Learning to Love the ‘hood on Foot: One Edible Adventure at a Time

by Sarah Henry on July 22, 2010 · 29 comments

in berkeley bites,food flotsam & jetsam,restaurants

Nurse Ratched, I mean my friend Marge, was determined to get her morning caffeine fix.

To be fair, she also thought it was important to get me mobile post-back surgery (long story, will spare you the boring saga, let’s just say chronic pain is, like, you know, a total downer).

Once ambulatory (funny word that, means walking but makes me think of being carted off in an ambulance), it was time to share my sore and sorry self with the rest of the world.

Shuffling down the street I wish I had hiking poles to propel me forward faster. An impatient patient, the stitches in my back make moving swiftly impossible. During early outings, this one included, I’m on the look out for anything unpredictable — namely dogs, little kids, skateboarders, dodgy characters, and rev heads behind the wheels of fast cars. I have renewed respect and empathy for the elderly and infirm trying to go about their business in a hyper-mobile, sped-up world.

We’re on a mission, Marge and I. She’s walking at her usual fast clip, or so it seems to crippled me, knowing that a well-brewed, steaming cup of Joe is in her future. Me? I’m just grateful to be up and out and taking one small step at a time towards recovery.

The surgeon’s directives were pretty clear: lots of little walks, frequently. Naturally, we ignore this sound advice and opt for one long walk — maybe 20 minutes tops, which probably took us twice as long ’cause of the aforementioned shuffle.

I thought I was going to pass out at one point. But eventually we made it. Then there was the humiliation of doing my duck waddle for all the groovy, young, able-bodied, early risers to see. I needn’t have worried. No quizzical looks as I headed out the back of my local.

I now have a local cafe, which makes me happy. Coincidentally enough, it’s called Local 123. I first heard about the place, which I have whizzed by a zillion times in the car, from a local restauranteur I interviewed prior to going under the knife.

So I stopped by that very day, on foot and hungry, and discovered what I’d been missing in my hurry to hot tail it out of my neighborhood. Friendly peeps, sweet space, super cool back patio with a Euro cafe vibe. Simple, satisfying eats.

Just what my neighborhood needed. Since then my son and I have eaten here for lazy Saturday lunches. I meet friends for breakfast or lunch.

Lots of people rave about the locally-roasted Flying Goat Coffee. Personally, I like their chai and anything they slather with tapenade.

The gals who own the year-old joint showcase local ingredients and artwork by local residents. They hold urban homesteading workshops and film and music soirees.

Local 123 became both part of my rehab and a go-to destination during those two weeks when I was pretty much under house arrest. At least, that’s how it felt to me, since I couldn’t drive. Friends played taxi, but getting in and out of a car at the time: Not fun. Sitting sucked, lying down didn’t bring much relief. What helped: The simple act of walking.

So I walked a lot, often with an edible destination in mind. I rediscovered an Indian restaurant on the rec of someone else I profiled for Berkeley Bites.

Former colleagues planned a dinner during my recuperation at a sustainable seafood joint I could stroll to, which is close to several stores selling ethnic food items. It’s easy to pick up the fixings for homemade tortillas, dal, and paella in one shopping excursion.

I realized I could walk to three farmers’ markets. Normally, busy schlepping from one kid-related sporting event or another, I’d just do a quick swing through the market by car.

My son and I discovered it was fun to go to the market under our own steam. He biked. I’d shuffle. Since I couldn’t carry anything over 10 pounds, his dad ferried food home for us. Not sure if the peaches would have survived hanging from the bike handles.

In actuality, this enforced slowdown predated surgery by about six weeks, when my chronic injury took a dramatically acute turn for the worse.

Thinking like the temporarily disabled person I was, I’d plan interviews in walking distance of my house. Of the 20 or so profiles of local food folks I’ve done to date this year, almost half are within a 20 minute amble of where I live.

It’s true, Berkeley is blessed with a crazy number of culinary types, but who knew I was in such close proximity to so many of them?

The South Berkeley neighborhood I now call home is relatively new to me, though I’ve lived in this gown town for seven years.

When I first moved to my current digs in November 2007, I didn’t do a lot of exploring. I figured I knew Berkeley by then and continued with my regular routines.

I have a theory about moving, whether across town, interstate, or over oceans: It takes two years before you feel like you belong. The first year is about adjusting to the unfamiliar.

The second year, you feel more settled. This time around — we’re talking seven moves in 12 years — it took an unexpected injury to help me get better acquainted with my local area.

And now it’s home. Turns out, there are loads of good eats here, some of them homegrown. People around the corner keep chickens, there’s a community flower and vegetable garden down the street, a gourmet grocer, and a community kitchen a few blocks away.

Just today I learned that next to that seafood restaurant an authentic pizzeria is set to open soon, with a chef from Naples on board and owners with a rep for running popular chowhouses in town.

I’m back behind the wheel and exploring beyond my ‘hood again, but it’s good to know that I can walk out my door — striding, these days, thanks for asking — and find fresh food a short stroll away.

Your turn: Can you frequent food venues on foot or do you have to drive to go anywhere you’d want to eat? How does walking to a fav eatery impact your quality of life?

Oh, and going full circle here, my friend Marge, Margaret to the rest of the world, has a blog about going carless, called, well, our carless life, which features cool anti-car artwork too.

Photo of Local 123 back patio by Rochelle Bourgault.

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{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

"Marge" aka Nurse Ratched July 22, 2010 at 2:09 pm

First of all, I did not walk at a “fast clip” ( I was downright dawdling, m’dear) and, second of all, it was NOT a 20 minute walk. Okay. I’ll admit that my zeal for coffee may have trumped my nursing instincts that morning. But as you’ve as much as admitted, Local 123 was worth it.


Sarah Henry July 22, 2010 at 2:19 pm

Never argue with a nurse with a needle or a doctor with drugs. Come to think of it, maybe my recollection of this, ah, short, slow stroll, has been forever altered due to the copious quantities of meds I needed back then just to get out of bed;)


Roxanne @ Champion of My Heart July 22, 2010 at 2:20 pm

Alas, our somewhat remote, rural location means it’s at least a 20-30 minute drive to any real source of non-home food. The joke here is that if it ain’t in the freezer/fridge/pantry … honey, you ain’t having it for dinner.

HOWEVER, the ladies in our valley have an event once a month, and I often walk to these parties because it’s nice to get out … but also because parking on windy mtn roads can be a little dicey.

I know so many people recovering from spine surgery. Sending you lots of healing vibes.


Sarah Henry July 22, 2010 at 2:43 pm

Where are you, Roxanne, and what do these rural ladies dish up? I’m curious to know what you all have cooking in your “remote, rural location.”


Frugal Kiwi July 22, 2010 at 2:23 pm

Since we moved to a small rural town, I do most of my errands on foot. Sine we both work from home, we often only take the car out on weekends, unless we get a week of solid rain. The farthest anything (shopping-wise) away you can get in our little village is 20 minutes on foot.

We have a couple of decent Chinese places that get our custom every week or so. Haven’t tried the roast place. The bakery serves lovely cakes and ho-hum factory made meat pies. We have a McDonald’s, Subway and KFC in town, not that we are inclined to go. No Indian, no Thai and being New Zealand certainly no Mexican. But getting where I want to get on foot is delightful.
Frugal Kiwi´s last [type] ..Dalek Compost Bin


Sarah Henry July 22, 2010 at 2:45 pm

How little is your town, Frugal Kiwi? Makes me sad to think that McD’s, Subway, & KFC have infiltrated even tiny towns Down Under.

Still, good to know you can get around by shanks’ pony most places you do want to set foot in.


Frugal Kiwi July 23, 2010 at 4:40 pm

As of the 2006 Census there were 4,000 people who live in the town, but it is a rural service centre that serves a catchment area of about 28k- or so says Wikipedia. So not SUPER tiny, but certainly not Auckland.
Frugal Kiwi´s last [type] ..Dalek Compost Bin


Alexandra July 22, 2010 at 2:36 pm

I enjoyed this post and your adventures about your town on foot. When I lived in Cambridge, I walked everywhere. Now, in summer, we have our town chokablock with tourists and cars, so I try not to go out to eat, due to the lines. It’s too hot to walk, so I group errands and organize my driving around them.
Alexandra´s last [type] ..Submission Update &amp Films That Make Us Think


Sarah Henry July 22, 2010 at 2:48 pm

You know, Alexandra, since I live in temperate Northern California, I forget that some parts of the country are simply too hot to enjoy on foot this time of year (and too cold or wet in the winter in some parts as well).

I remember my first visit to southern Florida years ago, walking to the supermarket, and being amazed at the horrible looking citrus on offer (this was Florida, after all) and what a slick sweat I worked up in just a few minutes outdoors. You could shower five times a day there and still feel sticky.


MarthaAndMe July 22, 2010 at 3:03 pm

There are three restaurants within walking distance of my house. One, I would never eat at. The second, I have biked to, but not walked. The third I have not gotten to any other way than by car, but you’ve inspired me to consider walking there. I’m glad you’re feeling better!


Sarah Henry July 22, 2010 at 5:10 pm

Happy to be of service, M&Me. But do tell: Why would you never eat at restaurant #1?


Andi July 22, 2010 at 3:26 pm

I am in walking distance of Vik’s Chaat house which is dangerous! I walk to Cafe Rouge nearly every Sunday as well as Cafe M, O’Chame and Tacubayu. I think I am VERY lucky!
Andi´s last [type] ..Not quite Wordless Wednesday 70


Sarah Henry July 22, 2010 at 5:11 pm

Hi Andi,

Thanks so much for chiming in with other local haunts worth hoofing to. As you say, we are lucky — spoiled rotten, really — for chowhouse choices in this town.


Sheryl July 22, 2010 at 6:33 pm

Oh, how I wish I had places to walk, other than to visit the next tree! I live in dense woods and often feel kind of trapped here. I’m longing for a community where you don’t need a car and can get anywhere by foot or bike.


Sarah Henry July 22, 2010 at 8:38 pm

So where is home, Sheryl? Woodsy sounds wonderful, but all locations have their pros and cons, I know.


Ruth Pennebaker July 23, 2010 at 6:53 am

This is a lovely post, Sarah, since you’re seeing the world in a different way — shuffling along, going more slowly. I think trying to become patient with yourself is such a challenge, but we all have to learn it eventually, like it or not. Great job of expressing this in the post.
Ruth Pennebaker´s last [type] ..Last Date


Sarah Henry July 23, 2010 at 7:15 am

Thanks, Ruth. It’s true that all of us, at some time or another, have to learn patience, if it doesn’t come naturally. Now I wonder if I’ll ever ramp up my engine and return to my regular self, moving swiftly through the world, juggling lots of different things.

Makes me want to take a nap just thinking about it;)


Alisa Bowman July 23, 2010 at 7:04 am

Glad you are improving and recovering!

To answer your question, there are some places I can walk/bike to, and we do. But there are not nearly enough. We’re in a small town. Restaurants struggle here. It’s sad. Many of them went out of business during the recession. Now we only have two true sit down restaurants, one hot dog joint, a Chinese take out. That’s pretty much it.
Alisa Bowman´s last [type] ..What to do when a spouse lets himself go


Sarah Henry July 23, 2010 at 7:17 am

Alisa, you raise a good point: The toll the recession has taken on the restaurant biz. I don’t doubt that small towns have struggled during the downturn. What would you like to see succeed in your neck of the woods?


Diane July 23, 2010 at 5:26 pm

I deliberately bought in the flats so I could walk/bike to everything easily. I can walk to a ton of stuff, and if I feel like biking, encompass even more. Love 123!


Sarah Henry July 23, 2010 at 5:59 pm

Welcome Diane, and you’re right, it’s great to be able to easily get to lots of things under your own steam. I lived in San Francisco for 17 years, where I walked everywhere. I’m so glad that I can now walk to the movies, great theater, yoga — even my physical therapy appointments!


Jennifer Margulis July 26, 2010 at 9:03 am

We walk everywhere in our small town to discover new places to shop and eat (well, or to go to all our old favorite haunts). I recently discovered the food cart scene in Portland. You have to go there to write about it. The BEST food EVER. Cheap. And all in walking distance of the various hoods…
Jennifer Margulis´s last [type] ..An Exclusive Interview with Frugal Kiwi


Sarah Henry August 3, 2010 at 7:09 am

Hey Jennifer, I agree. In fact, I have written about the Stumptown food cart scene, in a couple of posts from a trip I took there for a food conference in April. We even went to the annual food cart fest. Great, innovative, and wholesome cheap eats indeed.


Stephanie - Wasabimon August 1, 2010 at 8:27 pm

OOoh! Will have to check out some of these places, like Local123. Thanks for the tip!
Stephanie – Wasabimon´s last [type] ..Revisiting My Favorite Lettuce Wrap Recipe


Sarah Henry August 3, 2010 at 7:07 am

You’re welcome, Steph. I think you’ll like what you find.


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