Shakewell chef and co-owner Jen Biesty sounds positively mellow in a phone conversation. The Oakland restaurateur, along with General Manager & co-owner Ted Nugent, says the key to surviving the impact of the pandemic at their homey, welcoming establishment is keeping a low profile approach to overhead costs and the bar’s specialty cocktails.
Under the eye-pleasing wood-slat ceiling and stationed at sturdy reclaimed wood tables, Shakewell customers typically feast on signature Spanish-Mediterranean dishes: Bomba-Wood Oven Paella; Chicken & Churros; Grilled Steak dashed with the house Smokey Piquillo Pepper Sauce; Fried Chicken prepared with fenugreek yogurt, chili sauce, za’atar and fried basil; and a locally sourced Brentwood corn salad with summer peppers, shallots, basil and Italian parsley.
At the bar, cocktails shine in top-sellers such as the Fairlane, a refreshing brew made with habanero infused tequila, lime, coconut crème and cucumber, and Love at First Sip, featuring Hanson’s cucumber-mint vodka, elderflower, lime and sparkling wine.
Brooklyn-born Biesty (above), a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, has appeared on Bravo’s Top Chef and is a winning chef on Food Network’s Chopped. Vermont-native Nugent’s pastry talents are well-known in Bay Area’s top restaurants and hotels. Their Lakeshore area restaurant opened in 2014. Six years later, Biesty says regular customers and their children are greeted by name and newcomers soon join the fold like long-awaited family.
During the COVID-19 restrictions on indoor dining, business is down roughly 30 percent, but continual, seasonal updates to the menu keep online orders steady. When Oakland allowed restaurants to offer alcohol with pickup and delivered food, Shakewell found its anchor. “People are drinking a lot, which is both good and bad. The Fairlane is addictive because it’s both spicy and refreshing. Love at First Sip is just a great vodka-based drink.” Classic cocktails — martinis and the blend of bourbon, sugar, angostura bitters and orange bitters in an Old Fashion — are increasingly in demand.
In addition to the always popular Catalonian bomba dishes, customers are ordering the Chicken Churros, Shakewell’s interpretation of chicken waffles. Plant-based items like the Butterleaf Salad and a Mediterranean bowl are offered as-is or with a choice of added meat or seafood protein.
“Customers want quality seasonal food that’s satisfying. It has the Shakewell flare on it, with spices and fresh herbs. We’re loved for our made-from-scratch sauces. We use super high quality oil and yogurt in our sauces. It’s healthy and packs a lot of flavor,” says Biesty. Carrot-habanero hot sauce adds optional zip to salads; carrot-jalapeño sofrito (stir-fry) elevates Blue Lake green beans, and more.
Expanded hours introduced this week have Shakewell open Tuesday to Friday from 3:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday, 11:30 a.m. – 8:30 p.m. An application to add a parklet for outdoor dining is in the works; awaiting only the city’s approval. “We’ve been here six years and have become a center point,” says Biesty. “We want to keep those connections going. It’s why we enjoy what we do. Customers become like family.”
All photos from ShakewellOakland.org.