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Tuesday, February 18, 2014

East Bay Bite of the Week: Guerilla Café's Daily Waffle

Posted By on Tue, Feb 18, 2014 at 12:50 PM

MOLLY GORE
  • Molly Gore

For non-industry types, the crew behind Guerilla Café sure had a lot of foresight. The spot was opened by three artists, Keba and Rachel Konte, alongside Andrea Ali, who gutted what was then the oldest vegetarian café in California -- Smokey Joe's, which doubled as a cannabis club before there were cannabis clubs -- to wrangle together their first venture in food. As it turned out, they knew what they were doing. The crew popularized pop-ups before pop-ups popped up, luring chefs from their own kitchen as well as Chez Panisse. Projects like Kingston 11 and The Cook and Her Farmer found their start in the café's narrow space. Down to the details -- like throwing almond milk in their mix years before it was cool -- Guerilla has been a hair ahead since the beginning.

See also: East Bay Bite of the Week: Lunch at Farley's East

First Look at Oakland's Newest: Grand Fare

The crew may have lacked experience in food business, but they did not lack experience in food.

"We knew how to cook, we knew how to throw a party, we knew how to brand," he says.

The interior is the confluence of their mediums. Konte, a photomontage artist who specializes in photo transfers on wood, did the tables. Ali, a ceramicist, hand-fired the ceramic knobs that clothe the counter. Rachel, a Danish-born designer, cinched the space together with a trained eye for the big picture. The result? Retro Afro-activist mash with a hint of Black Panther and roots spread wide.

The menu is a classic spread -- panini, salads, poached eggs on toast. The café's most reliable staple, though, is the waffle. The ingredients and the toppings flux daily, but the takeaway is always the same: fluffy, filling, perfect. On some days, you'll find a thick cake of toothsome cornmeal or mild buckwheat, other days feature mad mixes of garbanzo bean flour and other alternatives. As for toppings, think spiced apples and yams, lemon zest, crème fraiche. The housemade apple syrup is killer, wrought from simmered down apple juice, cinnamon, and other spices.

The waffle itself is simple but perfect, and stripped of pretense thanks to the old school, flip turn waffle iron that presses it. The café has a distinct, homegrown, familiar flavor, and even pays an upstairs neighbor one meal a day for use of his walk-in closet as storage. The rudimentary approach here is partly a function of space, but of principle too. Konte, quoting an old article, compares the kitchen equipment to what you'd find in a dorm room. There's nowhere to hide, nothing you can't see.

"A space this small keeps us honest," he says.

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Molly Gore

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