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California Dreamin’ – Brown Sugar Kitchen

In my continuing quest to eat as many of my favorite foods as possible that will be difficult or expensive to get in Japan, I decided to make a stop at Brown Sugar Kitchen, home of what could be Oakland’s best chicken and waffles. This particular morning, I took our car in for service and the service manager said I had 3 hours to kill and a shuttle that would take me anywhere in a 3 mile radius. The decision was made in an instant.

Brown Sugar Kitchen is located in a part of West Oakland that you could charitably say isn’t the most desirable neighborhood. Signs posted outside the restaurant warn “Don’t Feed the Thieves”, meaning don’t leave anything valuable in your car if you don’t want to come out to a pile of broken glass on the street next to your shattered window. Inside, however, you could be in any hip neighborhood of Oakland, Berkeley or San Francisco. Hipster college students, retirees, and local residents all gather together to partake of a little bit of heaven: chicken and waffles.

These aren’t just any chicken and waffles. They are buttermilk battered chicken and cornmeal waffles with a dollop of brown sugar butter and warm apple cider syrup. Though the waitress tempted me with smoked pork hash (which smelled incredible when I walked in the door), I had my heart set on the chicken and waffles today. Focus, Todd, focus.

There is something amazing about the complexity of eating chicken and waffles together. Especially THESE chicken and waffles. First you have the flavor complexity: sweet syrup and butter, tart buttermilk batter, slightly salty chicken meat. Then you have the texture complexity: crunchy fried chicken batter and cornmeal waffle, slightly chewy chicken, and creamy butter. Put all that complexity together and it just explodes in your mouth. Seriously, how do two relatively simple dishes combine together to create something so incredible?

After my meal, I called for a shuttle back to the dealership and waited for my ride. When the driver pulled up, he smiled and said “I thought I might find you here.” As we drove back to the dealer, he pointed out a few other places he and his wife had tried around the neighborhood. “But,” he said with a knowing grin, “I’d pass them all up for Brown Sugar Kitchen.”

Brown Sugar Kitchen
234 Mandela Pkwy
Oakland, California
510-839-SOUL (7685)

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Things To Miss About America – Half Moon Bay, California

Jumping on the freeway and heading due west from our home, we can be in the little seaside town of Half Moon Bay in less than an hour. As close as it is, it feels a world apart from the busy urban sprawl of the Bay Area. One cloudless Fall day, I decided on a whim to get in my car and take that short drive to the coast, to enjoy the quaintness of Half Moon Bay perhaps one last time before heading to Japan for a few years.

I certainly was not disappointed by my little diversion for the day. In the few hours I spent in Half Moon Bay walking around, enjoying an abnormally warm November day (Half Moon Bay is famous for it’s fog, which can often last the entire day, even if it’s completely sunny 15 miles inland). Strangers gave me genuine smiles as they walked past me on the street, and a few even struck up conversations and offered advice on scenic places I should photograph. Inviting public benches, donated by members of the community lined the streets of the downtown area, inviting me to stop and relax while enjoying a deli sandwich and the warm sunshine.

Half Moon Bay is as famous for its October pumpkin festival as it is for its fog, and there was plenty of evidence that the festival had recently ended. Pumpkins, some decorated in paint, some carved, and some just, well, naked, sat outside shops and houses alike.

A few miles north of the main part of town, an amazing little house/shop called Nest Gallery is hidden just away from the marina. Nest Gallery is filled with little objects d’art, some collected, some created. And as interesting as the art is, the artists who reside there are even more so. I had a wonderful conversation with one of the artists who used to practice architecture, and he regaled me with stories of the days he was involved in such high profile projects as the iconic Transamerica Pyramid and the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco.

I feel blessed to have spent so much of my life growing up in California, a dash away from some really incredible places. What Half Moon Bay may lack in size, it more than makes up for in spirit.

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Road Trippin’ – In Search of Santa Maria BBQ Heaven

Road Trippin' - In Search of Santa Maria BBQ Heaven

On our way to a meeting in Southern California, my friend Phong and I took the long road, Highway 101 from the Bay Area. We were craving some of that famous Santa Maria BBQ, native to the area between San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara. There’s no pretense in Santa Maria BBQ; it’s simply good local beef from the Central Valley and the smoke from California Oak.

We settled on a place highlighted in Sunset Magazine as one of the best tri tip sandwiches in the area, the Garey Store in, you guessed it, Garey, California. Population 68. Apparently the Garey Store makes sandwiches for local ranchers and farmhands and Friday is their only day for tri tip. They make about 150 sandwiches, sell them all between noon and 2pm and when they’re out, they’re done. We called ahead from San Jose to make sure they’d have a couple for us.

To reach the Garey Store, you drive about 7 miles off the 101 until basically you’re 1000 miles from nowhere. The place is frequented by locals who probably think city folk driving that far off the freeway for a sandwich must be out of their hipster minds. The sandwich comes with salsa (very mild, almost Pace style) and sliced jalapeno peppers. That is all. Phong found some delicious maple bacon potato chips and we got some bottled water and soft drinks. We ate outside, along the dusty highway, watching the trucks roll on by.

If you like your BBQ simple, just the flavors of the meat and the smoke, this is definitely what you’re after. It will not blow your mind, but the experience of finding this tiny little place and knowing you’re eating a sandwich only a handful of people outside the local ranching community have eaten is something in itself.

Oh, one other important thing about Garey Store. No public restrooms. Because that would be pretentious.

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The Garey Store in Garey, CA. Population 68.

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Road Trippin’ – Getty Center

Road Trip - Getty Center

Took a short road trip with my dad to Los Angeles and we decided to check out the highly recommended Getty Center. We only had an hour or two which is definitely not enough time to take this place in properly, but if you’re visiting LA, plan to spend some time at this gorgeous place.