LGBT Pride: Remembering The Brick Hut Cafe – Part 2

| June 23, 2011 | 1 Comment
  • 1 Comment

Brick Hut 3 - Kwan, Rami. Photo by Ace Morgan
Brick Hut 3: Kwan and Rami. Photo by Ace Morgan

Part 2: The Food… (Part 1: The Story)
Having a cafe was nobody’s dream, but it sustained us in our other
endeavors.

The Brick Hut was a place for us all to create a space in the world
where we could be our complete selves.

The food was the community, the edible fare was our way of bringing it
all together, with love.

Brick Hut 1: 1975-1983 “Women Invented Cheese”
In the beginning, it wasn’t all about the food. For us, owning our work place was about opportunity, self-determination, sanctuary. Every person did every job.

The Brick Hut was our anchor, as well as an anchor for our community.

Brick Hut 1 - Something Moving album cover with menu
Brick Hut 1: Something Moving album cover with menu

The menu was small, painted by Peggy Mitchell of the band BeBe K’Roche, on a board attached to the hood above the stove. It is featured on the cover of Mary Watkins’ album, Something Moving which includes the song Brick Hut.
Listen to Brick Hut:

The food was simple. Comfort food: Eggs, waffles and pancakes, hash browns, toast, bacon, ham and sausage links, one kind of cheese — cheddar. A bottomless cup of coffee was 70 cents and customers could help themselves while waiting to be seated. And, bless them, wait they did.

In fact, waiting for a seat became a good time to meet old friends or make new ones, hold lively discussions or maybe just flirt with somebody.

Our specialty signature item was a spiced whole wheat batter for our delicious waffles and pancakes. Pure maple syrup was extra.

Our food evolved along with the business and the times. Debi Thow wanted to make muffins. She brought in a recipe from Gourmet magazine that we modified over time and the famous Brick Hut blueberry muffin was born. Amey Shaw showed us how to make a gorgeous Hollandaise sauce and brunch exploded in a bevy of Hollandaise dishes.

Hash browns became home fries and we saw our options were limited only by our imaginations.

People had ideas, we experimented.

We created omelets and named them for inspirational women: Sister Marion for a marathon-running nun; Ruth Reid for an early 20th Century lesbian poet and activist; Seven Sisters for the Berkeley feminist construction collective and the Mendocino omelet for the herb blend we ordered from a woman owned business.

    What’s in a Ruth Reid Omelet?

  • Avocado
  • Green chili
  • Jack cheese
  • Sour cream

Brick Hut 2: Joan and FrannaHut 2: 1983-1995 “Pancakes, Eggs and Fun”
When we expanded to a new location, the menu expanded too. More space meant the ability to offer more fresh foods: salads, fruit bowls, better breakfast meats, artisanal sausages, higher quality meat and poultry.

Seasonal fresh fruits topped the waffles and pancakes.

The Tofu Saute with fresh sautéed vegetables was a vegetarian favorite.

We made soups, improved our chili, made salsas, offered a beautiful variety of baked goods, some house-made, some from Berkeley’s Nabolom Bakery.

We installed an espresso machine to round out our epic breakfast experience. There was still a line down the street.

We played with our food. We joked that we cooked 50 items 500 ways.

One day, I thought it would be fun to offer something completely new: eggs scrambled with pesto. It was an immediate sensation and was copied by several other cafes in the area, as well as a few in other parts of the country, thanks to customers who had moved away and talked their local eatery into trying it out.

Occasionally, the brunch board offered one special: the Mystery Omelet. I think I started that just to avoid having to make a million of my least favorite omelets (the Ruth Reid– too many moving parts, too many substitutions!)

We just asked if the customer was vegetarian or not and proceeded to create a whatever omelet on the fly—no two alike all day.

Kids loved our Mickey Mouse pancakes and it wasn’t unusual to see a server carrying around a baby so mom could eat unencumbered.

People came in for breakfast during the times of the Iran-Contra hearings or when Anita Hill was testifying at the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings and ended up joining people at other tables for discussion and, eventually, lunch.

If a customer asked for something different, we did our best to make it happen.

    Tofu Saute

  • Cut medium/firm tofu into 1/2″ thick triangles
  • Cut, blanch and shock: carrot, broccoli, zucchini, set aside
  • In heated sauté pan, add: Chopped garlic and ginger
  • Add tofu
  • Add tamari or soy,
  • Add sliced onions and mushrooms (shiitakes are best for this)
  • Add vegetables, a little salt and black pepper
  • Cover to finish
  • Drizzle a little sesame oil to flavor
  • Top with toasted sesame seeds, maybe some chopped scallion
  • Serve on rice or with home fries and toast

Brick Hut 3 kitchen chaos. Photo by Ace Morgan
Brick Hut 3 kitchen chaos: Sharon, Rami, Monica, Luana, Kaja. Photo by Ace Morgan

Hut 3: 1995-1997 “Girl Town”
Once again we moved and our menu expanded into dinners. We served pastas, using old family recipes, pizzas, using a cornmeal crust by none other than Sophia Loren. We offered fresh fish, grilled veggies. We made our desserts in house or supplemented them with items, like our sorbet, from local businesses. We served wine and beer (featuring St. Supery, a woman-run winery and Lost Coast Ales, by Master Brewer Barbara Groom).

We bought a fryer and made French fries, chicken wings, and anything that we could make up that we thought our customers would like.

There really was something for everyone.

Still, there was a line down the street, but mostly on weekends.
People were surprised when we closed our doors forever, believing that that line happened all week.

I am grateful for all of the folks who came through those doors, to work or to eat. Every one of them created a part of the Brick Hut.

To this day, we hear from old customers that they really miss us and that they wish there was a Brick Hut. My old friend and business partner, Sharon Davenport usually replies, “There was a Brick Hut.”

Join the Remembering The Brick Hut Cafe group on Facebook. Share your memories, thoughts and photos.

    Sophia Loren inspired pizza dough

  • 5c. warm water
  • 8T active dry yeast
  • pinch sugar
  • mix lightly to dissolve yeast
  • gently stir in:

  • 1.5 c. sweet olive oil
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • freshly chopped herb blend (or just rosemary)
  • 2T chopped garlic (can also be roasted)
  • 8c. pizza flour
  • 2c. corn flour (medium grind)
  • mix thoroughly, cover, let rise
  • punch down dough, divide in 1/2
  • cover and let rise again
  • after second rise, divide into 12-15 11 oz. dough balls
  • stretch, form crust, sprinkle coarse corn meal on pizza pan,
    add whatever toppings you like
  • bake at 450 degrees for 6-8 minutes
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About the Author ()

Since the closing of the Brick Hut Café in 1997, Joan has worked in 2 restaurants, become a certified massage therapist; moved on to work as executive chef at Bon Appetit and worked as a personal chef and caterer. She is currently working as a catering chef, which allows her the flexibility to pursue her new passion as a professional voice actor. She lives in Oakland with her dogs, Jennifer and Harley-Anne.
  • Gigi

    Joan- I still have the chocolate cookbook you gave me for my “Saturn return” birthday. I learned so much from you and Sharon. It was an honor to work for you at “The Hut”.