Out of the Primal Waters

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Lately, I've really been enjoying the newfound fame and glory this column has brought me - the likes of which Rachael Ray could only dream of. Not really. But people do like to ask me for restaurant suggestions, critiques, recipes and about general food knowledge. "The Best Thing I Ever Ate" will be contacting me any day now.

Talking to people about food has revealed one gaping hole in my food repertoire. People often ask me what I think of the legendary Chez Panisse, the birthplace of California cuisine and most famous restaurant in Berkeley.

Well, I have never been to Chez Panisse. Am I a fraud? Wouldn't any real foodie have made Chez Panisse her first meal in Berkeley?

I don't think so. I am not claiming that Chez Panisse is anything less than extraordinary, or denying the drastic impact it made on food in the United States. But no matter how mind-blowing it is, no matter how much I love food, I just cannot bring myself to spend $65 to $90 on a single meal.

What most people fail to realize is that you don't have to spend that much money to experience Alice Waters' legacy. It takes a lot of chefs to run a kitchen, and it only makes sense that Waters' disciples picked up the style she pioneered.

Waters' idea was simple: Utilize seasonal, local ingredients to make uncomplicated food into something special. Many of Chez Panisse's past chefs have branched off to open their own restaurants that put their own spin on this revolutionary philosophy. These restaurants allow you to experience true California cuisine without burning such a big hole in your wallet.

Bakesale Betty and Pizzaiolo are both restaurants started by Chez Panisse disciples and are located conveniently a little ways down Telegraph.

Bakesale Betty was started by Alison Barakat who worked at Chez Panisse for three years. The restaurant specializes in delicious, simplistic food with a Southern twist.

Bakesale Betty's mouthwatering food never fails to attract a line that winds around the block, so be prepared to wait. Their specialty is a fried chicken sandwich that consists of a roll filled with fried chicken and coleslaw, but none of the elements are ordinary.

The chicken is fried fresh, with a crispy crust and a juicy interior. The slaw is what really makes this sandwich special. It is made of the freshest shredded cabbage and dressed with a citrus, herb and jalapeno dressing instead of the usual creamy sauce.

This sandwich, when topped with a few drops of Tapatio, is pretty perfect. I warn you, come hungry. I mean really hungry ... like, most girls can only eat half (I'm not most girls and ate the whole thing). For those who can't handle the sandwich, they also offer a fried chicken salad, which is a bed of their slaw topped with fried chicken. So if you don't mind losing the bread (and some dignity), it's pretty good.

Bakesale Betty also offers one other kind of sandwich that changes daily, along with a dessert and a variety of cookies. The desserts are all exceptional. Their strawberry shortcake is a heavenly blend of a flaky shortcake, fresh whipped cream and juicy strawberries.

Of course, no Southern meal is complete without a nice, cold glass of lemonade. Bakesale Betty puts a twist on that too, offering a freshly made lemonade slushy.

Barakat's food is an example of how Chez Panisse's simplistic style can be affordable. At $8 each, this sandwich may sound a little pricey, but, for a piece of gourmet, it is well worth the splurge.

Just a few doors away lies Pizzaiolo. Pizzaiolo was started by chef Charlie Hallowell, who worked at Chez Panisse for eight years. Some of those years were spent at the wood-burning pizza oven, an experience that influenced his restaurant. Hallowell takes pride in his connection with and dedication to the personal element of dining. He can often be seen outside of the kitchen, talking with his diners.

Like Bakesale Betty, expect a wait when coming to dine at Pizzaiolo. The small restaurant always fills up early and the line stretches down the block, replacing the fried chicken-loving crowd that filled the sidewalk just hours before.

While pizzas are what make it famous, Pizzaiolo also offers an array of appetizers, entrees and desserts. The menu changes regularly, and is a sign of Hallowell's dedication to using the freshest ingredients, as his dishes feature whatever produce is in season.

All of the menu items seem to draw from Alice Waters' signature style. The blood orange and asparagus salad is a perfect example of how the food highlights the ingredients.

Pizzaiolo is known for its Neapolitan-style pizzas made in a wood-burning oven, which gives them a thin, crispy crust with a distinct flavor. Their pizza options are unique and satisfying. Wild nettles and pecorino cheese top one of their most adventurous concoctions. My favorite combo is a classic Margherita topped with spicy arugula. Each bite is an homage both to Hallowell's mentor as well as his own unique point of view.

Alice Waters may have created California cuisine as we know it today, but her legacy has spread throughout and well beyond the Bay Area, the state and the country. Maybe one day there will be enough money in the piggy bank to splurge on a meal at the legendary Chez Panisse. But until then, you don't have to clean out your savings account to taste its legacy.

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Help Harley plan a visit to Chez Panisse at [email protected]



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