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Oakland’s Gourmet Ghetto?

Two happening restaurants have hit Glenview, and a third is on the way.


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The 4200 block of Oakland’s Park Boulevard is a stretch of Americana. True Value Hardware and an old-fashioned wash and dry shout out in red, white, and blue signs done in Coca-Cola cursive. Keep walking, and you’ll hit a small Tudor-style building that houses a shoe-repair shop.

At first blush, this neighborhood—called Glenview—seems an unlikely restaurant destination. But it’s Glenview’s very hominess that has made it attractive to Bay Area restaurateurs, especially recently.

Classy comfort food at The Purple Plum provided a spark for Glenview in 2001. Although it closed after three years and thousands of fried chickens, it inspired Blackberry Bistro, which opened in 2003, and still serves The Glenview breakfast: a plate of tender eggs, Hobbs bacon, crunchy skillet potatoes, and a warm, fluffy buttermilk biscuit. Then, for several lazy years, Blackberry Bistro served its breakfasts and brunches while Banana Blossom—which took over Purple Plum’s spot—offered neighborhood Thai.

In the spring of 2008, Glenview took off. Bellanico opened next door to Blackberry Bistro, and, in December 2008, Marzano debuted at 2214 Park Boulevard. This summer, the owners of À Côté, Oakland’s trendy small plates place, are planning a 150-seat Pan-Latin restaurant on the same block. If it achieves the same success as Bellanico and Marzano, Glenview is likely to become a magnet for East Bay diners. Neighborhood warmth, blended with comforting cuisine, has proved a great mix.

Marzano’s classic Mugnaini pizza oven, imported from Naples and stoked with almond wood, never grows cold. On weekdays, whole pork bellies, cured for two nights in fennel and coriander, are wine-braised in the slow, smoky oven, and left to mingle with near-melted onions, black olives, and tomatoes—San Marzano tomatoes, the sweet, blood-ripe Italian fruit that inspired the restaurant’s name. Those same tomatoes, along with fresh, dried, and pickled peppers, create a vinegary-hot base for the chicken all’ arrabbiata, a garlicky caper-kissed stew that typifies chef Rob Holt’s gutsy menu. The food arrives fast, but the flavors are built slowly, such as pizza dough that’s blistered after a 20-hour rise.

John Hurley, who opened and decorated Marzano with his partner, Justin Hafen, took advantage of the building’s 18-inch-thick brick walls to create an air of old Italy, packing a full bar and 40 seats—including a communal table—into what was formerly Farmers Insurance Group. A 19th century map of Italy and chic antique lighting fashioned from bulbous Italian wine bottles and oak barrels prep your taste buds for a gratifying chew of napoletana pizza and a bottle of Montepulciano d’Abruzzo.

“I didn’t even know the neighborhood existed,” says Hurley, who also owns Garibaldis in San Francisco and Garibaldis on College in Oakland.

A recent chilly evening at Marzano—our table the envy of others who were waiting—brought two-inch-wide pappardelle noodles bathed in green garlic, wild mushrooms, and an overnight broth simmered with parmesan rinds and prosciutto scraps. Chef Holt’s tricolore salad of bitter lettuces is mellowed by Pecorino Romano and bright with a lemon-anchovy vinaigrette. These are fresh, assertive flavors born from Holt’s background as a saucier at Boulevard and executive sous chef at Primo, a farm restaurant in Maine.

Fitting for the recession, Marzano and Bellanico have become known for low-cost starters such as fried meatballs and braised octopus, and for pizza and pasta.

At Bellanico, an aggressive mix of smoked bacon, jalapeños, garlic, arugula, and slow-roasted tomato sauce produces a deeply satisfying plate of tagliolini.

“It’s food you can eat every day,” says Elizabeth Frumusa, who with her husband, Chris Shepherd, named the restaurant after their two children, Bella, 7, and Nico, 4. “We eat this way at home.”

The couple lived in Glenview after getting married in 1998 and have eyed Park Boulevard for vacancies ever since. Having run Aperto in San Francisco’s Potrero Hill district for 14 years, half that time as its chef-owner, Shepherd understands what it takes to create a neighborhood restaurant. The dining room’s rustic charm—unpolished granite wine bar, walnut tables, and photos of Italian bicycles—sets the scene for bold, honest preparations of fish and lamb.

Jonathan Luce is Shepherd’s chef at Bellanico, where Frumusa runs the wine program. One of Luce’s specialties is malfatti: light dumplings of Italian ricotta and tender chard leaves splashed with brown butter and sage. He creates a clever antipasto out of the chard’s stems, serving them fried with a citrusy aioli.

Luce calls himself a “dessertatarian,” proving it with rich creations such as bomboloni—fried doughnuts—and a gooey pudding cake of dark chocolate and dates. At Marzano, desserts are less of a focus, but Holt makes a mean fruit crisp and chocolate-almond tort, and Marzano is the first restaurant to offer soft-serve ice cream (try it sprinkled with pine nuts or biscotti) made by the Strauss Family Creamery.

Topping off a comforting Italian meal with fresh doughnuts or a house-made sundae has to be the ultimate neighborhood treat. It’s a luxury that almost anyone anywhere in the East Bay will find worth the drive. And don’t forget, before you leave, if you need some electrician’s tape—or anything else—the man at True Value Hardware will steer you toward the better deal.  ■

Contact: Bellanico, (510) 336-1180, bellanico.net; Blackberry Bistro, (510) 336-1088; Marzano, (510) 531-4500, marzanorestaurant.com. 

 

at a glance

What makes it special? Glenview is a safe, old-fashioned neighborhood with cutting-edge restaurants.
The vibe: A modern-day bonfire. Folks come to Park Boulevard to forget their cares and bask in the glow of community and comfort food.
When to go: Go early on the weekend if you want a table without waiting. Call ahead and get put on the waiting list, before you leave the house.
What to order: At Marzano: pork belly, pappardelle, napoletana pizza. At Bellanico: malfatti, tagliolini, fish specials.
Bonus: Marzano has a full bar, Bellanico a great wine bar.

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