Of Charlie Hallowell’s three celebrated Oakland restaurants, Boot and Shoe Service is likely most representative of Hallowell himself. Inclusive, full of energy, and unconventional, ‘The Boot,’ at 3308 Grand Ave., is both a cozy neighborhood eatery and a destination.
Earning a two-time spot on the coveted San Francisco Chronicle’s Top 100 Bay Area Restaurants list alongside sister restaurant Pizzaiolo, The Boot’s pizza alone, with its perfect fire blistered crust, is worth a visit. ‘For wood-fired pizza in the East Bay — or really anywhere in the Bay Area — Pizzaiolo and Boot and Shoe Service are at the top of the list,’ writes the Chronicle’s Michael Bauer of Hallowell’s two pizzerias.
With toppings that change daily based on what is available from Hallowell’s long list of trusted local food purveyors, The Boot’s pizzas feature innovative and surprising combinations such as potato, pancetta, fontina and rosemary, or summer squash, smoked caciocavallo and basil.
But there are other dishes to be explored. The Boot also features seven antipasti offerings, and ‘primi’ and ‘piatto’ courses are equally as wonderful. A Blue Heron Farms little gems with marinated beets and Green Goddess dressing was straightforward and sublime. Bellwether Farms wood baked ricotta with roasted Jimmy Nardello peppers, almonds, and Dutch cutting celery required an extra order of bread to soak up the plate’s remnants.
An extraordinarily simple dish of house made egg tonarelli cacio e pepe (literally just cheese and pepper) was surprisingly satisfying and delicious, and the pollo alla Milanese with cherry tomatoes, preserved lemon and basil was tender and succulent.
And then there is the totally cool bar that makes the place more than just a restaurant. The Boot is a gathering place – a communal living room for the Grand Lakeshore District and its young families – with craft cocktails and curated spirits that draw the hip urbanites. Mom and dad can enjoy a Nocino Manhattan or a Green Coriander Daiquiri while the kids quaff house made lemonade.
Housed in a quaint storybook-like building that truly was once a boot and shoe repair shop, the interior is eclectic and features a variety of dining and drinking spaces. The open kitchen with its wood fire oven faces the exposed brick dining room in front. The bar is at the rear, and an outdoor tented patio featuring seating of repurposed church pews allows for al-fresco dining. A long corridor with bar stools welcomes the overflow crowd anxious for a table. (The Boot does not take reservations.)
The vibe is warm, friendly, welcoming, and infused with Hallowell’s exuberance. Part philosopher, part activist and wholly restaurateur, Hallowell believes in the power of a simple, well-lived life. He eschews electronics in favor of face-to-face interaction, and he derives supreme satisfaction in watching a sunset from the vantage point of his surfboard. He believes in yoga, organic gardening, and books – specifically the Bhagavad Gita, a 700 verse Hindu scripture favored by Ghandi.
He might have attended law school after earning his B.A. in English Lit from Cal, if funding for his first restaurant Pizzaiolo hadn’t materialized. But lucky for the dining public, law school has been placed on perennial hold.
Hallowell’s dogma is ‘love, sleep, and good food.’ ‘What more does one need?’ he asks. With Boot and Shoe Service, he’s got the public covered for the latter.
Boot and Shoe Service is open everyday except Mondays. The café, serving Four Barrel espresso, is open Tues – Fri 7am – 2pm; Sat & Sun 8am – 2pm. Lunch is served Tues – Fri 11am – 2pm; brunch Sat and Sun 10am – 2pm. Dinner is served Tue – Thurs 5:30pm – 10pm, Fri & Sat 5pm – 10:30pm and Sun 5pm – 10pm.