Grease Box: Gluten-Free Southern Comfort Food in North Oakland
Just a 15 minute walk from my home in Emeryville is a cute little gluten-free Southern comfort food restaurant called Grease Box located in Oakland’s Santa Fe neighborhood (Site of the former Crossroads Cafe that closed in 2013 amid much controversy). It began as a pop-up restaurant and opened up as a brick-and-mortar in late-July 2013 serving up all-day breakfast and Southern favorites such as fried chicken and collards.
As mentioned on her Good Eggs profile, Texas born and Louisiana raised Lizzy Boelter, the chef and owner, began experimenting with cooking gluten-free food when she discovered she had celiac disease. Due to this, she wasn’t able to consume her favorite Southern foods and had to switch from regular flour to other varieties, such as chickpea flour and rice flour. Upset with the lack of fresh and natural, gluten-free options, she went on a mission to make everything from scratch. From there, the idea of a business formulated after receiving great feedback from friends and the community.
In the last two weeks, my husband and I went here twice to assess the restaurant for both breakfast and lunch. Here is the quick breakdown of our visit and review of the food:
TIME AND DAY OF VISIT: For our breakfast visit, Saturday at 10am. For our lunch visit, Sunday at 11:20am. On both visits, approximately half of the tables inside were occupied and one picnic table was occupied outside. It’s not a crowded spot and the chances of getting a table inside or out is very good.
SERVICE: The service is on the quirky side and a bit jumbled. The servers are extremely down-to-earth and has a “rolled-out-of-bed” comfortable vibe. There appears to be two people working front-of-house, so it’s not exactly that most efficient place to dine. Nonetheless, the girl with the glasses is very sweet and friendly. For our breakfast visit, the food took about 25 minutes to arrive. And on our lunch visit, our food took 40-45 minutes to arrive, but that’s because we ordered fried chicken and it’s made to order.
SEATING: The place is small and cozy. They can probably seat about 16 people inside comfortably. There are a few long communal picnic tables outside that would be great for large groups. If you’re outside on a hot sunny day, watch out for ants on the picnic tables.
PARKING: There is plenty of street parking in the area consisting of mostly residential and commercial warehouses.
PAYMENT: They accept major credit cards and cash.
PRICES: The prices are in line with other breakfast and lunch joints in the area. The smaller portion dishes start at $6 but most plates fall into the $10 to $11 range.
FOOD: The menu is focused on Southern American comfort food and has a good balance of healthy and guilty options. There are hearty options that come in handy to cure a hangover, as well as some lighter options to just get your day going. I admire how they pride in using local, organic and natural ingredients. There is something for everyone – vegetarians, vegans, and meat lovers.
Be sure to set your expectations and keep in mind that they are serving gluten-free only food, which results in using substitutions that may not translate the same way as non-gluten foods, such as using chickpea flour and rice flour vs all-purpose flour for their chicken.
Our first impression upon ordering both times was disappointing as we both built up the excitement to try some things on the menu and were told that our selections were not available. This happened on both of our separate visits to the restaurant. I was hoping to get fried chicken for breakfast on our first visit, which was on the menu, but it wasn’t available. On our second visit, before we ordered, we were told that three items were not available of which two items my husband had his heart set on. This wasn’t only a food issue as it turned out the alcoholic drinks we tried to order was also out for two options we wanted, so we had to settle for third best. If you have your heart set on trying something, it may be best to call and ask if they have it available or else you may be disappointed with slim-pickings as we were.
In terms of the actual food itself, we both agreed that Grease Box was good at cooking up some things, but the majority of the food didn’t match up to our taste buds or expectations. Let’s walk through each of the following dishes we ordered:
The Hangover: Take this dish literally because I didn’t and was overly stuffed. It’s a heavy dish loaded with the best crispy potatoes that I’ve ever had at a restaurant. There’s a layer of sharp white cheese covering the potatoes. It’s topped off with some crispy and thick bacon from Zoe’s Meats and two nicely fried eggs on top.
Farms to Grow: The collards were simply prepared and seasoned well. The potatoes and eggs were great as mentioned in the last dish.
Fried Chicken: We ordered four pieces of dark meat chicken. The batter on the chicken is made of chickpea flour and rice flour, coated very lightly. The skin was nicely crisp from the rice flour and the chicken meat was cooked through just enough, which I liked because it makes the chicken juicy. The seasoning is extremely low that I wonder if there’s even any salt at all added. It was disappointing to eat bland fried chicken. Even when covered with their in-house hot sauce, it just wasn’t enough to save it.
Rice Flour Pancakes: The pancakes were delicious and comes in a stack of four. It’s thin, soft and fluffy with crispy edges. The syrup and butter brought it together nicely.
Grits: The grits were very watery and completely bland. Similar to the chicken, I didn’t taste any salt at all. In this particular dish, we were tasting bland over bland.
Cowboy Coffee: I’m not a coffee drinker but my husband is. Grease Boxes “Cowboy Coffee” is roasted uniquely for them by OneNinetySeven in Oakland . The flavor is “earthy” and potent and he experienced the expected coffee grounds in his coffee, so if you’re particular about your coffee then this is something to consider.
Overall, come here if you want a lazy and relaxing casual restaurant to dine at or to try their tasty rice flour pancakes and simple comfort food options like eggs and potatoes. We were glad to have finally visited Grease Box!
The menu varies but here is one from my most recent visit on 7/13/14:
Monday – Friday: 8 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Saturday – Sunday: 9 a.m. -5 p.m.