Tina’s Place: Breakfast is Just the Beginning!

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By Vickie Lewis

Are you hankering for a hearty breakfast to start your day?  Are you seeking a comfortable and friendly atmosphere where you can enjoy a good cup of coffee, watch the morning news, and maybe check your e-mails before heading off to work?  Look no farther than Tina’s Place, a quaint, homestyle restaurant, prominently located on the corner of Tennant and San Pablo Avenue in Old Town Pinole.

Many of our readers are no doubt familiar with Tina’s Place, which opened at its current location in Pinole in April 2011.  But owner, Chef Tina Holtzclaw, has been serving local residents dating back to 1995 when she first became established as Tina’s Creekside Café, then located on San Pablo Dam Road in El Sobrante. Previously known as El Sobrante #1, Tina had worked for the owners for years, and had become a business partner in 1994. When the owners decided to leave the business, Tina bought the restaurant and made it her own—thus beginning her aspiring career as a chef and professional restauranteur.   

When the lease expired at the El Sobrante location, the business moved temporarily to Valley View Road where it was co-located with the Lion’s Den Cocktail Lounge and was renamed “Tina’s Place.” During Tina’s search for a new permanent location, the current space in Pinole became available, and she immediately knew that this was the new permanent home for her restaurant. Significant renovation was required to transform the location into a restaurant, but the work was completed within a few short months, and Tina’s Place reopened on April 29, 2011 to the delight of loyal patrons throughout the community.

Initially open only for breakfast and lunch, Tina’s became famous for the extensive menus featuring a delicious variety of omelet and egg breakfasts, and excellent pancake and Belgian waffle entrees. Many of the current offerings at Tina’s Place have been on her menu since the early days in El Sobrante, including a variety of delectable sandwiches, salads, burgers, and wraps. Within a couple of years after Tina’s Place opened in Pinole, the restaurant opened for dinner several days a week, due to popular demand from customers. The initial dinner menu was somewhat limited and incorporated some of the lunch selections; however, over the years, the menu has expanded to include more and different selections, including a featured nightly special.  Whether dining at Tina’s for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, generous portions and beautiful presentation are the norm; and in my personal experience, there has never been a meal from Tina’s Place that I haven’t enjoyed.

Breakfast at Tina’s is a real treat and its popularity is evidenced by the fact that wait times can be long, especially on weekends. In spite of being fully staffed and the availability of additional seating that recently became available at the adjacent “Tina’s Too” location, customers may still experience a wait, especially between the hours of 10 AM to 1 PM on Saturdays and Sundays.  But the wait is well worth the time if you want to experience a delightful start to your day.  In fact, Tina’s Place was the 2017 Winner of the Bay Area A-List for Best Breakfast—one of many recognitions and accolades bestowed on Tina’s Place over the years.

On our recent Sunday morning visit to Tina’s Place, a hostess greeted us upon entry and added our names to the waitlist and informed us that our wait time would be 5 to 15 minutes.  We were seated with menus within 10 minutes and our dining experience began. The morning menu lists both breakfast and lunch selections as well as available non-alcoholic beverages. A separate menu lists the available Eggs Benedict selections, which are among the most popular breakfast entrees offered at Tina’s Place. Tabletop menus list alcoholic beverages available from the bustling full-service bar located in the dining room. Many customers were partaking of the ever-popular breakfast mimosas or Bloody Mary’s, while others were enjoying the strong, rich coffee for which Tina’s is also well-known. The breakfast menu includes Egg Breakfasts with your choice of meat; Egg White Breakfasts; Country Breakfasts, including Biscuits and Gravy; and Tina’s Specialties, including Belgian Waffle, French Toast, and Pancakes. Additional selections include oatmeal, grits, a breakfast wrap, fresh fruit, and home-made bread pudding. There are seven Eggs Benedict selections, each created by and named after customers, the most popular of which are the Eggs Joel (made with Canadian Bacon & Avocado); Eggs Andrew (made with Canadian Bacon and Bacon); and the Eggs Valerie (made with turkey, bacon, tomato and avocado.) Specialty salmon or crab benedicts are alternately available and are very popular with the regulars. Chef Tina personally makes the Hollandaise sauces for the restaurant using the traditional French method. In addition to the traditional sauce, she also makes jalapeno, chipotle, and Mediterranean infused Hollandaise sauces.

Having eaten breakfast at Tina’s Place numerous times over the years, my usual go-to favorites are the omelets. My favorites are the Italian omelet (made with Italian sausage, mushrooms, black olives, and green onions); or the Spanish omelet (made with chicken, green chilies, corn salsa, and cheese, topped with guacamole and sour cream.) My daughter loves the Blackbean omelet (made with black bean salsa, green onions, chicken, avocado, sour cream and jack.) The omelets are consistently large and fluffy, chock full of ingredients, and quite delicious, and are served with your choice of hash browns or home fried potatoes and choice of buttered toast.  Fruit may be substituted for potatoes for a $2.00 upcharge. In spite of my fondness for the omelets, during this visit, I decided to try one of the Eggs Benedict selections, and ultimately chose the Eggs Valerie. My guest ordered the Two Egg Breakfast with ham, home fried potatoes and sour dough toast. At my suggestion, my guest and I opted to share one of Tina’s famous Belgian Waffles, since he had never tried one before.  It is so hard to pass up a Tina’s waffle—they are simply divine, and I knew my guest would enjoy it.

As we waited for our food to arrive, I sipped coffee and glanced around at the restaurant filled with diners, and a team of servers busily bustling among the tables, tending to customers’ needs. Hungry customers continued to queue up at the door, and some sat on outside benches, waiting for their tables to become available. As tables became vacant, the employees quickly bussed and cleaned the table, and the next group or diners was promptly seated. As a result, the ebb and flow of the wait queue moved along at a decent pace.  Only one of the four televisions positioned in the dining room was turned on that morning, airing sports programs. The bartenders busily poured morning cocktails and served those seated at the bar, and diners throughout the room laughed and conversed, creating a casual and comfortable dining atmosphere.

The waffle was the first plate to arrive at our table, and we eagerly grabbed our forks and began eating. The fluffy waffle was a light golden brown, and the middle was garnished with fresh strawberry slices.  The waffle was accompanied by small containers of warm syrup and melted butter.  Just one bite in, my guest was already raving over the waffle.  Its slightly sweet flavor (attributed to the addition of malt powder to the batter) and light, airy texture caused each bite to almost melt in our mouths.  In no time, the waffle had disappeared, and my guest declared that he would be ordering a waffle on all subsequent breakfast visits to Tina’s Place.

Our breakfast entrees arrived soon after, plates brimming with our egg orders and plentiful home fried red potatoes mixed onions and bell peppers. My guest’s eggs were cooked as requested, and three very generous slices of ham were layered across the mound of fried potatoes. My Eggs Valerie was beautifully presented, the medium-cooked poached eggs served atop an English muffin, piled high with fresh slices of turkey, bacon, and slices of tomato and avocado, topped with a light yellow Hollandaise sauce and garnished with a sprinkle of green onions.   My guest thoroughly his breakfast, although he almost couldn’t finish his meal since we’d already eaten the waffle. He mentioned that he’d prefer fewer onions and bell peppers in the in the fried potatoes, and said he’d likely order hash browns in the future.  My first experience with Eggs Benedict proved to be quite interesting! Although I tried to cut through the savory tower in an attempt to eat bites of all ingredients at once, I wasn’t very successful.  The stacked concoction kept toppling over and I ended eating some of the ingredients separately. When only the eggs, sauce and English muffin remained, it was a bit more manageable for me to eat. The Hollandaise sauce was rich, creamy and delicious, and was quite enjoyable.  With so many different choices and the quality of the sauce, it’s easy to understand why Tina’s Place is well-known for Eggs Benedicts.

Customers enjoy breakfasts at Tina’s Place so much that Tina received repeated requests to add breakfast items to the dinner menu. So, beginning in July 2017, guests were delighted to see that a full page of selected popular breakfast entrees had been added to the dinner menu, including several egg breakfasts, two omelets, Belgian waffles breakfasts, and Shrimp and Cheesy Grits. Our evening interview with Tina provided another opportunity to try a different breakfast entrée, only this time it was for dinner! I selected the Pork Chop and Egg breakfast, which is served with a choice of one or two large, bone-in pork chops, two eggs, hash browns or country fried potatoes, and toast. The pork chops were perfectly grilled, were tender, and had good flavor, although I may have enjoyed a bit more seasoning. This entrée is large, and if ordered with two chops, easily provides a second meal for the next day.  My guest ordered the Turkey Deluxe sandwich for dinner, which is made with chipotle mayonnaise, Swiss cheese, turkey, bacon, tomato, avocado, grilled onions and grilled mushrooms, and is served with choice of side. Need I mention that my guest also ordered another of Tina’s famous Belgian waffles? No meal is complete without one! The dessert menu at Tina’s Place now includes waffle desserts, so I ordered the waffle topped with bananas and vanilla ice cream and topped with caramel drizzle—it was pure ecstasy!  The dessert was deliciously rich and sweet but is definitely large and perfect for sharing.

A visit to Tina’s Place will allow you to enjoy large portions of delicious food in a pleasant and relaxing, family-style atmosphere, while experiencing friendly and efficient customer service. The interior of the restaurant includes has a modern look and feel, that still evokes an “old town” feeling.  The dining room accommodates 72 seated guests at wooden tables (built and finished by Tina’s employees), flanked by large cushioned chairs and bench seating designed for comfortability. Last year, Tina acquired the storefront adjacent to Tina’s Place, formerly occupied (and vacated) by a number of other restaurants. Named “Tina’s Too,” this space provides seating for 28 additional guests, which helps to alleviate longer wait times during busy periods. Tina’s Too is intended to accommodate private parties and special events catered by Tina and her staff.

Chef Tina didn’t originally aspire to become an executive chef and restaurant owner. In fact, while working at El Sobrante #1, she attended college to become a Registered Dental Assistant—a job she never performed.  Although she is largely self-taught as both a cook and business owner, she graduated in 2016 from The Culinary School of Escoffier, in which she enrolled to refine and perfect her skills. While in culinary school, she had amazing opportunities to learn and work in the kitchens of some top chefs, such as Gary Danko and Thomas Keller, through which she learned important tricks of the trade.  Her self-improvement efforts are not only revealed through the success of Tina’s Place, but also through the success of her expansive catering business, “Catering by Tina.” All-inclusive catering options are available starting at $37 per person, and Tina employs experienced teams of catering staff that tend to every detail of special events. Contact Tina at 510-691-9570 to discuss options and set up a tasting appointment. Informationally, Tina recently assumed responsibility for the culinary division of Restaurant 1890 located inside the Encinal Yacht Club in Alameda, a member only full-service restaurant. Catering by Tina has exclusive catering rights for all public and private events held at this venue.

Chef Tina clearly loves her work and confesses that she is somewhat overwhelmed at her success. Her passion for her customers and her staff are clearly evident. Many of her staff have loyally worked with her for many years. Tina’s sister, Stacey Robertson, is the General Manager of Tina’s Place, and together with Chef Tina and business partner, Dale Moore, work hard to ensure that Tina’s Place continues to provide the quality cuisine and service that customers have come to expect. Tina often cooks alongside the Tina’s Place chefs, and she’d love to cook you a hearty breakfast. Whether you visit in the morning, for lunch, or dinner, prepare for an excellent meal and a pleasurable dining experience.

2300 San Pablo Avenue, Pinole |  (510) 964-7546  |  (Catering):  510-691-9316  |  tinasplace2.com

Breakfast & Lunch: Mon to Sun:  7:00 AM – 2:00 PM  |  Dinner: Wed to Sat:  5:00 PM – 9:00 PM

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A Firefighter’s Perspective

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By Raquel Segovia

All of us have heard the loud sirens of a fire engine and most of us have pulled over to let them by, but do we really know what it takes to be a firefighter? We probably have a general idea of what they do, but what about who they really are?

I had the opportunity to observe the Pinole Fire Department and speak to a few of the firefighters there.  Their stories, their lives, and their backgrounds are different, but they all share some fundamental goals, and those goals are to help people and save lives.

I spoke with one of the firefighters and asked him to tell me his story.  He was more than happy to share his thoughts with me, and I could feel as he spoke that he loves what he does!  He began by telling me that he did not start off thinking of the Fire Service, but as he got older, he realized that being a firefighter was his calling in life.  He went to EMT School, the Fire Academy, volunteered for a fire department, and started as a Reserve in Pinole in 2001 and became a full time firefighter/paramedic in 2008.  He enjoyed being a firefighter and it fascinated him!  Each call helped him to grow and renew his commitment to the fire service.

He also gave me an overview of the Pinole Fire Department.  They service approximately 20,000 residents for the City of Pinole and an additional 10,000 people in unincorporated areas of Contra Costa County.  They run fire, ambulance and medical calls with one (1) fire engine and a crew of eight (8) firefighters, with two (2) new firefighters to begin in mid March. They average 220 calls a month and 3,000 calls a year!  They are also one of the busiest fire stations in the entire County of Contra Costa.

I took a deep breath and tried to imagine what it would be like to be in his shoes, and quickly realized that it takes a very special person with a great commitment and love for the job to go out at all hours of the day and night to service our community!

When we ended, I had a deeper appreciation for firefighters.  The world has become so computerized and electronic, but the public service industry still needs people helping people!  So next time when you hear the siren of a fire engine close by, pull over and wave to a great group of people who risk their lives for you!

Stitching Together Craft, Art, and Tradition

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By Jeannie Howard

With artisans utilizing the latest technology to create truly spectacular pieces, over the centuries quilting has evolved from a craft born out of pure necessity into an art form adorning walls, clothing, and, of course, blankets. In this ever evolving art, the Guild of Quilters of Contra Costa County’s (GQCCC) aim since 1973 has been to not only keep its members up-to-date on the latest quilting techniques but to also ensure continued interest in the quilting tradition by reaching out to new members.

As a member of the guild for nearly 16 years, Becky Styles, current GQCCC president, said that shortly after becoming interested in quilting when she retired she decided to join the guild. “A friend of mine said that her and her daughter were going to take a class and invited me to join,” she described. “I thought ‘what the heck, might as well,’ and then I got hooked on quilting.” Styles points to the monthly speakers as being one of the biggest draws for her when she first joined GQCCC.

In addition to members sharing their current projects, a book raffle, and the standard updates of new and old business, a key element of the guild’s monthly meetings is the guest speaker. According to Styles, the renowned speakers, largely coming from the Bay Area and Northern California, speak on a variety of topics all related to quilting techniques; often speakers will also teach a class, which is a huge draw, attracting nearly half of the 250 members to attend the monthly meetings.

With a focus on continued education, the guild has several smaller groups that host regular classes. So, no matter a quilter’s skill level, there is always something new to learn and assistance to improve skills. “Members can learn so many things,” said Styles. “I’ve have learned so much from my fellow members.”

Member classes are held in what the group calls their Farmhouse on Clayton Road; named rightfully so since the facility use to be the farm bureau building. This large, open classroom is a quilter’s dream, with ample space for the quilt working and designing of many members. In addition to the space, the Farmhouse also holds the guild’s extensive library collection of more than 1,000 books. “There is a whole wall of books that members can checked out” she described.

While a majority of the classes are for members only, the guild’s monthly meetings and select classes are open to non-members for a small fee. These are great opportunities, according to Styles, for perspective members. Guild membership is only $30 per year. Even though some may assume quilting is an activity for older individuals, Styles said that their youngest member is in her teens—the guild openly welcomes those interesting in quilting, regardless of age or skill level. “We even have a few members that don’t actually quilt,” she shared.

A driving force of quilts is to provide warmth and love and the guild makes sure to perpetuate this through their quilt donation programs. “We have, what we call, Patriotic Quilts where we make red white and blue quilts that we donate to Quilts of Honor, which is a nation-wide organization that gives quilts to veterans,” said styles. “We also do quilts and wheelchair bags for the local veteran’s hospital in Martinez.”

Styles also described the guild’s Quilts to Share program, which donates quilts to local organizations all year long. “The Quilts to Share group does quilts for organization in the county, like quilts and pillow cases for the foster kids in CASA. We’re currently doing a lot of blocks to donate to the Thomas fire victims in Southern California.” In addition to donations of quilted pieces, GQCCC also gives a financial donation to a local charitable organization each year; this year the guild donated to the Elderly Wish Foundation.

A yearly highlight for the GQCCC is their Annual Quilt Show, which recently took place on April 7 and 8. “It’s an art show to highlight what the members do,” Styles said. “We had over 150 quilts on display.” As the guild’s main fundraiser, entrance tickets for the event as well as raffle tickets for the Opportunity Quilt went on sale well in advance. “The Opportunity Quilt is always a hand-quilted quilt that one raffle ticket holder has the opportunity to win, and this year’s was just beautiful!” The annual event regularly draws more than 1,000 attendees from neighboring guilds and quilting fans throughout California.

For quilters interested in donating quilts in their community there are several organizations that appreciate quilted donations.

Here is a list of a few places the GQCCC regularly donates to:

The PTSD department at the Martinez Veteran’s Association

“We go to the unit every two weeks with donations of quilts, wheelchair bags, comfort pillows, and pillow cases,” says Ellen Heathcote, chairperson for the Patriotic Outreach of GQCCC. “The staff notifies us of the new patients who get a quilt.”

Quilts of Honor Quiltsofhonor.org

CASA of Contra Costa County  (925) 256-7284; Cccocasa.org.

“This year we made 62 large duffle bags to help the kids transport their belongs,” said Cynthia Allen, chairperson for the Quilts To Share group of GQCCC.

Hillcrest Congregational Church Layette Program (925) 689-8260; Hillcrestucc.org

An Elderly Wish Foundation  (925) 978-1883; Elderlywish.org

The Bedford Center in Antioch. (925) 778-4171; Choiceinaging.org

Winter Nights Shelter. (925) 933-6030; Interfaithccc.org

Golden State Model Railroad Museum

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By Samantha Larrick

Some are born to dance, others to paint, and still others are born with steam in their veins. These are the kinds of hobbyists that become model railroaders. Model railroading is a huge hobby, with modelers building railroads on their dining room table or creating a layout that takes over the backyard. Some would say it’s an artform, and hardcore modelers do! Engineers must build their own layout, choosing to build an existing railroad, complete with terrain and structures, or using their imagination to create their own railroad map. Then, like an artist shows their painting in a gallery, the engineer shows their model railroad in the Golden State Model Railroad Museum.

The Golden State Model Railroad Museum, housed in Point Richmond, has been in operation since 1985, though they didn’t open their current doors to the public until 1991. With three large layouts that are modeled after Northern and Central California terrain, the 10,000 square foot museum offers not only education in model railroading, but railroad history and operations.

In the 1930s, there was a group known as the Golden Gate Model Engineers Guild. The group, headquartered in San Francisco, put out a monthly bulletin called “The Guildsman” and put on displays of their model trains and tracks for the public. In 1933, some members of The Guild, led by Walter I. Brown, left the group to form their own, more focused club. Focused on electric trains, the East Bay Model Engineers Society took up residence in a building in downtown Oakland. Here, the club created two layouts, HO and O, one of them being the layout modeled on Santa Fe very similar to the one housed in the Point Richmond location now. They added a third, N, ten years later. The letters (HO, O, and N) are not just to label the railroads, but to describe the size of the train in comparison to a real train. Though there are other sizes as well, the most commonly used are HO, 1/87th of a real train, O, 1/48th the size of a train, and N, 1/160th the size of a train. The East Bay Model Engineers Society, though their own club, held regular open houses for the public to view the models. Their goals were the same as they are now: to provide entertainment and education on model railroading.

The building in Oakland, however, was never in great shape, so in 1985, the club moved to their current location in Point Richmond. Unfortunately, many of the model trains and tracks did not transport well and on relocation, everything had to be rebuilt. This allowed the engineers to more closely examine the layouts and space of the new building to increase the flow of traffic and ensure the best possible experience for visitors. Faithful customers, however, may still fondly recognize some of the salvaged structures from the Oakland location.

It was during this time the Golden State Model Railroad Museum was incorporated. The purpose then was the same when the East Bay Model Engineers Society was founded: to provide not only entertainment, but education in model railroading and railroad operations. David Illich, general manager of the museum, states that though the purpose hasn’t changed, the cost of model railroading is higher, and technology is pushing them into the future. In the 1940s, all switches were operated by a remote control panel; now, trains can be controlled through the engineer’s cellphone. As the saying goes “there’s an app for that.”

The museum has gone through many changes, from club members to location to layouts, but one thing that remains is their commitment to model railroading and their growing experience in the field. A great experience for both adults and kids, the museum is open April through December, the trains running on Sundays. Make sure to tell them Marketplace sent you!

Golden State Model Railroad Museum  |  900 Dornan Dr., A, Richmond, CA 94801  | 

510-234-4884

National distinction bestowed upon the culture of health within San Pablo

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By Jeannie Howard

Residents of San Pablo, or anyone else for that matter, most likely would have never imagined that the small—often labeled as an “underdog”—city would have been thrust into a national dialogue on community health. But, that is exactly what has happened to the city of San Pablo since being named one of the recipients of the highly acclaimed Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s (RWJF) Culture of Health prize in September of 2017. “Winning this has just been incredible!” said Leslay Choy, general manager of the San Pablo Economic Development Corporation (EDC), a San Pablo based non-profit that has been proactively working to create and expand economic opportunities for all of the city’s residents. “San Pablo is generally viewed in the county as being small and poor,” Choy expressed. “Yes, we have challenges, but we are now a part of national dialogues and it goes to show that it just takes time and effort.”

Since 1972, The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has been solely dedicated to the improvement and promotion of health. As the nation’s largest philanthropic organization, RWJF believes that people’s health is directly related to a number of factors beyond medical care, such as the quality and availability of housing, employment, schooling, and even the availability of natural open spaces in a community. Through the Culture of Health Prize, the foundation celebrates exemplary communities that are committed to creating an environment of inclusive and sustainable health for all of their residents. For nearly four years, winners of this coveted prize have been communities that are large and small, urban and rural, and have demonstrated how, by connecting city leadership, economic development, schooling, housing, and, as San Pablo demonstrates, even law enforcement, they are creating effective multi-pronged approaches to overcoming challenges once deemed insurmountable to improve the health of their whole community. In addition to being nationally recognized, winning cities receive a cash prize of $25,000 to use toward the continuation and further development of successful programs.

Having come off of the excitement of receiving the National Civic League’s All American Cities award in 2014, Choy said that the EDC began to dig deeper into exploring how engaging people in their local economy has a direct effect on the health of a community. “If people are not going to work locally, if they don’t have paid time off, if they don’t have benefits, they are not able to participate in the health and welfare of their family without missing out on pay or losing their job,” she said. “The EDC has been arguing that by improving a person’s ability to earn income and stay locally, they can better maintain their community relationships and take care of their family, and that can actually influence the health of their community as well.” With this goal set, it only seemed appropriate for the EDC to apply for the RWJF Culture of Health Prize. As Choy described, the EDC is, in many ways, a storyteller for the community and through applying for this prize, it was the non-profit’s opportunity to share San Pablo’s story. “So many folks have their heads down working hard and they don’t even see the incredible story that is unfolding within their own community,” she said. “We may be small and scrappy, but the way we are working together is quite different and we just wanted a chance to tell our story.”

In addition to the modest cash prize and having a platform to share San Pablo’s story, the EDC was deeply motivated to compete for this national distinction because of the snowballing effect it can have on their community. “Yes, some cities would rather be handed a quarter of a million dollars,” said Choy, “but with this award, you get so much more than money.” The added benefits for San Pablo have been the opportunity to be a part of a national dialogue on building healthy, safe, and equitable communities. “Now San Pablo is forever on a national map,” she said. “It is important to be a part of this larger conversation, and we are excited at the potential this opportunity has.”

According to Choy, there are three distinct phases to the RWJF Culture of Health Prize application process. “It is such a huge competition and you go through a long, multi-stage process,” she described. In the fall of 2016, the EDC first learned of the award and got to work on the first phase of the application—a concise essay and amateur video answering why they were applying and the initiatives and accomplishments that support their reasons—which was due in the first week of November 2016. “Our thesis was that engagement in the local economy, meaningful engagement, is everything to the health of a community,” described Choy. Nearly 211 communities from across the country submitted applications during this initial phase.

It was not until the following month that the EDC received the invitation to submit phase two—a detailed itinerary of who RWJF representatives would talk to, what they would discuss, and what they would see in the community if they were to visit—which was due by the end of January 2017. Only 37 of the original applicants were selected for this phase. To the surprise of EDC, they received the call in March that San Pablo was one of eleven communities to move onto phase three, a site visit that would occur in the first week of May 2017.

“In the site visit we had to solidify everything we detailed in the previous phases,” Choy said. “At any point in time there is so much going on in San Pablo, so we chose to not stage anything for the visit.” Admittedly, this was a time when she was thankful that San Pablo is such a small city because the site visit scheduling was tight. During the visit, RWJF representatives conducted a community conversation where residents were able to openly express their experiences in the various programs and initiatives the EDC and the city had implemented. “I was able to hear voices that I had never heard before,” shared Choy. “It was fascinating and rewarding to be able to sit and listen, like a fly on the wall, to that conversation and to hear people talk about their experiences going through the programs.”

During late June Choy received the call back from RWJF that San Pablo was one of eight communities to win the Culture of Health Prize. “I got the news but I was not allowed to tell anybody,” she said. “I was doing the quiet squealing in my office and my feet were doing a happy dance under my desk.” Keeping the joyous news a secret until the official announcement in mid-September 2017 was torture, Choy said.

Since making the official announcement, the EDC has been busy spreading the word to everyone in every part of the city to keep the momentum of the award going. The EDC is planning on having an official bringing-home-the-prize celebration during the city’s 4th of July event this year. “This may be a one-time award, but it’s about propelling San Pablo forward,” shared Choy. “It is about looking at where we want to go; not just about the immediate next thing, but about the long-term vision.” According to Choy, the residents of this humble and hardworking community have been very surprised at the national award and the youth are excited.

The large goal going forward, according to Choy, is to continue to “cultivate the leaders of tomorrow and to build greater community engagement overall.” This first step for this will be through a series of community forums the EDC is planning. “We are going to make sure the forums have professional facilitation, translations, daycare, and food,” she described. “We will be going out to the community to spaces that work for residents, to make it very accessible.” Additionally, Choy described ways the EDC and the city will further support local entrepreneurs and small businesses, such as through revolving loan programs. “We can help them with technical advice for gathering everything needed for loans and we are also going to be able to make very low-interest loans,” she said. “The whole idea is that the loans made are to companies that can demonstrate that they are going to be able to retain and even hire new employees through the loans.” Schools are also on the EDC’s radar as an area to help improve outcomes for the city from the beginning.

Choy acknowledges that the Culture of Health Prize is not going to solve the challenges San Pablo faces but that it is a tool to further the steps already in process. “We want to hold onto our community and if we do not engage people, if we do not show them that there is opportunity here, then our youth will leave and our families will leave,” she admits. “So, we have a lot of building ahead, and we will keep looking at what we can do to push San Pablo forward toward the long-term visions.”

Los Moles Mexican Restaurant & Beer Garden Specializing in Moles and Craft Beers

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By Vickie Lewis

The City of El Cerrito celebrated the opening of a new and exciting restaurant on September 1, 2017, which occupies the building of the former Carrows Restaurant located on Potrero near San Pablo Avenue. Los Moles Beer Garden is a thriving Mexican restaurant and bar created and owned by Chef Lito Saldana, which boasts not only a large, spacious interior, but also a large outdoor patio area (the Beer Garden) perfect for enjoying warm spring afternoons and evenings. The El Cerrito location is the third Los Moles restaurant opened by Chef Lito since 2012; the first location was established in Emeryville, and the second opened in San Rafael in 2015.  Los Moles Beer Garden is not just a typical Mexican restaurant. What sets it apart? Why, the Moles, of course!

Not being a culinary expert of Mexican cuisine, I didn’t know about “Moles.” I’d heard of Chicken Mole but hadn’t eaten it before. When I asked Chef Lito what the restaurant name, Los Moles, translated to in English, I learned that the word “mole” (pronounced mo-lay) is the generic name for traditional sauces originally used in Mexican cuisine and for dishes based on these sauces. Moles are made with various ingredients to create different flavors, with chile peppers being a common factor. They are often made for special occasions and celebrations and are very time consuming to make from scratch, requiring many fresh ingredients and long cooking times.  Consequently, not many restaurants in this area offer moles, or may offer only a single type of mole.

Born and raised in Jalisco, Chef Lito grew up in a very small town with only 10 houses where the residents took care of each other like family. He often watched and helped family members cook traditional Mexican recipes, including mole. Although he hadn’t intended to leave Mexico, he came to the United States in 1989 to help his brother establish a restaurant.  After working with his brother for a while, he began to create his own recipes and later opened a restaurant of his own in Emeryville, which was named Cocina Poblana. As he continued to develop and experiment with recipes, he created a variety of moles. He later decided to change the name of the restaurant to Los Moles, and incorporated the mole selections onto the menu.

Chef Lito is proud of his culture, and his passion is to share with customers the distinct flavors from the traditional Mexican pueblos such as those in his home town. His strong Mexican roots and upbringing have inspired him to use many family recipes, in addition to creating his own. Los Moles currently offers eight different varieties of moles, one of which boasts up to 50 ingredients.  Two of the featured moles are named after Lito’s mother, Mama Luisa, and his grandmother, Mama Elena. A third, Pipian Mole, is inspired by his grandfather’s recipe, made with pumpkin seeds and essence of chile guajillo and contains over 30 ingredients. Besides moles, there are many other traditional Mexican dishes available on Los Moles’ menu. Every item served is made from scratch in house, and everything is 100% gluten free. The moles are also free from animal products—they are made from a homemade vegetarian base combined with and other natural ingredients.  Only fresh, locally grown, and organic ingredients are used at Los Moles, and all meats used are free from hormones or antibiotics. In addition, most all entrees offered can be modified to accommodate customers following a vegan diet.    

Our Friday evening visit to Los Moles was very enjoyable. The cosmetic changes made to the interior of the former Carrow’s restaurant transformed the space into an open, spacious dining area with plenty of Mexican accents.  Lito informed us that everything used to transform the space is made of recycled materials. There are plenty of wooden tables and chairs, as well as a few booths built along the interior walls.  The back of the restaurant can accommodate large parties and banquets but is otherwise used for general seating. The ceilings have open beams, and during the day, the glass windows surrounding the restaurant afford plenty of natural light.  In the evening, lighting in the dining room is provided by rows of small light bulbs lining the wooden beams, which emit subdued golden ambient lighting for the diners. To the right of the entrance is the liquor bar, boasting plenty of wooden stools both at the bar and along the opposite wall. Outside is the beer garden (patio), which has a large brick firepit on one side. There is plenty of seating on the patio, mostly wooden tables with chairs or tree stumps for sitting.  There is subtle lighting as well as plenty of space heaters to keep customers warm as they enjoy their beverages.   

We arrived during Happy Hour which occurs every day at Los Moles from 3:00 – 6:00, featuring drinks and appetizers at reduced prices. We started with Margaritas and sipped these while interviewing Chef Lito and enjoying homemade chips and salsa. Lito suggested that we sample all of the moles instead of each of us ordering a single entrée. We thought that was a great idea, and soon our table was covered with traditional clay plates, each with a different mole sample. Six of these were served with tender organic chicken breast, one was served with prawns and one was served with Tilapia.  We also were served a generous portion of green rice (made with Chile Poblano, cilantro, garlic, spinach and oregano) and a container of freshly made tortillas.

We spent the next hour or so savoring the moles. Lito had explained to us that eating moles is not about just eating the sauce, but rather eating it together with other foods, such as rice, beans, meat and tortillas. So, we sampled each mole wrapped in a tortilla with rice and a bit of the chicken or fish.  Even though each plate only had small portions, we were extremely full by the end of the experience! Our wonderful server for the evening, Roman Becerra, kept us supplied with rice and tortillas (and margaritas) while we sampled each of the delicious moles. Roman was kind enough to stop by our table to show us many of the delicious-looking entrees he was delivering to other customers. The presentation of each was beautiful and definitely incented me to want to return to try other items from the menu.

My guest and I generally agreed on the moles we considered favorites: Mole Mama Luisa, a rich red sauce that tasted a bit like enchilada sauce, and was not too spicy; Mango Mole, a delicious blend of spices which had a slightly fruity flavor, but did not taste strongly of mango; and finally, the Mole Pina, which had the distinct flavor of pineapple and tasted slightly sweet, yet still had a touch of spiciness. We also enjoyed the Mole Poblana, which boasts the combined flavors of 50 different ingredients. Some of the moles were thicker and dark in color, almost like gravy, whereas others were lighter in color and had a slightly thinner consistency.  None of the moles were overly spicy, but after trying all of them, I noticed that my eyes and nose were running!

Despite our fullness, we requested to see the dessert menu. There were a number of wonderful options to choose from, and I selected the traditional Flan de la Casa, and my guest ordered the “Viva Mexico.” The flan was beautifully presented on a rectangular white plate, decorated with whole blueberries, blackberries and slices of strawberries.  The flavor and consistency of the flan was excellent—among the best I have ever eaten! The “Viva Mexico” consisted of two scoops of vanilla ice cream drizzled with caramel and served with two pieces of churro. Both selections were just what we needed to end a perfect dining experience.

Diners have an opportunity to sample all of the moles at the all-day buffets offered at Los Moles every Saturday and Sunday.  The buffet is offered at a nominal cost of only $17 per person and is all-you-can-eat, including most non-alcoholic beverages. Besides the moles, the buffet includes homemade Menudo and Posole soups with an array of mix-ins; beans, rice, tortillas, assorted delicious meats, egg dishes, fruits, salads, and desserts. The buffet gives customers the opportunity to try all of the moles so that they can determine their favorites and will know what to order from the menu the next time they return. I returned to Los Moles the following weekend to try the buffet and found it to be a very good selection of foods for the price. The presentation, variety, and quality of the foods was excellent. The buffet also includes bottomless Mexican coffee and hot tea, and the bar also has special offers, such as three mimosas for only $10. I especially enjoyed the Chilaquiles, and my guest enjoyed the Enmoladas Divorciadas (handmade corn tortillas, organic scrambled eggs, potatoes & spinach; served w/ mole verde, mole rojo, queso fresco, black beans & sour cream). We arrived shortly after Los Moles opened that day and were among just a few customers who had ventured out to eat so early.  However, by the time we left, the dining room was full and there were many guests checking in at the hostess station to await their turn at the buffet. I should note that guests can also order from the regular lunch/dinner menu if they do not wish to partake of the buffet.

Taco Tuesdays is another feature of Los Moles that is very popular with diners.  Chef Lito explained that from 4:00 PM to 9:00 PM every Tuesday, diners can enjoy unlimited tacos for only $12. Customers can choose from a selection of meats, beans, salsas, fruits, and all the usual taco fixings, served with fresh homemade tortillas. If you visit between 6:00 and 9:00 PM, you’ll also have the opportunity to enjoy live music while feasting on tacos and your favorite libations!

Speaking of libations, Los Moles features a wide variety of alcoholic drinks to accompany their delicious cuisine.   Serving over 100 different brews, Los Moles features over 25 locally crafted beers from breweries such as: Eight Bridges Brewery in Livermore; Berryessa Brewery in Winters; Sierra Nevada Brewery in Chico; and East Brothers Brewery in Richmond. In addition to their extensive beer selections, Los Moles also pours seemingly every available brand of Tequila Reposado and Tequila Anejo.  Micheladas and margaritas are also very popular and each is offered in multiple flavors. Mixed drinks and Los Moles’ very own house wines (made in Lodi) are also offered by the glass or pitcher/bottle. For those who prefer non-alcoholic beverages, there are sodas, aguas frescas, horchata, juices, coffee and tea.

Contrary to his title, Chef Lito does not regularly cook for his Los Moles restaurants. Lito has hired chefs who he mentored and taught how to make the moles precisely as he would make them himself. The moles are made in large batches at the Emeryville site and portions are transferred to the other two restaurants, ensuring that there is consistent flavor and quality regardless of location. Chef Lito’s staff is trained to provide the highest quality of customer service.  They are instructed to make customers feel welcome—just as they welcome a guest in their own homes. I can attest that I have had very good service both times I visited Los Moles from the moment I entered the restaurant and throughout dining experience. The restaurant appears to be well-staffed and service is efficient, courteous and attentive.

Chef Lito lives with his wife and two adult children in El Cerrito. He and his wife met when she was attending Berkeley High School and married soon after she graduated.  Each family member plays a part in ensuring that the high quality and standards for Los Moles are met. His daughter is in charge of hiring and training the staff for the restaurants, and his son is in charge of maintaining inventory and ensuring that only the freshest and highest quality products are always available. Chef Lito takes care of the “back of the house,” overseeing the kitchen and the general restaurant operations. His wife often works at the restaurant on Sundays, and she also buys airtime on a local Spanish radio station every Monday during which time Chef Lito promotes Los Moles. In 2017, Chef Lito won four awards for the Los Moles restaurants in Emeryville and San Rafael—Google rated each of the restaurants Excellent, as did TripAdvisor.com. His restaurants have also won previous awards and acknowledgements, and Chef Lito is widely recognized for his culinary talents in Northern California. He has a passion for his work and for his community, and often hosts special events and benefits. The Los Moles website provides full details about their menus, Sunday Brunch, Taco Tuesdays, as well as information about catering for special events.  If you haven’t already visited Los Moles Beer Garden in El Cerrito, I encourage you to make plans to do so soon! The food, the drinks, and the service are sure to keep you coming back again and again!

 

6120 Potrero Avenue, El Cerrito |  (510) 230-4855  |  losmoles.com 

Facebook: @losmolesbeergarden | Order Delivery online through: GrubHub.com | Catering also available

An American classic helped grow a city and win a war

Aerial of plant

 

By Jeannie Howard | Photo Credit Richmond Public Library

From the Kaiser Shipyards to the Standard Oil refinery, along with roughly forty other war related industries, Richmond quickly garnered the reputation as being the “World War II home front” early in the war years. However, before the United States entered the fighting and well before the war broke out in Europe, the city of Richmond and its council of industry set sights on building up the city’s commerce and industry sectors.

One company in particular the city sought was Ford Motor Company. “Ford would have been really valued,” says Melinda McCrary, executive director of the Richmond Museum. “[The city] courted Ford for a longtime in order to get them to come.” McCrary credits the deep ports of Richmond, which also helped to attract other industries to the city, as well as the railroad access as being valuable features that made Ford take notice of Richmond.

Coming to the region in the early 19th century, the Richmond portion of the railroad was a spur off of the transcontinental railroad, which ended in Oakland, according to McCrary. “Because we have such deep ports here in Richmond, material could be brought in from anywhere in the Pacific Ocean and literally be taken to anywhere in the United States on the railroad. The fact that the railroad was here was a huge benefit. It was revolutionary at the time.”

While the courtship between the city of Richmond and Ford Motor Company went on for some time, Ford was finally won over after numerous modifications were made to the waterfront parcel at no expense to the car manufacture. The city of Richmond and Ford Motor Company had a very close relationship, according to McCrary. “The city manager, James McVitty, drove a 1931 Model A Ford for many years. It was the number three Ford out of the plant and it’s the marquee in our exhibit here at the museum,” she says. “Richmond was a cow town back then—it was all ranching and cattle—so, in 1931 it was a super fancy sight to see that car driving down the Richmond dirt roads. There is a lot of lure around this car. ”

Once completed in 1930, the Richmond Ford plant was the biggest on the west coast. Within the sprawling 500,000 square foot “daylight factory” designed by Albert Kahn as many as 400 vehicles could be fabricated per eight-hour shift. Within a relative short period of time, Ford became the third largest employer in Richmond, which probably played a role in the tremendous growth the city experienced in the early 1940s.

Following the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, the United States officially entered World War II. While U.S. manufactures had been producing military equipment for sale to European forces since the start of the war, military manufacturing for U.S. use was amped up at the request of President Roosevelt. To achieve the highest rate of efficiency, the Richmond Ford assembly plant made its last civilian vehicle in February 1942 and switched to full military fabrication. As the only west coast plant that Ford did not sell or lease out during the war years, the Richmond facility became known as the “Richmond Tank Depot” because the plant specialized in tanks and Jeeps.

The hardworking men and women of the Richmond Tank Depot produced nearly 56,000 vehicle unites for the United States and its allies during the war; they regularly worked six-day work weeks in order to fulfill the needs of the war effort. The patriotism of the Ford employees did not stop when their shift ended. Employees regularly collected magazines and newspapers, which got bundled and stowed away in completed vehicles that were destined for the various theaters of war, for the troops. While this may seem like a small gesture, it was a critical lifeline to those fighting in the war. The Richmond employees sent nearly forty tons of publications by 1944.

With the victory in war, the Richmond Ford plant soon began reconverting back to civilian vehicle production; the first civilian car following the end of the war came off of the line in August 1945. As the nation’s prosperity grew, the demands for new vehicles increased. At the size it was, the Richmond Ford plant was no longer able to meet the demands of a growing consumer market. Some reports claim that Ford wanted to expand the Richmond plant but the city would not allow them to. Whether this claim is true or not, Ford eventually closed the Richmond facility in 1955 and moved production to Milpitas. Out of a desire to keep their jobs with the Ford Motor Company, many employees followed Ford and moved to Milpitas as well.

As one of the top employers in the city as well as a consumer of local material and products, the closure of the Ford assembly plant was a major blow to the city of Richmond. “First the shipyards closed and then Ford closed, it was devastating and we have yet to recover,” says McCrary. “Richmond lost huge tax bases and jobs and the economy has yet to recover and be as large as it was when the shipyards and Ford were open.”

As part of the beginning of the Richmond industrial backbone, the Ford assembly plant played a crucial role not just in transforming the city from a farm community and into a Bay Area pillar but also in the allied victory in WWII. Today, the old Ford plant, which sat vacant for decades, is home to the Rosie the Riveter/WWII National Historical Park and the Craneway Pavilion.

One Group Bringing Many Together to Help the Homelessness Of Albany

Diverse Housing Group pic

By Jeannie Howard

With a shared belief that all residences of Albany have a right to a place to live within the city, the Diverse Housing Working Group (DHWG) has been advocating for the creation of low, moderate, and no income housing within the city. This consortium is a mix of business organizations, churches of varying denominations, and individual residents, as well as a handful of dedicated volunteers, all working together to educate the community and bring needed changes to the housing situation in Albany. “It is really great that all these organizations, that sometimes might not agree on many other issues, got together to figure out what we can do for people,” said Allen Cain, communications director of DHWG.

Since the formation of the group nearly five years ago, it has made tangible change and progress is the resources available to those experiencing homelessness. During the drafting of the city’s housing element report, which occurred close to the time the group was formed, according to Cain, for the county of Alameda and the state, the DHWG was able to have a lot of influence. “Our group started sitting in on those meetings and started to advocate that the city actually start doing its fair share serving people who were experiencing homelessness,” he said. “We continue to monitor the city on their housing element; really just holding the city’s feet to the fire on their promise.”

Additionally, through their advocacy, the DHWG was able to push the city to open the Community Resource Center, which is located at the Albany United Methodist Church Community Hall. The achievement that Cain described as being the “crown jewel” of the DHWG’s efforts is the shower program at the Albany Aquatics Center, which began more than a year and a half ago. “I am very proud of it,” he said. “Again, all these organizations that were already involved with the Diverse Housing Working Group are coming together, but we also have to pull in even more organizations and people to make the shower program happen each week.”

Serving an average of twenty people weekly, the shower program is so much more than a shower for participants. Residence experiencing homelessness are able to get snacks, toiletries, including dental hygiene supplies, and a small token of knowing that they are not forgotten. Cain is quick to point out that this program is no easy feat, but that it happens with great assistance and cooperation between many organizations and people in the Albany community.

“The aquatics center graciously donated the location and because the school district uses the pool, we have to bring them in. We had to check with the neighbors and the police, who have been remarkable. One of the churches provides the kitchen space to prepare the refreshments that are handed out by our team of outreach volunteers Friday mornings to people in areas that have been identified as homeless encampments to remind them of the program,” described Cain as he continued to list the various organizations involved in the shower program. “The Albany Community Foundation pays the $3 fee to the aquatics center for each participant to shower; the towels are provided through donations and are cleaned by the Solano Cleaning Center; the dental hygiene products are provided by the Solano Avenue Dentists; the refreshments are paid for by the Solano Community Church; and the YMCA collects the travel size toiletries for the program. It is just incredible the number of people that are contributing in some way.”

While the DHWG has been able to make progress on its goals, there is still much more to be done. “I find it sad that we cannot provide more for more people,” said Cain. “Our shower program is at capacity; we really cannot take more people.” For the group to continue to influence the city and provide the weekly shower program to more residence experiencing homelessness, Cain said they need more people. “Human presence is always better than money or a letter or an email. We need more people that are passionate about the subject to be able to sit in on the city council meetings to continue to push the city of Albany to uphold its promise on their housing element—it is the squeaky wheel that gets the oil.” Additionally, Cain said the group’s immediate volunteer need is for more people to help with the shower program. “Our core-group of shower program volunteers is over-extended.”

For those interested in helping the DHWG, in whatever capacity they can, Cain has extended an open invitation to attend the group’s monthly meetings, which occur the second Tuesday of each month at The Church on the Corner. This invitation is open to anyone that wants to help, whether they live in Albany or not. “We have had people come from other towns because they have experienced homelessness at one time or simply have a passion for helping out,” said Cain. “Most of us at the group believe that in life there are six degrees of separation, and I can almost guarantee that everyone has been touched by homelessness in some way even if they have not been homeless themselves.”

For more information visit Diversehousingworkingroup.weebly.com or email the group at Diversehousing@gmail.com.

Monthly meeting happen the second Tuesday of each month beginning at 5:30 p.m. at The Church on the Corner at 1319 Solano Avenue.

The Greatest Good – How a team of local medical professionals traverse the globe to save children in need

With Patient X-ray before Surgery (2)

By Matt Larson

Here in the East Bay exists a team of medical professionals who volunteer their time, money, and expertise, by making annual trips to Jalandhar, India to perform life-saving, transformational spine surgeries for children and young adults suffering from severe scoliosis (curvature of spine) deformities. All operations are performed completely free of charge as these patients come from impoverished families, with no financial capabilities to pay for such a complex procedure.

The group that does this is called “Standing Straight”, which is a a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization comprised of medical volunteers in a number of different disciplines who are dedicated to providing free spinal surgeries to the neediest children. Led by Founder & CEO Dr. Ravi S. Bains they have successfully operated on 33 children and young adults thus far, and at just 3 years in existence, they’re just getting started. 2017 was the first year they were able to make not one but two needed missions to Jalandhar, and their next one is already scheduled for March 2018.

“Their scoliosis are so severe that many of these children drop out of school, drop out of the public eye, and become housebound,” said Dr. Bains. “Our goal is to try to identify these children and young adults and fix them, so that they can live a normal, productive life, and become contributing members of society.”

Dr. Bains works as Chief of the Regional Spine Surgery Department at Kaiser in Oakland where he leads a team orthopedic spine surgeons who specializes in both adult and pediatric spine deformities. He has traveled the world changing lives for the better in Central and South America, Africa, and, of course, right next door in Oakland. There are a lot of small groups doing similar kinds of work worldwide, but Dr. Bains found a need to create a nonprofit that is specifically focused on spine surgery for the Indian subcontinent. Patients travel from miles —by hitchhiking, public transport, or any means necessary—in hopes of receiving the services of the Standing Straight Team.

Each mission consists of a team of about 20-22 professionals, including surgeons, neurophysiologists, anesthesiologists, an implant specialist, experienced OR nurses, technicians, and support staff—along with dozens of duffle bags containing all of the medical equipment and supplies that is required for the mission…. suffice it to say, it’s no easy task. The journey itself takes over 24 hours one way, including both air and ground transfers, and once they arrive they have not a moment to spare. “The goal is to train the local surgeons there,” Dr. Bains said. “I’ve already trained one of the surgeons from India. With time, they can take care of these children on their own and I could go on looking for other sites and other areas where there’s a need.”

Standing Straight’s surgeries are conducted at the SGL Charitable Hospital in Jalandhar. It was selected by Dr. Bains about 5 years ago when he was fulfilling his father’s wish to have his remains brought back to his homeland after he passed. Dr. Bains ended up with time to spare and decided to peruse the local hospitals. When he visited SGL, he saw a major opportunity.

“They have the same shared values as we do, and wanted us to do complex spinal surgical care for their community,” said Dr. Bains. “Other hospitals just did not have enough facilities or support that spinal surgery would require—they didn’t have a physical therapy department, they didn’t have a blood bank, etc.—but this hospital had facilities that would make it possible.”

After several visits, it was made clear that SGL was going to follow through with helping make this all a reality. Dr. Bains met with their local surgeons, and developed ongoing communications with them in order to make sure they find the most fitting candidates for surgery, as Dr. Bains and his team can only perform about 10 surgeries per mission. Utilizing modern technology, patients can be carefully examined from Dr. Bains’ office here in Oakland.

“As local surgeons screened their patients, we created a folder on the cloud where they would upload images so we’d be able to take a look at these kids and determine if their case would be a surgical problem or not,” he explained. From there he’d advise them if the patient required an MRI, additional x-rays, and so on. “This hospital was able to do all these things, and they didn’t charge anything to the patient,” he said. “They basically provided the services for free for the poor who didn’t have access to the healthcare there.”

The rest is history in the making, as Standing Straight continues to grow and expand their services. Now doing two trips a year, their most immediate goal is to add a third, possibly at a different site in Southeast Asia, maybe Bangladesh or Burma. Based on the needs, and where they can find an appropriate facility with able surgeons who are on board to partner up, only time will tell.

A true labor of love, all of the Standing Straight volunteers pretty much pay their own way in regards to airfare, food and lodging. They rely heavily on donations, and are always on the lookout for capable volunteers as not everyone’s availability allows them to attend every mission. “Whoever has spine expertise, especially in spine deformities, we would love to have on our team,” said Nirmal Singh, Mission Coordinator for Standing Straight and Neurophysiologist at Kaiser in Oakland. “Nurses, anesthesiologists, neurophysiologists—anyone who wants to help us in any way, please do.”

One volunteer who just went on his first mission is James Mitchell RN PNP, who also works at Kaiser Oakland as the Director of Pediatric Neurosurgery and Pediatric Cardiac Surgery. He’s been a financial supporter of Standing Straight for a number of years after he heard Dr. Bains give a talk about the organization. When he heard that they were in need for a circulating nurse for their November 2017 mission, he jumped at the opportunity. “I believe that we go on a mission like this expecting to give a week of our time and we come back with so much more than we gave,” he said. “It is extremely powerful to see these families that have so little and are so grateful for what we do. Every single day we were there we feel like we are the goodness of humanity.

Living in the United States we have access to some of the best health care around, and when Standing Straight makes these humanitarian missions to India, they strive to maintain that quality we’re all so used to. “Whatever we would have used here to do a successful spine surgery, we do our best to implement the same standard in India when we operate on those patient,” said Singh. “We basically brought Kaiser Permanente hospital from Oakland, California all the way over to India, helped people, and brought it all the way back,” Mitchell added. “That’s was phenomenal to be a part of that.”

As most of us don’t have the medical expertise required to be of much assistance on Standing Straight’s next mission, what we can do is help spread the word, donate if possible, and actively support their efforts. If you have something to offer, Dr. Bains invites you to contact them by email, which can be found at their website, http://www.standingstraight.org. There you can also find numerous success stories from their missions, and a video that gives you a little insight on what a difference they’re making. Follow them on facebook@standingstraight if you’d like a constant reminder that there’s plenty of goodness left in the world.

On these missions, each surgery takes about 8-10 hours and we run two Operating Rooms simultaneously. “I gave [Dr. Bains] the nickname of ‘Superman’  because he’d be in one case, he’d finish it, scrub out and immediately jump into the next case and do it!,” said Mitchell. “And then once the patient is stable in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit we would leave go to the hotel, have a quick bite and get up early to do it all over again in the morning,” Singh added, “yet he still got the whole team moving, explaining to everyone what we’re doing the next day—he is superman, there is no doubt about it.”

Famiglia Italian Restaurant – Where Families and Good Food Come Together!

Calimari appetizer

By Vickie Lewis

If you’re accustomed to traveling to San Francisco or other East Bay cities to enjoy authentic Italian food, there is a new local option that will no doubt satisfy your palate and save the consternation of driving, paying tolls and parking!  Famiglia Italian Restaurant, one of Pinole’s newest dining establishment opened for business in June 2017, and is open for your dining pleasure seven days a week for lunch and dinner.  Conveniently located on San Pablo Avenue, Famiglia’s somewhat unlikely location (in an Industrial Park-like setting), affords plenty of parking for customers. The restaurant sits back from the street, which may make it difficult to spot in the daytime; but the bright neon signage visible in the evenings beckons hungry diners in for a warm welcome and a delicious meal.

Upon entering Famiglia, you may miss the familiar ambience of some Italian restaurants. At the time of this review, there were no pictures on the walls, only a few plants, no white tablecloths, and no evidence of traditional Italian décor. Some customers have characterized the restaurant as looking like a cafeteria. But co-owner Miguel Guillen assured us that the venue is a work in progress, and that customers will see a number of enhancements in the coming months.  The interior of the restaurant was entirely designed and constructed by Miguel and his brother David, who jointly own Famiglia, and I found the design appealing even sans the décor. The large open space has a defined entry lined with comfortable chairs, and leads into the dining room with table seating for approximately 60 guests.  Large windows along the right side of the restaurant provide plenty of natural lighting during the day. Behind the dining area, there is a long, customized bar/counter designed by David, which has the word “Famiglia” hand set across its length in coins. The large open kitchen is left of the dining area, and includes an impressive brick pizza oven.  The kitchen and the bar areas are brightly lit, while the lighting above the tables is provided by suspended chandelier-type lamps suspended above the tables provide subdued lighting for a nice dining ambience. The concrete floor, as well as the entire interior of the restaurant, appeared very clean and well maintained.   

David and Miguel immigrated from Mexico to the United States over 20 years ago seeking the “American Dream”.  Their goal was to work hard to eventually fulfill their dream of owning their own restaurant. Shortly after they arrived in the states, each of them secured jobs working as chefs in different Italian restaurants. Their exposure to and experience with cooking Italian cuisine ultimately inspired their desire to open Famiglia.  Miguel was the Head Chef for La Veranda Italian restaurant in Clayton for fourteen years before he and David decided to open their own restaurant.  Together, the brothers have over 40 years of restaurant experience, a majority with Italian cuisine. As local residents, Miguel and David preferred to open their restaurant in a location where they could serve their community. They spent months looking for a suitable location, and then several more months designing and planning, before the brothers set about constructing their restaurant.  The actual construction took approximately four months to complete, and Famiglia opened its doors for the first time on Friday, June 16, 2017, just two days before Father’s Day. The brothers hosted a subsequent Grand Opening on August 9, 2017, which was attended by the mayor of Pinole and other Pinole City leaders.

Although there hadn’t been much pre-opening advertising, David and Miguel were pleasantly surprised when their restaurant was filled and overflowing with customers on Father’s Day 2017!  They hadn’t anticipated the overwhelming business considering that they had just opened two days prior.  But in spite of a sparse staff, they handled the high volume of customers with finesse!  Now, months later, Famiglia’s popularity as a favorite local family restaurant has steadily increased, and reservations for larger parties, especially on weekends, are highly recommended.

Famiglia’s menu includes all of the traditional Italian courses: Antipasti (appetizers), Primo (including Pizza and Pasta), Secondi (entrees), Dolci (desserts), and Bevande (drinks).  There are fewer selections in each category on Famiglia’s menu than one might find in similar Italian restaurants; however, the variety of menu offerings includes something that will surely appeal to all tastes!

Following are some examples of menu selections for each of the courses offered at Famiglia. In the Antipasti category, there are homemade soups, several salad choices, and popular appetizer selections such as Calamari Fritti, Carpaccio Cipriani, Bruschetta, and Pane con Aglio (Garlic Bread with olive oil, herbs and parmesan). In the Primo category, there are eleven pasta dishes, including spaghetti with homemade meatballs, Linguini Alle Vongole (Linguini with Clam Sauce), Fettucini Alfredo, Gnocchi del Giorno, and Ravioli Al Formaggio. Several of the pasta selections offer a choice from several homemade sauces, and all pasta dishes may be enhanced by adding Chicken or Prawns for $3 or $4 respectively. Five choices of oven-fired personal pizzas, including the traditional Italian Margherita, Pepperoni and Mushroom, are great options for those who may prefer pizza over pasta.  In the Secondi category, options include Lasagne Al Forno, Melanze Alla Parmesana (eggplant and penne baked in marinara sauce), and a steak, chicken, veal, and two seafood options.  Four desserts round out the Dolci category, and the Bevande include coffee or tea, iced tea, a selection of soft drinks, and San Pellegrino.  The average menu price is approximately $14, with Antipasti ranging from $3 – $8, and Secondi entrees ranging from $17 – $20.

My guest and I visited Famiglia for dinner on a Thursday evening around 6:00. There were four to five tables of diners already seated when we arrived, and there was a steady flow of customers until just before 8:00, several of whom ordered food “to go.” We were warmly greeted by Miguel, and seated at a table near the bar counter which provided a good vantage point of the entire restaurant. Miguel provided us with menus and shared information about some of the most frequently ordered items, which included Calamari Fritti, Fettucini Alfredo, Lasagne, and a selection of brick oven pizzas, which have become very popular with customers.  After bringing us water and a basket of freshly baked focaccia and sour dough breads, Miguel left to provide us an opportunity to look over the menu.  The fresh breads were soft and delicious and were served with an accompanying olive oil and tomato based dipping sauce.  I thoroughly enjoyed the focaccia bread while my guest was a fan of the sour dough slices, and was very impressed to learn that both breads are freshly baked on-site daily.

I had arrived that evening at Famiglia Italian Restaurant with full expectation of enjoying an authentic pasta dish; however, Miguel’s mention of the popular pizzas continued to resonate even as I looked over the many menu selections. A separate sheet described  the Specials of the Day, which were a Butternut Squash Soup starter; and three entrée specials:  Penne Dijonesse, Grilled Pork Chops with Porcini Cream Sauce, and Pan-Fried Trout with Garlic Aioli Sauce.  It was truly difficult to choose from so many wonderful options. When Miguel returned to take our orders, each of us ordered soup for starters, and for his entrée, my guest chose the traditional Spaghetti con Polpette (Spaghetti with homemade meat balls and marinara sauce.) After much consideration, pizza won out as my entrée choice!  I chose the Pollo E Tequila pizza, which sounded both intriguing and appealing.  It is made with spicy salsa verde, lime tequila chicken, fresh avocado, and fresh cilantro–I couldn’t wait to try it!

Minestrone soup is always available on the Antipasti menu, and there is always at least one other soup of the day featured at Famiglia. My guest ordered the Minestrone, and I opted to try the special Butternut Squash Soup. The bowls of soup were very generous portions, served in what I might characterize as cereal bowls. The soups were delivered to the table steaming hot and the server topped each bowl with fresh parmesan cheese.  I noticed that the color of my soup was not that of butternut squash soup, so I questioned Miguel about it. He quickly apologized, saying that the server had instead brought me the Cream of Artichoke soup, and offered to replace it for me. However, the artichoke soup sounded equally appealing to me, so I decided to keep it and give it a try. Boy am I glad I did!  The soup was very rich and smooth, and I could really taste the fresh cream and the parmesan. Yum! The minestrone soup received similar raves from my guest, who said that it was filled with tender vegetables and pasta bits immersed in a very flavorful broth.   

We were still enjoying our soups when our dinners arrived. My guest’s large portion of spaghetti and marinara sauce was generously topped with at least six large meatballs. The meatballs are made with beef and are seasoned with various herbs and spices, making them extremely flavorful and complementary to the pasta. My personal pizza was larger than I expected and the presentation was beautiful. There were six slices of pizza in my pie, which had a tender golden brown and deliciously light crust. Six slices of fresh avocado were neatly arranged in the middle of the pizza, and cilantro leaves were sprinkled all over the top, adding a lovely green contrast. My guest acknowledged that the spaghetti was the best he’s eaten in a very long time, citing the rich flavor of the marinara and the meatballs. My pizza was also excellent and quite enjoyable!  Having already eaten several pieces of bread and the large bowl of soup, I was only able to eat two of the six pizza slices.  Although the pizza was described on the menu as being spicy due to the salsa verde, I did not find the pizza to be spicy at all. The salsa verde added a very delicious flavor to the pizza which lingered after the pizza was eaten.  Miguel told us that the Pollo E Tequila pizza is one of the most frequently ordered from the menu, and I can certainly understand why that is the case!  (I would highly recommend it to anyone who visits Famiglia and wants to try the pizza!)

Following our meals, Miguel treated us to two of the most popular Dolci offered at Famiglia—the homemade Tiramisu and the Strawberry Gelato. The chefs at Famiglia make the Tiramisu in house, and also make their own Cheesecake and Chocolate Ganache desserts. The dessert menu also includes five gelato selections; however, these are not served in scoops like ice cream.  Instead, the gelato is served in slices, similar to a slice of pie, each with a cheesecake crust.  Each serving of frozen gelato is topped with a unique toppings which varies depending on the gelato flavor. Instead, the gelato is served in slices, each with a cheesecake crust, frozen gelato in the center, and with unique toppings, which vary depending upon the gelato flavor. The strawberry gelato was topped with mini white chocolate chips.  Other gelato flavors available are Mango, Spumoni, Kaffelua and Chocolate. Although these are not made in-house like the other desserts, we found the Strawberry flavored gelato to be very delicious. All desserts are very reasonably priced at only $5.50. I must say that the Tiramisu we enjoyed that evening was scrumptious! I have tried many Tiramisu desserts in my time, and this one ranks right at the top.  The portion was large, and the creaminess, consistency, and flavor were perfect. If you like Tiramisu, you will undoubtedly love Famiglia’s recipe for this dessert!  Bellissima!

For those who enjoy beer or wine with their meals, you will find that Famiglia offers quite a number of fine wines, as well as draft and bottled beers. A separate wine list is available, and the “per glass” and bottled wine prices appear to be quite reasonable. Six draft beer selections are available as well as additional bottled varieties. At the time of this review, the bar was not currently staffed to serve customers directly, but there are plans to open it sometime in the future.  For now, all beverages may be ordered only while seated in the dining area.

Unlike a lot of local restaurants, Famiglia has a banquet room near the front of the dining area that will accommodate 25 to 30 guests. There is no additional cost for use of the banquet room, and interested parties may contact the restaurant for advance reservations. This young business also offers small to large catering options for business luncheons or larger special events such as Quincinieras, weddings, or other special celebrations. Contact Miguel directly to get more information about menu and cost options. Famiglia offers on site catering, and will provide either buffet or sit-down table service.  Alternatively, catering orders may be picked up at the restaurant or dropped off at a specified location.

The word “famiglia” means family in Italian, so it was a natural choice when Miguel and David contemplated the name for their restaurant.  The brothers employ a number of other family members at the restaurant, including their youngest brother, Jesus, who works alongside David as one of the chefs.  In addition, Miguel and David consider their customers to be part of their “famiglia” and endeavor to provide a pleasant, enjoyable, and welcoming atmosphere to all who come there to dine.  Stop in for lunch or dinner any day of the week, and you will find Miguel and David and their staff working hard to provide you with a delicious cuisine and superb customer service.  For those on the go, most foods are available for take-out, which represents a significant portion of their current business.

If you haven’t had the opportunity to visit Famiglia Italian Restaurant, Miguel and David invite you come and experience what they have to offer and become part of their “famiglia.” If you’ve visited before, be sure to return to try a different menu selection, and to check out some of the continuous improvements planned to enhance your dining experience. The Guillen brothers and their staff will make you feel right at home—just like Famiglia!

812 San Pablo Avenue, Suite 1, Pinole |  (510) 283-5971  |  famigliaitalianrestaurant.com

Hours:  Sunday through Thursday  11:00 – 9:00  |  Fridays and Saturdays  11:00 – 10:00