2033 San Pablo Ave. (near University Avenue), Berkeley
Though Joan Ellis and Patrick Hooker have owned their popular Berkeley restaurant Babette for a decade, 2022 has been a whole different ballgame. For the last ten years, Babette’s been a restaurant that catered mainly to visitors at the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA), even following the museum when it moved in 2016.
That changed late last year, when Babette announced plans to move into the Berkeley spot occupied by Lanesplitter Pizza for the last 23 years. Babette opened in its new home with morning coffee service and dinner late last month, but this weekend presents a new milestone: Babette is getting into the brunch game.
All things considered, it’s been a pretty fast turnaround for the 2033 San Pablo Ave. storefront. The dining room has been transformed from Lanesplitter’s pre-Y2K pizza scene into a colorful, breezy and open cafe space that suits its Wednesday-Friday coffee and light bites service (9 a.m.-2 p.m.), but still feels grownup enough for its Wednesday-Sunday dinner scene (5-9 p.m.), with a menu of pizzas, salads, and dishes like roasted chicken or halibut crudo.
Add to those hours a weekend brunch service, which will begin on Saturday June 25, with hours from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. It’s an addition Ellis and Hooker have been dreaming of since they started looking for a place of their own last year, part of their overall plan “to be a neighborhood restaurant,” Ellis said.
It’s taken a lot of work to get Babette to the point where they were ready for brunch, which has a reputation as one of the most demanding meals for a restaurant to offer. In its previous locations, Babette was beholden to the demands of the museum, so “we could only be a cafe, really,” Ellis said.
Opening with dinner service was the first new offering for the restaurant, but brunch was on hold until they had enough staffers to serve every patron in its dining room and expansive patio space.
That outdoor space might be one of Babette’s biggest draws, in fact: the big patio is what convinced Ellis and Hooker to take a leap on the spot. “When we saw the huge backyard it was a no-brainer,” Ellis told Nosh, “especially that huge, gorgeous tree.”
Lanesplitter fans likely recall a rough-and-tumble yard in which to enjoy their pizza and beer, but it’s since been transformed to a sunny, idyllic spot (at least when the weather cooperates) with tables arranged around that same big tree. The area seems made for weekend brunch, once you think about it.
The opening brunch menu is a good one, too. There’s a BEC on brioche, a veggie hash and Babette-standard touches like house-made English muffins and granola. A smart pick for groups might be the bagel platter, which serves 2-3 with bagels made in-house, smoked fish, beet hummus, feta, lebneh and pickles. Kids, meanwhile, are likely to gravitate to their waffles, served with syrup or fruit.
Folks who visit on Saturday can also expect a special treat. “We will have a live Flamenco guitarist during the day and possibly that evening,” Ellis said, “as a way of declaring our grand opening.” Folks who want to snag a table that day can walk up, of course — and if you have a group of six folks or more, Ellis says Babette will accept brunch reservations, just call them at 510-845-1652 or email the restaurant at firstname.lastname@example.org.