already dropped a tasty merch line, with funds going to local nonprofits Family Bridges, the Vietnamese American Community Center East Bay and Equality Labs.
Your weekly roundup of other East Bay food news to know. Heads up: We sometimes link to sites that limit access for non-subscribers.
Nosh editor Sarah Han contributed reporting.
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