Southern Hosptality in Central Berkeley


I devoured some mighty fine ribs and brisket today at Smoke Berkeley. My tongue is still tingling from the full-flavored barbecue sauce, slathered atop perfectly smoked pork. Oh and the sides. We ordered two: slow-cooked baked beans and creamy, spicy mac n’ cheese. Each worthy of an encore.

There has been much well-deserved buzz about this new, unassuming BBQ joint located at 2434 San Pablo Avenue Berkeley. Had it not been for my dad’s urging to join him on a new rib joint expedition, I likely wouldn’t have ventured over to Smoke. I’m so pleased I did.

What I was most taken with was the authentic Southern hospitality we encountered just as soon as the doors opened at noon. It was down right refreshing. Sean, our way-hip and amiable host (also the son of the restaurant’s owner Tina Ferguson-Riffe), welcomed us with his warm smile, a slight Texas drawl, and genuine graciousness. He proudly displayed an heirloom photo of his ancestors from Texas, pointing to his great-great, as well his great-grandfather. It felt like being welcomed into someone’s living room…a very smoky living room. Thank you kindly for the pie and the Southern hospitality, Sean. We will return.

 Sean, our gracious pie pusher, sitting beside a photo of his ancestors from Texas.

Sean, our gracious pie pusher, sitting along side a photo of his ancestors from Texas.

My dad Manny, with a perfect portion of ribs and some sweet tea.

My dad Manny, taken with his perfect portion of ribs and some sweet tea.

Something to Chaat About

We may be house- and childcare-poor, but Mateo and I consider ourselves to be quite family-rich. World travel just isn’t in the cards for the time being. To seek out the exotic, we head out for good things to eat in our little corner of the San Francisco Bay Area. Today, we went on a lunchtime food adventure to Vik’s Chaat Corner in Berkeley.

Already apprehensive about bringing our kiddos to a “spicy food” restaurant, it didn’t help matters when as we were walking toward Vik’s, we witnessed a young boy retching violently into a potted plant outside the front door; his mother hovering over him (turns out this was not a bad omen, as his family was just entering the restaurant, not leaving). Mateo and I very quickly ushered Caleb and Sadie inside with reassurances that they would not meet the same fate.

Beyond the front doors and through the narrow Indian market leading into the restaurant, my senses were flooded with intoxicating Indian fragrances and the promise of exotic and delightful things to eat. We watched crowds of hungry people of all walks of life, flood the line toward the front counter. Mateo and an already weary looking Sadie quickly grabbed a table, while Caleb and I stood in line with great excitement. I was overwhelmed by all of the Chaat choices on the chalkboards above our heads. Chaat is a term describing savory snacks, typically served from road-side stalls or carts in India. We are fortunate to have in our midst, an abundance of restaurants featuring these delectable and most affordable treats.

Wanting to appeal to everyone’s food tastes, I ordered the vegetable samosa (fried puffed-pastry appetizer filled with potatoes, peas, onions, and spices), lamb biryani (seasoned rice entree with fall-off-the-bone lamb), a large cholle bhature for Caleb (huge puff of hollow, fried dough, larger than your head), pani puri (bite-sized crispy puffs, filled with curried chickpeas, yogurt, spices, and tamarind chutney), mango lassi (amazing tart yogurt and mango drink), and a handful of desserts of primary colors. Not knowing which desserts to choose from the expansive case filled with an overwhelming assortment of handmade treats, I asked the Indian man behind the cash register if he’d pick out some of his favorites. I’m not usually a huge fan of Indian desserts, but he did not let us down. After lunch, our desserts were gone in a flash.

I wanted to make my friend Simran proud by telling her that Caleb was venturing toward the spicier, more exotic food choices. Instead, he took comfort in the ‘tame’, as he hoarded the cholle bhature (fried dough), his mango lassi, and most of the dessert. Sadie only took bird-sized nibbles of the biryani as her eyelids got heavier with sleep. We’ll get there, I have no doubt. For now, my kids aren’t huge fans of the spicier foods. Give them stinky French cheese though and they’re the happiest little budding foodies.

We left Vik’s with enchanted taste-buds, full bellies, and a very tired Sadie-bug. We headed out to the parking lot feeling very satisfied and world-traveled. It was time to head home to put Sadie down for a nap.

Vik’s Chaat Corner is located at 2390, Fourth Street in Berkeley, CA.