There really is a little bit of every cuisine in the Bay Area. Last night we went out with friends to Speisekammer to see for ourselves if the German food merits the good reviews – and it does. Four distinct menus with tantalizing options (specials, regular items, beverages, and desserts) are fun to read, and potentially embarrassing to pronounce when ordering, making for an all-around enjoyable meal.
We contemplated writing a Specialty Brews post for the boot, but thought instead we’d feature it in its proper context. Radeberger Pilsner clocks in at 4.8% ABV and was too hoppy for most at the table, so it was up to August to make a dent in it but she didn’t get very far at all. It’s just so much beer in a 2 liter boot! Check out the Radeberger website; it’s almost like a movie trailer.
The escargot on the day’s specials menu were stuffed in button mushroom caps with garlic herb butter. Typically we see tiny snails but these were gargantuan in comparison! Protruding from the mushroom caps, they were tender and not like eraser bits that we’re accustomed to expecting. The butter sauce was rich and hearty with garlic and fresh herbs, and the mushrooms were a nice change from plain escargot or puffed pastry wraps.
This was an appetizer that everyone dug into, for all at the table liked seafood and there was plenty of variety here. Poached shrimp, gravlax, pickled herring, and smoked trout came on a mound of greens. The shrimp were very fresh and slightly warm still actually, prepared in a good, spiced boil and somewhat buttery. Gravlax, or raw salmon cured in salt, sugar, and dill, was different – none of us expected fish to be sweet, but regardless it was a pleasant flavor. Pickled herring is one of August’s favorite snacks from childhood, so she took full advantage of having it here. The smoked trout had a relatively flaky texture with its smoky flavor and a hint of sweetness.
“A variety of domestic and imported cheeses served with seasonal fruit” was super impressive. Surprisingly, Zach the Supertaster wasn’t able to identify immediately all the cheeses; for example, we had to look up the sage derby with mild flavor and bright green veins. We added a pretzel for a tiny upcharge, and one of our friends who loves pretzels highly approved of this one. All the fruit was exceptionally fresh and great pairings for the cheeses.
August and the pretzel-loving friend both tried the sautéed venison medallions in plum sauce served with spätzle and red cabbage. Be prepared, this is game meat, so it’s not the most tender but it is full of flavor because it is very lean. The sauce was sweet but not sugary, blending in well with the buttery and tender spätzle. The red cabbage took our friend by surprise because she didn’t think it would be more sour than sauerkraut, but August grew up with red cabbage so she welcomed the pucker.
Our other friend got the bratwurst with cracked spices, sauerkraut, and mashed potatoes. He ate every morsel and was so distracted he didn’t say a word, therefore it must have been good!
For a side we got creamy spätzle baked with caramelized onions and European cheese, plus we added bacon for a fair upcharge (black forest ham was another option). Like what came with the venison plate, the spätzle was tender but amped up, made super creamy and gooey with cheeses and smoky with the bacon. The caramelized onions added a sweet/savory flavor. For basically being a German-style mac n cheese, it puts a lot of American versions to shame.
With five different sausages and a grilled smoked pork chop served over sauerkraut, this is a platter easily for two to three people, or Zach and a whole lot for Bea the Dog back at home. It included bratwurst, thürlinger, bockwurst, two kleine nürnberger sausages, and a mystery sausage that wasn’t on the menu nor could the server identify it. Each was very high quality with no gristle chunks, very juicy, and great snap to the natural casing. Bockwurst is Zach’s favorite in general, and here was a good version and he liked that he could see actual chives in the mix. Being a ham fan, the smoked pork chop was essentially an extra lean pork loin with a bone, smoky yet tender and juicy. The sauerkraut didn’t have an overwhelmingly processed sour flavor; he could tell it was made in house, and it had a slight sweet flavor that set it apart from other sauerkrauts we’ve tried.
We will definitely come back to Speisekammer another day. It’s worth multiple visits to enjoy the food, and also the live music that plays two to three times a week starting at 8:30. Despite having a very, very extensive alcoholic beverage selection, this is for sure a family place, welcoming to all ages.
Street food vendors are not new. If you haven’t noticed the growing food truck trend yet, then you will see it in your neighborhood soon enough. Off the Grid helps to promote small mobile food businesses by organizing space, permits, garbage service, and live music, thereby creating a weekly marketplace of amazing eats, and a community center for families and friends.
Go Streatery, The Chairman Truck, Cheese Gone Wild, House of Siam On Wheels, Fivetenburger, and The Crème Brûlèe Cart were six of eight vendors offering different items well worth traveling for. Many people here were nearby community members, but others, like us, clearly had driven in for this week’s batch of trucks.
The sun was out but at the worst angle at the worst time, not shining nearly enough golden light on this “glorious peasant food” from Go Streatery. So simple, but so delightful, the oxtail was tender to the point of falling off the bone. Rich, hearty gravy with the meat was slightly sweet with a mild and pleasant orange flavor thanks to fresh zest. The chunks of carrot and squash were tender and slightly crisp. August said, “I never new grits could be so creamy,” and for Zach’s first time with American polenta, he was impressed. Chopped parsley brightened the dish for the eye as well as the palate. Between bites of this hearty concoction we sipped lavender lemonade and August, who is typically picky about lemonade, promised herself that being infused with fresh lavender is from now on the only way she prefers her lemonade. We were treated to a piping hot handful of zeppoles, lemon and ricotta Italian-style doughnuts dusted in powdered sugar. These were very light in lemon flavor, and the texture was almost like a cake doughnut but even closer to being like a beignet. Above all, everything at Go Streatery is inspired by the founder’s father, who instilled in her the pride of true cooking; to that end, everything is scratch-made, seasonal, and sustainably sourced.
Bun sandwiches are traditional Taiwanese snacks, known as gua bao. Typically these are made with baked or steamed buns, filled with savory meats and/or vegetables. The baked buns at The Chairman Truck are kind of like Hawaiian rolls and are cut like sliders, while steamed buns look doubled over like a clam shell. The braised pork in a baked bao had a unique flavor but in a good way, certainly. The tangy, crisp cabbage was hearty but also refreshing. The tofu was velvety with an excellent grill on it, great for contrasting the very light and super tender steamed bao. A light sesame flavor like a vinaigrette dressing was a sweet and tangy complement for the baby choy sum.
Cheese Gone Wild serves their grilled cheese sandwiches with chips, coleslaw and a pickle, making this summer picnic and comfort food wrapped into one. If you’re really craving a grilled cheese sandwich, follow this food truck for a broad variety, like the Golden Gate with Tillamook medium cheddar and aged white cheddar mac & cheese, applewood thick cut smoked bacon, melted on Panorama Bakery shepherd style white bread. The bread was crispy but not overly so, giving way to the gooey insides with rich and mild mac and smoky bacon. Just about everything here is house-made, so while waiting for our fresh sandwich August couldn’t wait longer to sip on this perfectly creamed and sweetened iced coffee.
Proudly offering free range chicken from Bassian Farms and fresh organic produce, House of Siam On Wheels is very popular and had one of the longer wait times. This chicken was moist and tender thigh meat, slightly tangy and seasoned well with pepper, garlic, cilantro, and honey. The salad dressing was what gave this dish the familiar Thai kick of heat. We suppose the greatest satisfaction in eating here is knowing that the products used are good quality, sustainably produced, and good for you.
Fivetenburger crafts a great beef burger like this loaded one we tried, to which we added an optional egg as well as bacon; if you’re getting something called “loaded,” you might as well go all the way. Without dropping or substituting anything, the burgers come standard with pickles, red onion, tomato, lettuce, ketchup, mayonnaise, mustard, and choice of cheese. The vegetables were all fresh and crispy, between the two halves of a butter-toasted bun. This patty was juicy with a nice sear, made with very high quality beef and crispy bacon. The egg was runny from the yolk where it was supposed to be runny, thankfully not like slime from the white. Mixed with the cheese, the egg made this a gooey, delectable sandwich. It was accompanied by crispy tater tots, a nostalgic favorite but with a twist. These were exceptionally crispy yet tender in the middle, then lightly tossed with truffle oil, making them the grown-up version of a childhood memory. Fivetenburger also offers grassfed meat, high quality grilled cheeses, and even a deli-style pastrami sandwich with the pastrami made “in-truck” by the masterful Phat Matt.
Our final stop was for dessert at The Crème Brûlèe Cart, which tonight was featuring four of its thirty-plus flavors. Vanilla bean, double chocolate, “Cham-Wow!” and “Yes Please!” were equally smooth and creamy in texture, and true to their flavor-based names. The vanilla bean had an abundant amount of fresh vanilla bean seeds, resulting in a pleasantly intense flavor experience. The double chocolate was light but still chocolatey enough to sate August’s craving. Cham-Wow! was made with dark chocolate and black raspberry Chambourd liqueur, while Yes Please! had Nutella and real strawberries. We can’t wait to find them again to see what the other flavors are like.
There are many more food trucks that we realized, since we learned that the trucks we saw tonight were only a small sampling of Off the Grid’s network (and not all trucks are even affiliated with Off the Grid). Here at the Hayward location trucks are on a two-week rotation, so you can count on seeing your favorites twice a month. It’s impossible for us to pick favorites yet since this was only our first time doing Off the Grid, so we’ll just have to keep trying more and more.