Thursday, April 6, 2017

Rockridge Neighborhood Food Walking Tour

Last Sunday we spent a glorious Spring day in Oakland's Rockridge Neighborhood on a delicious and informative food walking tour, "Rockridge Neighborhood Heritage Tour," offered by Local Food Adventures

Local Food Adventures is a small locally-owned company whose walking tours focus on Oakland, California, neighborhoods.  

I chose the Rockridge tour because Rockridge is one of my favorite Oakland neighborhoods.  Rockridge is one of the first Bay Area neighborhoods Jim and I discovered when we moved to California over 40 years ago.  While Rockridge has become more gentrified since we first discovered it, it has continued to retain its local neighborhood spirit. Rockridge is easy to get to; it's right off Highway 24 and has its own Bart station right in the midst of its bustling business district.

Over the past several years, with so much changing in the Bay Area, we've not gone to Rockridge as often as we used to. I signed up for the tour in hopes of rekindling my love of the neighborhood.

We were not disappointed and are already planning our next visit.

There were just four of us on our three-hour tour: Maureen and Mike from San Jose, who had come from San Jose on Bart from the newly-opened Warm Springs station, and me and Jim, who drove the 14 miles from home and were easily able to find parking in the neighborhood on a Sunday morning. (Note: Rockridge is a busy residential and business district; on other days and at other times of day, parking can be scarce, making Bart and excellent option for getting here.)

We met Debra, our guide, at the Rockridge Library. After introductions and a bit of talk about our favorite foods and food interests, made our first of six stops at A16 restaurant.  A16 is known for its Tuscan pizza.  

We were seated at the counter that surrounds the wood-fired pizza oven.  While we enjoyed some freshly-prepared pieces of frittata, the pizza chef told us a bit about A16, its pizza oven, and Tuscan pizza. Since it takes only 90 seconds to bake a Tuscan-style pizza in the oven's 900 degree heat, we got to watch the pizza being prepared from the stretching out of the dough to it's completion.  We had the Margherita pizza, a classic that is topped with tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, basil and olive oil.  

Before tasting A16's Margherita, I've never been a fan of this simple pizza.  This tasting changed it all for me. It was amazing!

Next stop was Cactus Taqueria. I had eaten at Cactus Taqueria when it first opened in Rockridge, over 20 years ago.  I remember liking it and appreciating that all their meats are antibiotic/hormone free.  Our Crispy Chicken Tacos were filled to overflowing with Mary's chicken, guacamole, cheese, salsa and lettuce.  I love their self-serve salsa bar that features at least half a dozen salsas. Yum! And, of course, I'll be back sooner than 20 years from now.

Next stop was the bustling Rockridge Market Hall Foods, a European-style indoor market with a bakery, a coffee roaster, fresh produce, wine, meats, fish, flowers, packaged fancy foods, prepared foods, pasta, and cheese. Our focus was on the cheese section.

The cheese monger talked with us about cheese and the cheese shop's cheese selections.  We enjoyed two tasty cheeses, each garnished with preserves, also sold at the Market Hall.  

After our cheese tasting, we had some time to explore and shop in the Market Hall.

At this point, about half way through our tour, we took a break from eating and walked through some of the residential parts of Rockridge. We saw many examples of the neighborhood's Arts and Craft style architecture.  Architects Julia Morgan and Bernard Maybeck, working mainly in the first half of the 20th century, designed and influenced the design of many buildings in Rockridge and other parts of Oakland and Berkeley.   

Rockridge's College Avenue Presbyterian Church, constructed in 1917, was designed by Julia Morgan. 

Our next tasting stop was at Ver Brugge Meats and Seafood, an old-style butcher shop and market, complete with hand-lettered signs in the window to advertise the week's specials.

Here we tasted freshly-cooked house-made Whiskey Fennel Chicken Sausage and Pork Bratwurst that were paired with a deli mustard and a horseradish sauce  Both sausages were so tasty that I bought some, and a bottle of the deli mustard,  to take home.

We then went next door is La Farine, a French bakery that has been here since 1977. La Farine's signature pastry is their morning bun. 

Sorry that Jim's mini morning bun is half eaten in this photo; they are so good, it is hard to not devour them immediately.  I left La Farine with more morning buns, scones, and a loaf for bread to enjoy at home.

Our tour ended at Dreyer's Ice Cream. Dreyer's dates back to 1928 when it was founded as Edy's Grand Ice Cream in Oakland by Joseph Edy and William Dreyer.  Edy was a candy maker and Dreyer was an ice cream maker. The top picture is a painting of what the ice cream parlor looked like in times past. Today, Dreyer's is a subsidiary of NestlĂ©.  


Dreyer's Rocky Road ice cream combined both of its founder's talents into one ice cream flavor that remains popular to this day. Rocky Road, introduced in 1929, mixed chocolate, marshmallow and nuts into chocolate ice cream.  Before this time, the only ice cream flavors were vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry.  Our tour ended with a scoop of Rocky Road.

In addition to learning more about Rockridge and enjoying generous samples of foods at all six stops, we recieved a map of the area and discount coupons for future visits at most of the places we visited.

Local Foods Adventures other walking tours are the "Grand Lake Cultural Cuisine Tour" and the "Rockridge Ice Cream and Gelato Tour" (great suggest for where to take kids this summer). All tours include food tastings, food demonstrations and some history of the neighborhood  Our guide, Debra, knew Rockridge well and shared her knowledge and love of the neighborhood with us in such a way that we felt like had instantly become part of the neighborhood.

One last note:  I bought my tickets to this tour at a discounted price through an offer by  Over the years, I've taken advantage of many Living Social offers and have saved money and been introduced to new services.  Their offers change constantly and often are from new companies who are seeking a larger market than they can market to on their own. Check them out and sign up for their emailings for the area in which you live.