2033 San Pablo Street (near University Street), Berkeley
Although Joanne Ellis and Patrick Hooker have owned their famous Berkeley Babbitt restaurant for a decade, 2022 was a very different game. For the past 10 years, Babbitt has been a restaurant serving primarily visitors at the Berkeley Museum of Art and the Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA), even after the museum when it moved in 2016.
That changed late last year, when Babbitt announced plans to move to the Berkeley area that has been occupied by Lannispletter Pizza for the past 23 years. Babbitt opened his new home with morning coffee and dinner service late last month, but this weekend introduces a new milestone: Babbitt enters the brunch game.
All things considered, it was a very quick makeover of the 2033 San Pablo Ave storefront. The dining room has been transformed from a pre-2000 Lanesplitter pizza scene into a colorful, breezy, open café space that’s suited for coffee and snack service Wednesday through Friday (9 a.m.-2 p.m.), but still feels mature enough for the Wednesday-Sunday dinner scene (5- 9 p.m.), with a menu of pizzas, salads, and dishes like grilled chicken or halibut crudo.
Add to those hours a weekend brunch, which will begin on Saturday, June 25, with hours from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. It’s an addition that Ellis and Hooker have been dreaming about since they began looking for a spot of their own last year, and it’s part of their overall plan to “be a neighborhood restaurant,” Ellis said.
It took 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 the restaurant has to offer. Babbitt in his former locations was indebted to the museum’s demands, so “we can only be a coffee shop, really,” Ellis said.
Opening with dinner service was the restaurant’s first new offering, but brunch was suspended until they had enough staff to serve each patron in its own dining room and spacious patio space.
This outdoor space may be one of Babette’s biggest draws, in fact: The large patio is what convinced Ellis and Hooker to jump in right away. “When we saw the huge backyard, there was no thought, especially that huge, gorgeous tree,” Ellis told Noch.
Lanesplitter fans will likely remember a ragged yard for enjoying pizza and beer, but it has since transformed into a sunny, idyllic setting (at least when the weather cooperates) with tables arranged around the same large tree. The area seems to be for brunch and brunch on the weekends, once you think about it.
The opening brunch menu is good too. There’s BEC on brioche, hash veggies, and standard Babette touches like homemade English muffin and granola. A smart choice for groups might be the bagel, which is served 2-3 with homemade bread, smoked fish, beets, hummus, feta, labneh, and pickles. Meanwhile, children will likely be attracted to pancakes served with syrup or fruit.
People who visit on Saturdays can also expect special treatment. “We’ll have a live guitarist from Flamenco during the day and maybe that evening, as a way to announce the grand opening,” Ellis said. People who want a table that day can walk in, of course—and if you have a group of six or more, Ellis says Babbitt will accept breakfast and lunch reservations, just call them at 510-845-1652 or email the restaurant at firstname.lastname@example.org.