Tag Archives: oakland

Mmmm… Mama’s

I said it was deserving of its own post, so here it is: Mama’s Royal Cafe!

outside Mama's Royal Cafe

Located on the border of the Temescal and Piedmont neighborhood’s in Oakland at Broadway and 40th, Mama’s is an Oakland institution. They opened their doors over 35 years ago in this same spot and have been going strong ever since.

I went Saturday morning after a brief discussion with a friend who lives close by:

“Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go!” I said. “There are already folks lining up outside.”

He said, “Well maybe we should go somewhere else…”

And I replied, “I want my Mama’s!!!

End of discussion. And so we walked, and we waited, and as I’ve said before, it’s always worth it!

mama's royal cafe art

The thing that makes Mama’s unique is their combo of vintage eclectic decor with today’s fancy farm-fresh local produce. You’re in this classic diner-feeling establishment, eating Niman Ranch meats, Petaluma eggs, Acme bread (which is out of this world… when they ask you what kind of toast you want, the correct answer is “Acme”), and amazing seasonal fruits and veggies, typically featured in their specials of the day.

I had one of their specials on this visit: a roasted fennel frittata with carmelized onions, parmesan cheese and a few other yummy ingredients. Served with perfect potatoes crispy-cooked  (it amazes me how many breakfast places have mediocre potatoes), and that incredible Acme toast. I made my way through my entire platter of food and was munching on my last piece of toast when my friend said, “That bread is the best!” I only had three bites left, slathered in butter and jam, but I offered it to him. I was already over-stuffed, and in general, am working on being a better sharer. He was grateful.

One of my favorite Summer Specials is their fresh fruit crepes. They only serve this when the most amazing berries, mangoes, nectarines, and kiwis are available, all tucked into delectable crepes with a créme fraîche sauce to die for. If you’re like me – you have a hard time deciding between sweet and savory and are always trying to talk your friends into getting both and splitting them – this is a great one to get. Unfortunately, you’ll have to wait about 8 months before it’s available again. It’s worth the wait!

The restaurant has 3 rooms… the main entrance leads you into the sign-up area, coffee station, counter seating, and small tables near the window. Next over is a narrow room filled with wooden bench booths… this is a cool spot if you want a little privacy. Each booth has possesses one of these quaint little jukeboxes (unfortunately now inoperable) which back in the day, played two songs for a nickel… “the equivalent of two complete records!

mama's royal cafe, mixmaster vintage advertisement

vintage aprons at mama's royal cafe

The farthest room is the largest… ideal for bigger groups and great people watching.

The entire restaurant is filled with quirky art… vintage aprons and teacups galore, boomer era advertising (I love the Mixmaster poster above – “it even polishes silverware!”), Poodle with a Mohawk, and of course, the wonderful napkin art.


Every spring, Mama’s hosts their annual Napkin Art Contest with real cash prizes… this is no joke! Top napkin takes four hundred smackerooos, second and third get $200 and $100 respectively, plus more complimentary breakfasts and kids prizes too. Only requirement is that a paper napkin must be used. 2010 entries due March 31st… prizes distributed April 15th. You can see original winning entries displayed at the restaurant, and photos of winners in Mama’s online photo gallery. This stuff is amazing!

sign at mama's royal cafe

Friday the 13th – Mystery Mojo

Ok… so I had no idea what I was going to write about today. I was racking my brain last night… another mural? an essay on gentrification? I was stumped.

And then out of nowhere… I found THIS. I saw it from the corner of my eye and thought “What’s that?” As I stepped closer I found this lovely little creature in red with his/her fantastic aura of twigs & sticks… then I noticed the inscription in stone underneath. West Oakland Home. Which I found fascinating, because West Oakland is my home, however I did not find this in West Oakland. Very strange.

Mystery Mojo

Check out the magic charm at his base… a stone with four screws (presumably representing North, South, East, and West) all meticulously wrapped in blood red thread. This was some serious mojo.

stone with red thread and screws

I walked past the creature and came upon the weirdest and most fantastic pile of stuff… it was only then that I realized I was standing in the middle of a very deliberately created sacred space. The centerpiece is below… constructed out of a hundred or more hand sewn dolls with beautiful individual beads for eyes and mouths, all laid out in a circle.

Voodoo Magic

Voodoo Magic

Mystery Mojo

Inside this circle was an interior circle constructed out of chunks of wood, and inside this two guardians flanked an intricate metal lantern, a red-feathered arrow stuck into the ground, and a dish of offerings. The “dish” was constructed out of a knarled piece of wood… resting in it, a necklace of the cross, beads, kernels of corn, and tobacco leaves.

African Statues

red feathered arrow

Spiritual Offerings

I was fascinated! The fact that someone would create such an elaborate display in a public place. And then leave it. I was also a little bit nervous. Was it ok to be standing inside this space? Would I somehow be desecrating it by walking upon it? I have no idea how this voodoo magic stuff works. I tried to be respectful and appreciative.

It was then that I noticed the masks. The installation was set in a large rectangular plot of land… the red creature from the first photo marked the entrance. At each corner of the plot was a unique and unbelievably beautiful mask. One had a tag that said it was handcrafted in Ghana, carved out of a single piece of wood, and designed to “radiate the magic of Africa.” These two were my favorites…

North and South

This one was West…

African Mask


African Mask from Ghana


African Mask

And North…

African Mask

I gave a nod of gratitude to each of these masks and to the four corners of our planet. It seemed like the thing to do. If anyone knows anything about casting spells or spiritual rituals of this sort, I would love more information. I am in awe of this beautiful gift of art.

Happy Friday the 13th everyone. May the mojo move you!

Pinball Throwdown at the Stork Club

I hadn’t been to the Stork Club in about a hundred years. I am too old for bone-crushingly loud music in tiny venues these days… but back in the day, the Stork was one of the only cool clubs with an unbelievably eclectic roster of live music that friends and I used to frequent… I saw my first Idiot Flesh show there… it was mind-blowing! The Stork Club has been around for as long as I can remember  – it’s an Oakland institution.  Though in a different location now, and without all the Christmas creepiness (it used to be Christmas all year long), they’re still rockin’ the East Bay hard!

Stork Club Oakland

Stork Club Bar in Oakland

I stopped in Saturday night to witness the Pinball Throwdown hosted there between rival gangs, Oakland Pinball Mafia and Radio Pinball Union.  My friend Ryan clued me in to this event with a hilarious article from the Oakland Tribune: Night Owl: Oakland Pinball Showdown…

Here’s the flyer for the night…

Oakland Pinball Showdown flyer

The idea was that the two rival pinball gangs would compete on three vintage machines in the Stork Club’s back game room… high score takes the title.

The pinball fanatics were out in full force… and the folks from Lucky Ju Ju didn’t disappoint, bringing their full fledged pinball museum on wheels – Lil Ju Ju. Created by multimedia artist Michael Schiess, the museum houses four vintage pinball machines (though sometimes as many as six) in a 1947 Spartan Manor, rebuilt with hydraulic leveling system, reinforced frame, and upgraded suspension. What’s even cooler is that play on the machines is FREE. That’s right folks. It’s the same premise that operates at Lucky Ju Ju’s prime facilities in Alameda… make a donation – no quarters required.

1947 Spartan Manor Pinball Museum

Lil Ju Ju Mobile Pinball Museum

Lil Ju Ju Mobile Pinball Museum

I had to leave before the end of the evening so I don’t know who won the throwdown. Anyone?

There were three live bands… Cleve-land, Straggler, and VIR. The lead singer from one of the latter two bands (sorry, not sure which one) performed in a full batman get-up. Awesome! He had some serious pipes too.

Music at Stork Club

Batman performs Stork Club

In addition to all the pinball fans, there were some proud members of the The Church!: Elvis Underground, representing and proselytizing. I love these guys!  And how could you not when their philosophy is so simple and pure:

“To continue and further the Work of Elvis Presley, The King, toward uniting all species in universal rhythm and harmony.

Amen to that brother!

Check out their website… it’s full of fantastic and fun tidbits, not to mention some serious principles.  I’ll post The Eleven Commandments of Elvis here, because they’re just that good:

  1. Follow That Dream
  2. Don’t Be Cruel
  3. Love Me Tender
  4. Shake, Rattle, and Roll
  5. Do the Clam
  6. Treat Me Nice
  7. Don’t
  8. It’s Now or Never
  9. Return to Sender
  10. Viva Las Vegas!
  11. Wear My Ring Around Your Neck

You can read the more detailed scriptures on their site… Elvis Underground.