Lunch at Scharffen Berger’s Cacao Café
914 Heinz Ave.
Berkeley, CA 94710
My flight out to California was uneventful… no toddler kicking me, no drinks being dumped on me, even a whole row all to myself. I knit and listened to my iPod and happily consumed my little plastic cup of cranberry juice all on my own.
I met up with 1firefly, my sister from Long Island, in the Oakland airport. We collected the black Mustang convertible she’d rented and began to wend our way towards the Napa valley, only an hour or so north. However, we were both hungry after long early morning flights, and decided to see if Scharffen Berger’s Café Cacao was open (she’d never been there, and I only once before).
The slight detour we had to make to avoid the melted freeway gave me enough time to 411 some directions, and we cruised into the parking lot under sunny skies right at noon. A factory tour was scheduled for 1:30pm, so we signed up for that and then headed around the building to the cafe.
The café is built right into the big brick building of the factory (do I remember right that it was a munitions factory originally?), bright and welcoming and clean. We were seated immediately and with enthusiasm by a perky young hostess.
The steak was a bit tough, but not unreasonably so given the cut, and the heft of the meat actually seemed to carry the smoky, hot sauce well. It wasn’t sweet at all, and the layers of heat and coffee and cocoa played well together. The fries were fresh, crisp on the outside and creamy inside, big chunky garlicky crescents dusted with cracked pepper and sea salt. I ate every morsel!
My sister got a mozzerella, herb-roasted tomato and fresh basil panini, with greens on the side… she said it was a grown-up grilled cheese sandwich, and loved it.
I believe her dessert was a Tribute cake, three layers of fresh chocolate genoise filled with a light ganache and covered with a glaze of dark chocolate… and of course, all the chocolate was Scharffen Berger’s. It was dark, moist, intense and a perfect showcase for the wares of the establishment.
I tried the cocoa nib shortbread cookies:
The nibs were like little nuts in the cookie, not bitter at all, just pleasant little crunches. The cookie itself was oddly a little oily and soft, perhaps it needed to bake a bit longer? But delectable none-the-less. We also indulged in delicious and generous lattes, and chatted until it was time for our tour.
The service was excellent; our server patiently answered questions and willingly went to ask when she didn’t know an answer. Despite the brisk lunch crowd, we never felt rushed or pressured to turn the table. The prices were certainly within reason for a metro lunch… our two lunches, drinks, and desserts were around $40. Definitely worth a visit if you are traveling through the East Bay and feeling peckish!
Up next: the factory tour, and Yountville