Located in a residential backyard in south Berkeley, Rogue Café is only open on weekends. Photo: Rogue Café

[See the update to this article at the foot of the story.]

By Hannah Long

Eric Thoreson, a perfectionist in the kitchen, has spent many months trying to make the ideal waffle. This breakfast treat is one of his favorite foods, but he thinks most restaurants don’t get it quite right.

After researching recipes in countless cookbooks, Thoreson decided that natural leavening just might be the key. He made hundreds of waffles before settling on one that is just to his liking: half way between bread and a traditional waffle, he calls it a “Southern Belgian Waffle.” Thoreson rolls the treat in sugar before cooking it for sugary caramelization, and this waffle, the perfect mix of sweet and sour, is a favorite among customers at his outdoor, weekend pop-up brunch restaurant Rogue Café.

Located in a residential backyard in south Berkeley, Rogue serves gourmet, homemade treats and freshly brewed coffee.

Rogue offers the perfect setting to meet new people and strike up conversations

Thoreson and Ciara Sanker started the weekend-only café together last year. The pair met while working at Pizzaiolo in Oakland. Thoreson says that “food is all I’ve ever done,” and his enthusiasm and expertise are reflected in Rogue’s carefully planned and ever-growing menu.

Along with waffles, they serve eggs and house-made pork sausage; everything is accompanied by seasonal, local produce. Healthy homemade granola with home-cultured yogurt is a tasty vegetarian option. With each addition to the menu, Thoreson and Sanker have been challenged to find new and efficient methods to cook in the sparse, outdoor kitchen.

“At first,” Thoreson explains, “We didn’t even have any burners. We started out grilling our sausages on an outdoor barbeque.” Soon, they were forced to purchase a set of cast-iron pans, but without a refrigerator Thoreson still hauls pounds of ice to the yard each morning. Salad, meanwhile, was an obvious addition to the menu because it requires no additional cooking utensils.

Waffles, eggs, and much more are on Rogue Cafe’s brunch menu. Photo: Rogue Café
Waffles, eggs, and much more are on Rogue Cafe’s brunch menu. Photo: Rogue Café

Compared to the traditional restaurant job, running an outdoor pop-up café also presents a few unique organizational challenges. With anywhere from 30 to 60 customers a day, it’s hard for Thoreson to predict how much food he’ll need. Additionally, he says, “We only have three burners, so it’s hard to make more than three or four plates at a time. When groups of eight people show up, we want to get all their food out together, but this can be logistically difficult.”

Despite the challenges, however, Thoreson describes the adventure as both fun and rewarding. “I love being outside, and Rogue has a really mellow and friendly atmosphere,” he says. With customers lounging on chairs and benches throughout the yard, Rogue also offers the perfect setting to meet new people and strike up an interesting conversation.

Thoreson and Sanker hope to eventually move to a more permanent location, but do not want to lose this intimate outdoor atmosphere.

For now, you can find Rogue Café at 3204 Ellis Street from 10-1 on Saturdays and Sundays.

Update, 12:48pm: Our story rapidly prompted many questions from readers in the Comments section (see below). Berkeleyside contacted Rogue Café co-owner Eric Thoresen this morning, who kindly provided this response, which has been condensed and edited:

We do have a business license.

We do pay taxes.

We do not have a permit.

If Rogue were to be completely legal, we would have to either build a mobile commercial kitchen and have it inspected and permitted each year (read “invest tens of thousands of dollars”), or apply for a singl- use event permit for each and every day we are in business, making our revenue stream negative.

I don’t think the readers are concerned with our profitability, but Rogue is barely profitable. We shop at the Farmer’s Market. We use organic pork and organic, cage and hormone free eggs. And we don’t charge $4 for coffee either. Our coffee has always been $2.

The health department does not inspect facilities unless they are attempting to receive, renew or maintain a permit, and so they wouldn’t be coming out to Rogue unless they wanted to shut us down.

In our defense, I have worked in restaurants (mostly in the kitchen) for the majority of the past 18 years. I have taken the California Food Handlers Exam, and retain a food handlers card. The food at Rogue is out of the refrigerator for no more than four hours, during which time it is on ice.

On the question about eggs: Salmonella does not grow in eggs. The only chance of contracting salmonella from an egg is from afterbirth on the shell. And trichinosis? Our sausage is cooked well done, and even if it weren’t, we use very high-grade pork. The chances of contracting trichinosis in the USA are about the same as getting struck by lightning.

As was mentioned in the East Bay Express article, the extension cord is used for the waffle iron and coffee grinder. Extension cords are not a fire hazard if you have studied physics in college, or simply read the warning label on the package when making the purchase. All other power comes from propane, and we do have a fire extinguisher on site.

Washing hands is by far the largest concern the health department would have if they made it out to our site. Even if we didn’t serve any food, we would have to wash our hands constantly. That is why we keep a fresh pot of water at 120 degrees with soap and towels on site. I must wash my hands 50 times a day. It’s an obsession.

Local 123 finds its feet in west Berkeley and beyond [07.20.12]
Cool Berkeley coffee joints to get your caffeine on
Babette’s feast: Finding fine fare at the Berkeley Art Museum [07.06.12]
Bartavelle owner: What’s cooking for ex-Café Fanny space [05.25.12]
Pop-up restaurants are popping up around town [04.29.11]
In West Berkeley, a café opens, a community blossoms [07.16.10]

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