Oakland’s Homestead Has Heart
Mar 31, 2019 10:32AM
By Fran Miller
By FRAN ENDICOTT MILLER
Homestead, located along Oakland’s bustling Piedmont Avenue, recently celebrated its fifth anniversary. In Bay Area restaurant years, that’s an eternity, and the milestone is proof that owners Fred and Elizabeth Stassen are doing something (actually many things) right. Their historic space is convivial and cozy. Their seasonal menu, while limited, offers enough variety to appease and satiate all diners. And the no tip/no service charge model creates a relaxed atmosphere – one in which wait staff, servers, and host work in tandem to provide fine dining service.
If you’ve not yet experienced a no tip/no service charge restaurant, it can be slightly disorienting but also incredibly liberating. Menu item prices are a tad bit higher (but often not perceptibly so) in order to afford both front and back-of-house staff a living wage. Team members rotate with no need for clearly defined ‘stations,' ensuring complete coverage and professional service. And when the bill arrives and you realize you’ve no need to calculate 20%, it’s a lovely feeling.
Fred says that when he moved to this model, it took awhile to educate both staff and clientele, but each side of the industry has found the practice to be a winning solution to the high costs of running a quality California restaurant.
Which brings us back to the Homestead experience. The linear space, housed in a Julia Morgan-designed building, features large picture windows that overlook the vivacity of Piedmont Ave. Walls, ceilings, and exposed overhead piping are painted a soul-warming shade of green - what Benjamin Moore’s color wheel calls ‘Spotswood Teal.’ Burnished copper accents and Edison lighting add to the rustically urban vibe. And the open kitchen with its wood fire oven adds warmth – both literally and metaphorically.
Both Fred and Elizabeth are very present owners. She tends to work mornings when Homestead serves as a café, and he works the dinner shift. The duo has street cred: Fred is a former executive sous chef at San Francisco’s Farallon, and Elizabeth too cooked at Farallon as well as Waterbar. The Homestead name is an homage to Elizabeth’s grandparents – true pioneers who lived off of the land – and from whom Fred and Elizabeth take their cues. The wood fire oven is used to grill and roast various meats and to char seasonal veggies. Homestead’s bread – thick, peasant-like slices of whole wheat sour dough – is made in-house, as are various sauces and vinegars.
The ever-changing seasonal menu typically features three ‘first’ course selections, three ‘second’ course selections, and four ‘third’ (or main) course items. On this night, the firsts included a rustic duck pate with cornichons and whole grain mustard served with toasted levain. A spring greens salad included French radish, goat cheese, sunflower, seeds and sprouts. And a delicious and colorful Hamachi tiradito included garnet yams, avocado, fried hominy and a kick of pickled jalapeno.
Second courses featured a creative mélange of pan fried folic cheese over artichokes, grilled Treviso, and crispy window pane crackers. A heavenly light linguine alla chitarra featured bites of smoked prosciutto, parmesan, black pepper, and wild arugula. And the head-on prawn dish included sea island red peas, Carolina gold rice, chili aioli, and baby turnips. Third courses included two meat dishes (a grilled ribeye and a pork loin) a fish (roasted Branzino) and a veggie offering of poached farm egg, Anson Mills polenta, roasted asparagus, and morel mushroom vinaigrette.
A vast and varied wine list features both well-known and obscure labels from around the world, for which each Homestead server is well-versed and able to provide recommendations based on profile preferences. A small selection of desserts on this night included a cheese plate, a chocolate mousse with oat streusel and caramelized banana, parsnip cake with cream cheese ice cream, and a delectable buttermilk pie – a lighter take on traditional cheesecake.
Fred estimates that nearly 80% of the Homestead clientele are regulars, yet another sign that he and Elizabeth are doing something right. They've found a formula that works - one that makes owner, staff, and clientele happy. A Bay Area rarity indeed.
For the true Homestead experience, try their Sunday Supper, a prix fix ($58 per person) three course, comfort-food meal showcasing both the bounty of the season, and Fred and Elizabeth’s culinary creativity.
4029 Piedmont Ave. Oakland (plenty of street parking available)