Story and photos by Natalya Suttmiller
Part of the pleasure in discovering new tastes from small food crafters is learning what inspires their creations. Here’s an assortment of items I tasted from small local businesses with stories I found intriguing.
Noemi Hernandez created Mimi’s Sweet Life in San Pablo after years of baking for her family. Her spin-off on the mochi muffin sprang out of sweet childhood memories of visiting her neighborhood pandería. My first sensation on opening a box of her churro mochi muffins was a waft of cinnamon sugar followed by the sticky feel of sugar coating my fingers and the spongy cake dreamily melting in my mouth. Instagram: @mimis_sweet_life
Local vegans and gluten- or lactose-intolerant folks with a sweet tooth are in luck with Sweet Love. Pastry chef Auset Ahmed Selassie got her start in a professional kitchen early on when she volunteered with her family at a meditation center and the elder women in the kitchen let her experiment with baking. Later, she learned about organic farming as a volunteer WWOOFer in Europe, and she continues her appreciation for high-quality ingredients today, as she makes her colorful, seasonally flavored vegan treats. Her pillowy classic vanilla donut with sprinkles was a special indulgence, but I also took home the citrus, s’mores, and maple pecan donuts just to be sure I wasn’t missing anything. Look for her baked treats at the Hidden Café and Rasa Caffe in Berkeley, and Planted Table in Oakland, or place an order online at eatingsweetlove.com.
Alyssa Magdaluy pays homage to her Filipina, Creole, and Jamaican heritage at Tasty Tings, a pop-up she started after Covid ended her restaurant job. Among her hand pies are many vegan options, but I chose a curry-colored pastry pocket stuffed with shredded stewed chicken and happily dunked it into her signature Tasty Sauce, a sassy sidekick of cilantro, garlic, and yogurt. Instagram: @tasty_tings
At Understory Oakland, I wrapped my hands around a comforting cup of Pozole Para Todxs, a thick tomatillo and green chile broth embellished with oyster mushrooms, radish, cilantro, onion, and classic hominy. This BIPOC worker-led restaurant is dedicated to providing brighter working conditions for employees. Their rotating menu features ancestral Filipino, Moroccan, and Mexican cuisines reflective of worker backgrounds, but you’ll also want to watch for special dishes by the migrant/refugee/BIPOC pop-up guest chefs Understory hosts as part of its Oakland Bloom program. understoryoakland.com
Looking for an end-of-day reward, I found myself lingering over a jazzy-yet-delicate orange muscat wine provocatively named Preconceived Notions. With its notes of citrus, acidic mouthfeel, and slight effervescence, it’s one of the many natural wine creations that Alex Pomerantz crafts under his “zero zero” natural winemaking approach at Subject to Change Wine Co. in Richmond. Notably, his winery hosts the Budbreak Project, a resource-sharing initiative that seeks to break the exclusivity of the wine industry by providing financial backing and educational experience to aspiring winemakers. In 2020 the project granted the space and support for what is now known as Hidden Society Wines. subjecttochangewine.com
Natalya Suttmiller is a storyteller, photographer, and adventurer using holistic methods that thread connections between people, places, and food. (Meredith Pakier will return in summer.)