My Vote for Local Loyalty

Friday, December 12, 2014

I consider myself fortunate to have grown up in a time and place where there were no large supermarkets. Flash back to the 1950s to a working-class Brooklyn neighborhood populated mainly by Italian and Jewish immigrant families. We had two commercial streets filled with small family-owned shops. There were two of everything: bakery, fish store, butcher (kosher and non-kosher), live poultry market, green grocer, appetizer store (smoked fish and Jewish delicacies) and pizza by the slice. Believe it or not, we even had two horse-drawn carts that set up shop on the street selling vegetables and fresh fish.

The shop owners lived in our community and we played on the street with their children. On Fridays, my brother had an after-school job delivering on his bike freshly killed chickens to Jewish homemakers for the Sabbath chicken soup. As the shop owners' children grew older, they worked in their parents' stores.

My first family chore was to pick up a bread or challah at the bakery. As young child, I would always get a cookie before I left the shop. As I nibbled the cookie, someone would yell out: "Say hello to your mother and father."

By the late '50s, the first supermarket opened: Key Food, still a mainstay in New York. Neighborhood homemakers flocked to the store. Everyone wanted to be modern. Except for the kosher butcher, within a year every family-owned food store had closed. Before long, a Jewish style supermarket opened: Waldbaum's, also still around in New York. Goodbye kosher butcher! Overnight, it was the end of an era.

Older balabustas (a Jewish grandmother-type homemaker) were at a loss. They could never really accept the idea of a supermarket.

We in Rockridge are truly blessed to have many small, family-owned shops along College Avenue that have been in the community for years. Cole Coffee has been on the corner of College Avenue and 63rd Street for nearly 30 years. Max's blend coffee beans are named after the original owner's son, born soon after the shop's opening. Mike, the current owner, first worked at the shop and continues to brew the finest cup of coffee in the Bay Area. Sisters Bo and Lisa and their family have run Yasai Market for 22 years. In addition to top-rate produce, they have a wide selection of Asian products and spices not found in most supermarkets. No need to shop in Chinatown; Yasai has whatever I need to cook an Asian meal. Ver Brugge Meat Fish and Poultry has been on College Avenue forever. Jerry Ver Brugge and his crew make shopping a true family experience. Ver Brugge butchers know their trade and are happy to share their knowledge so you can have a great meal. They will custom order almost everything you will need. For years they have provided me the perfect ground fish to make my annual Passover gefilte fish. And finally, La Farine Bakery. What can I say? La Farine is perhaps the best French bakery in the Bay Area. Since 1977, customers have started their day with the legendary morning bun from La Farine French Bakery. La Farine offers the finest in French pastries, delicious fruit and nut tarts, classic cakes, cookies, and rustic breads.

These shops are directly across the street from the new Safeway. Whatever you choose to buy at that Safeway, or at out-of-the-area stores you may also visit, I hope you will keep Rockridge's local family-owned food and coffee shops in mind.

This extends, of course, to support for the incredible variety of food stores in Market Hall. These include the nationally recognized Pasta Shop, Marin Sun Farm Butcher and recent arrival Highwire Coffee Roasters. Market Hall Bakery, Hapuku Fish and Market Hall Produce all carry top-notch products. David, at Market Hall Produce (we call him the fruit whisperer), will always steer you to the best fruits and vegetables. More choices among smaller food businesses continue down College, with coffee shops and a chocolate shop among the offerings.

By the time you read this edition of The Rockridge News, the new Safeway may have opened. Folks will flock to the store to see what's new and interesting. College Avenue shopkeepers and neighbors worked to keep the store to a reasonable scale, but it looks pretty big to me. I'm not suggesting we shouldn't shop at the new Safeway, but we are the Rockridge family and we need to support the small family-owned and locally scaled shops that define our community. Grab a cappuccino at Cole Coffee; buy some lemongrass from Yasai; order one of Ver Brugge's famous poached whole salmon; and get a loaf of olive bread from La Farine. Support and enjoy our local community.

Garlic Steamed Clams
(ingredients can be purchased at Yasai, Ver Brugge, Vino, La Farine and Market Hall shops)

2 tbs olive oil
6 garlic cloves, chopped
2 small shallots
1 cup dry white wine
cup clam juice
3 tbs unsalted butter
salt and pepper to taste
2 pounds manila or little neck clams
2 tbs minced parsley
Crusty French bread

Heat oil in large saucepan over medium heat. Cook garlic and shallots until golden brown. Add wine, clam juice, butter, salt and pepper; bring to a boil. Add clams, cover until shells open. Stir in parsley and serve with bread.
Barry Kaufman is a graduate of the California Culinary Academy. Barry is available for cooking classes and tours of East-Bay ethnic markets. BarryÕs email: