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A Hike and A Hearty Brunch in the East Bay

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Alem's Coffee in Rockridge serves this Ethiopian specialty, shiyan phool, on weekends. Photo by Akshay Govind

By Akshay Govind
Associate Editor

Having been given the good fortune of sunshine on a much needed weekend off, I decided to head out to the East Bay for a casual hike and a hearty Eritrean brunch, both recommendations of my sister.

 Redwood Regional Park, lying in the hills just east of Oakland (about 35 minutes from UCSF), was our first stop. The park, part of the East Bay Regional Park District, contains several miles of nicely maintained trails that wind their way gently enough to allow for mountain biking, trail running, horseback riding or hiking. The part district website (ebparks.org/parks/redwood) is a little clumsy, but the park itself is quite easily navigable, with plenty of maps available at the various parking lots.

The scenery throughout is lovely. A cool, fresh breeze accompanied us as we walked among majestic evergreens with rays of sunshine penetrating through the treetops onto the forest floor. As we emerged from the tree cover, the terrain changed to classic California chaparral, with characteristic shrubbery and dry earth. Rounding a corner and facing the opposite direction, the chaparral gave way to lush grasslands laced with the unmistakable orange of California poppies. Wildlife this weekend was limited to some songbirds and a few lizards, but the website says golden eagles, nonvenomous snakes called Alameda striped racers, as well as deer, squirrels and raccoons inhabit the area. One can always count on there being an endless supply of cute dogs having the times of their lives.

The trails are easy enough to take groups with varied fitness levels, but there are enough little hills to justify a hearty lunch after two to four hours of hiking, depending on the course one decides to take. There are also plenty of picturesque spots for picnics, but we decided to finish our hike and head to Alem’s Coffee (5353 Claremont Ave. in Oakland’s Rockridge distrct) for a bite.  

Alem and Nigisti are the owners of the café, and their smiling faces greeted us warmly as we walked through the door. Using mostly Ethiopian varieties, their coffee is dark and earthy, piping hot and felt as though it were made with love.

There were a variety of pastries and sandwiches available, but the clear choice on weekends is a specialty called shiyan phool. This is a stew made from crushed fava beans, diced tomato, onion, and chilies, along with a blend of olive oil, lemon juice, and aromatic spices. It was served with two French rolls, which as my sister said, “are exactly how French bread is supposed to be but never is.”

It made a distinct crunch as it was ripped apart, stayed hot and chewy on the inside, and soaked up the flavors of the shiyan phool perfectly. We ate our food, drank our coffee and shared stories on their shaded patio decorated with rustic hubcaps. We left with our bellies full, our faces smiling and with plenty of time to come back home and catch up on laundry.

Akshay Govind is a third-year resident in the Department of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery.

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