Stomachs Scream for Fentons





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The East Bay has waited 18 months for the grand reopening of the beloved Fentons Creamery in Oakland, but the real test begins in the packed waiting room where you study the heart-pumping menu for a good 20 minutes, wait another 15 for your dishes to come, and pace yourself over a half-hour entrée before the main course finally arrives-the tallest, creamiest, sexiest fudge sundae ever to melt ravishingly across your lucky, lucky lips.

It's been a long wait, but Fentons Creamery, you are forgiven.

Since the November 2001 burglary/arson that resulted in three convictions and a river of melted ice cream down Piedmont Avenue, the famed restaurant has undergone a substantial renovation and expansion, restoring its famous vinyl red booths and the giant poster of a wide-eyed schoolboy confronting his cherry-topped monster of ice cream, while adding more dining space and a grill for burgers and fries.

Most importantly, the architectural renovations don't sink to Johnny Rockets-type nostalgia for retro soda-pop stand innocence, but instead sincerely combine the classic look with a well-polished contemporary flair.

The newly painted custard walls don't scream Pleasantville but reflect the homey old-fashioned comfort you'd expect from a landmark that has endured 109 years of cultural change. And for a restaurant chronically plagued with long lines and cramped space, the staff is surprisingly cordial, and like the costumers, probably happy just to be here again.

Without any advertising or fanfare, Fentons finally opened its doors at 5 p.m. on June 6, and by the time it closed at 11 o'clock that night, 600 costumers had dined in, and an additional 500 went home with Fentons's tasty take-out.

Despite the over 40 flavors in its homemade repertoire, I chose to relive freshman year by ordering their famous Black and Tan sundae, a colossal mountain of chocolate, caramel, vanilla, almonds, and about as much whipped cream as the stomach can bear.

You know you're home when no two almonds are cut alike and they're not sprinkled randomly atop the whipped cream, but are actually embedded into the glorious ice cream. All I'd remembered from freshman year was thinking that I'd never tasted caramel this rich before. Two and a half years later, I paradoxically feel the same way.

The "main courses" understandably cannot compare with the precious desserts, but my Fentons Club Sandwich hit the spot with its lightly buttered sourdough toast cradling fresh tomato, lettuce, and of course bacon. Although I'd prefer Sufficient Grounds any day, the sandwich (along with the excellent onion rings) whet the appetite perfectly. I also recommend the Avocado Burger, one of the restaurant's new grill items.

Fentons is still waiting for its new jukebox to arrive (the original was among the items stolen in the 2001 robbery by disgruntled employees) and it'll undoubtedly be months before the crowds calm to tolerable numbers. And unfortunately, the impressive list of expansions didn't include the miniscule parking lot, forcing fans to scour for spaces throughout the neighborhood. Still, Fentons is worth the wait-that is, if you can wait any longer.

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