Slow Restaurant in Berkeley Finds Fast Following

by Sarah Henry on May 18, 2011 · 25 comments

in berkeley bites,food businesses,restaurants

Partners in work and life: Kyle Anderson, owner and executive chef, Rose Grabow, general manager, Slow restaurant in Berkeley./Photos: Sarah Henry

Kyle Anderson opened his first restaurant, Slow, nine months ago. The skinny slip of an eatery resides in a an emerging food corridor on University Avenue, home to Chocolatier Blue, eVe Restaurant, OctoberFeast Bakery and New Amsterdam Coffeeshop. (Anderson is an alum of acclaimed eatery Charlie Trotter in Chicago, as are the owners of eVe, and Christopher Blue, who owns the gourmet chocolate shop next door.)

While Anderson comes from a fine-dining culinary background, the food he serves up at Slow is simple, rustic comfort fare, albeit with high-quality, mostly organic, ingredients and thoughtful flavor pairings like free-range chicken salad with golden raisin, toasted almond, and sorrel, or potato salad with radish, apple, caraway seed and whole grain mustard vinaigrette. All made from scratch and  dished up fast at affordable prices.

He draws on culinary techniques from his high-end restaurant days. He’s not adverse to seasoning with salt. And he’s a slave to flavor: balancing acidity and sweetness in the kitchen, he says, is  key to good cooking. Slow has quickly developed a loyal lunch-time following (full disclosure: including this writer). Lines out the door are the norm and some local office workers come in every day for the same order. Dinner service is catching on too, albeit more, well, slowly.

The restaurant features an open kitchen but the face of the place is Anderson’s partner in work and life Rose Grabow, who hails from Omaha, as does the chef. The two live within a couple of blocks of Slow.  I caught up with Anderson, 28, earlier this week before the restaurant opened to see how his “baby” is doing.

How’s business?

We’ve been busy since we opened our doors. To date we’ve done the bulk of our business at lunch, we’re hoping that dinner picks up once our liquor license is approved and more people know about our patio out back, which is at its best when the weather is warm and the roses are in bloom.

The winter was slow, and went on longer than I expected — March was something — and things got a little tense then. As a new restaurant owner you get a bit on edge when the slow season lasts longer than expected. People here seem to hibernate during the rainy season. But now the weather has come good we’ve bounced back and are doing even better than we were before the weather was bad.

What do you like about living and working here?

The access to and affordability of excellent produce; we source most of our fruits and vegetables from Berkeley Bowl and Monterey Market. I like the climate [March excepted] and the outdoors, so when I get time off I enjoy going up to Tilden Park or out to the ocean.

Berkeley has a reputation as a food town. Given that, any surprises on that front?

A couple: Restaurants seem to be afraid to use salt; I notice a distinct lack of seasoning in some of the places we’ve eaten in. As for customers, we came here anticipating a certain level of sophistication around food, and people are certainly up to speed on the local, seasonal, organic end of things. But every day we’re asked to explain culinary terms, such as crudite or confit, which we’re willing to do, I just wasn’t expecting that.

Have you run into any cultural differences in California?

People here want to know your business, both at work and personally, we’re not used to that, since we’re from Nebraska. It can feel a bit aggressive. But we’ve gotten used to it and are finding it easier to open up. And customers certainly have opinions and aren’t afraid to express them. We have a diverse crowd walking through the door, which I like. We also see the unexpected on a regular basis: this week we had a table of six deaf people for dinner. It keeps things interesting.

Any challenges?

I’m realizing I can’t please everyone. I change up the menu every three months or so. If I change it more often, people complain that something they ate recently is no longer available. But some people would like to see us mix it up more. So it’s a question of striking a balance. I can’t take the Caprese off the menu, for instance, because it’s our most popular sandwich.

Where have you eaten around town that you’ve enjoyed?

Kirala; the sushi bar is so fresh and the atmosphere is great. Cafe Rouge for charcuterie; we’re big charcuterie fans. Sea Salt does a good Dungeness crab cake benedict and trout BLT.

What are you cooking up next?

We’re looking for a space where we could open up a dining room, and have a fully equipped kitchen where we prepped all the food for a few, smaller restaurants, like the one we have now. We’d like to have a franchise, and we’re interested in a location where we can attract college students. We think our price point is good for that crowd. I’d also like to try some different things at dinner: I’m thinking small plates, a pig roast, or a clam bake. I want to introduce a bit more science to the evening service without scaring anyone off.

This post originally appeared on Berkeleyside.

You might also like:

Berkeley Bites: Christopher and Veronica Laramie, eVe Restaurant
Produce for the People at Berkeley Bowl
Slow Food Folks Serve Fast Food with Style

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{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

Roxanne @ Champion of My Heart May 18, 2011 at 10:34 am

It’s interesting to hear the insights about the level of being nosy in Nebraska vs California. I wish we had more small, family-owned, top-level eateries in my small-ish hometown, but I can see why many choose the big cities.

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Sarah Henry May 18, 2011 at 11:40 am

I liked hearing his out-of-towner take too, Roxanne. Here’s hoping such places pop up in your neck of the woods — and soon.

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Kris @ Attainable Sustainable May 18, 2011 at 11:33 am

Oh, I’m taking a little mini desk vacation just imagining myself sitting on that patio. Happy that summer’s on its way – hopefully customers will emerge to give Slow a try!
Kris @ Attainable Sustainable´s last [type] ..Sticker Shock- What the Stickers on Fruit are Telling You

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Sarah Henry May 18, 2011 at 11:41 am

A mini desk vacation, hey Kris? It’s nice that even on slightly gritty University Ave there’s a little oasis around the back of this place.

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Alexandra May 18, 2011 at 11:41 am

Any chance they might want to open an east coast Slow in the future? There’s a restaurant vacant on Route 6. I was just realizing our town has very few vegetarian options for folks who do not eat fish or shellfish on the menu. We have a local food movement now, but need a restaurant to go with it …
Alexandra´s last [type] ..Farmers Market Opens at Preservation Hall

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Sarah Henry May 18, 2011 at 11:42 am

You can always ask, Sandy. I’ve often wondered what your eating choices were like beyond the seafood scene, and now I know.

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Sheryl May 18, 2011 at 11:49 am

You had me on the chicken salad…

Just hearing the name, Slow, makes me relax. We need more places like this! Especially on the East Coast (why do you lucky Californians get to have all the fun and fabulous food?)

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Sarah Henry May 18, 2011 at 12:36 pm

I like the open kitchen, and watching all those trays of root veggies heading into the oven to roast. Makes a produce-loving gal happy.

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Melanie @ Frugal Kiwi May 18, 2011 at 11:50 am

Fascinated to hear they’ve often had to explain fairly simple culinary terms like crudite and confit. I’d always heard that Berkeley was such a sophisticated eating area!
Melanie @ Frugal Kiwi´s last [type] ..What’s lurking under your carpet

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Sarah Henry May 18, 2011 at 12:38 pm

I thought that tidbit was interesting too, Melanie. Food folks in this town can think they’re a bit all that, so I welcomed an outsider’s perspective on the city’s culinary grasp.

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NoPotCooking May 18, 2011 at 11:59 am

I’m interested by his take on salt usage. My experience is that restaurants use more salt than people do at home – which is often why things taste better when you eat out. Maybe this is not so in this area?
NoPotCooking´s last [type] ..Buffalo Roll

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Sarah Henry May 18, 2011 at 12:39 pm

Hey NPC, I think there was a big backlack against sodium for a while, though salt certainly seems to be making a comeback — there are even a couple of tomes on the mineral.

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Living Large May 18, 2011 at 12:13 pm

I’m with Sheryl. You had me on the chicken salad. I also find it fascinating about the cultural differences between the Midwest (we’re from Kansas City!) and California. We’ve experienced slightly the same thing moving to the south. People here believe it is their business to ask about a person’s spiritual beliefs. I think it is because there are so many evangelicals here. Anyway, in Kansas City, that was a private matter. Unlike you, I haven’t gotten used to that and will let people know that is between me and my God. :)

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Sarah Henry May 18, 2011 at 12:40 pm

Hi Living Large, nice to see you here and I look forward to following you on your blog. And thanks for the insight into another geographic difference in this vast land.

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Kerry May 18, 2011 at 4:14 pm

I like the sound of high quality ingredients and fine dining background used to present a rustic style menu. their plans for the future sound good too — I wish them every success.
Kerry´s last [type] ..The Dreaming Fields- Matraca Berg

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Casey@Good. Food. Stories. May 18, 2011 at 6:56 pm

Agreed – a simple sandwich done right is one of my favorite dishes. Glad they’re giving such a humble meal a high quality spin!
Casey@Good. Food. Stories.´s last [type] ..A Lobster-Free Visit to Maine

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Sarah Henry May 23, 2011 at 8:57 pm

Agreed, Kerry and Casey, my kind of food too.

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MyKidsEatSquid May 19, 2011 at 10:07 am

We’re starting to get more smaller restaurants, like this one in my area. Like NPC, I found the comment on salt interesting. It does seem like salt is back in.

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Sarah Henry May 23, 2011 at 8:57 pm

Are you noticing more salt in the dishes you sample around town, MKES?

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Jennifer Margulis May 19, 2011 at 7:20 pm

I love the idea of this restaurant, and the concept, and the name! I will go here next time I’m in California!!

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Sarah Henry May 23, 2011 at 8:58 pm

And I hope I can join you for lunch when you do, Jennifer. Would be good to meet you in person.

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Vera Marie Badertscher May 19, 2011 at 8:00 pm

Salt is a health issue, and as someone said, restaurants tend to use more of it than home cooks. That’s a problem for a lot of people. Not only healthwise, but once you’ve cut back on salt, heavily salted food can taste really repulsive. Perhaps people should have a choice? And menus should highlight low sodium dishes as many do with heart healthy or low carb or vegetarian?
Vera Marie Badertscher´s last [type] ..Seeing Africa Through African Eyes

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Sarah Henry May 23, 2011 at 9:01 pm

I figure folks vote with their pocketbooks: If food doesn’t suit their palate, price point, or dietary needs, there’s no shortages of eateries in this town to try.

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Jane Boursaw May 23, 2011 at 2:11 pm

Just the idea of eating in a restaurant named ‘Slow’ makes me weep with joy. Everything is so fast fast fast these days, and food, in particular, should be created and consumed with care and love.
Jane Boursaw´s last [type] ..Can’t Get Enough of … Peter Dinklage in Game of Thrones

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Sarah Henry May 23, 2011 at 9:04 pm

Ironically, Jane, I ate a sandwich from Slow on the way out of town — headed to Yosemite in fact — and sort of winced at the notion of noshing on these sandwiches while driving. It seemed somehow wrong (and also very American, eating in a car on the go) and yet we’d gotten a late start…We did slow down once we landed in the national park. Nature tends to have that effect on me.

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