What's Cooking In Willow Glen?
A fresh look at the San Jose neighborhood’s seasonal and handcrafted fare
Ask any Willow Glen resident what they love about living in this tree-lined enclave in San Jose and they will cite the true neighborhood feel and Lincoln Avenue. “The Avenue” is the heart of the community and a place where I first let my kids go off by themselves. It’s also a place where people walk from their homes for good food. They line up for house-made ravioli from Bertucelli’s La Villa, hearty breakfasts at Bill’s Café and John’s, colorful Tex-Mex at Aqui and upscale dining at Siena Bistro and Vin Santo.
Fresh, seasonal and handcrafted fare is appreciated in Willow Glen, and here are a few of our favorites.
The Table, 1110 Willow St. at Lincoln Ave.
There aren’t too many places where neighbors offer the bounty from their backyards to their favorite local restaurant. But that’s just what happens at The Table, a rustic-chic eatery serving fresh, seasonal fare for brunch and dinner.
Brian Nicholas, general manager and co-founder of The Table, says neighbors bring in paper bags full of just-picked Meyer lemons that are turned into some of the house-made juices, syrups and purées for the creative cocktails served at the restaurant.
The philosophy behind the restaurant makes sense. Some of life’s most memorable occasions and conversations take place around a table, where good food, good friends and conversation mix. Here the vibe is energetic and casual, yet the food is sophisticated in its simplicity and use of carefully selected ingredients and produce from local farms, dairies and ranches.
The spring season’s menu will likely include sides and ingredients like English peas, green garlic, spring alliums and Mount Shasta morels as well as perennial favorites like their signature burger with aged white cheddar. The Table encourages diners to try less-familiar dishes, such as roasted bone marrow with salsa verde and charred ciabatta, a nod to different cultures that use all parts of an animal in their cuisine.
Tucked behind the iconic 1950s neon sign that lets you know you’re in Willow Glen, the eatery serves diners indoors, outdoors and in its lively lounge.
Flower Flour, 896 Willow St.
You’d have to live in Willow Glen to know about Flower Flour. This tiny, beloved French café, bakery and flower shop is tucked away in a 100-year-old building, four blocks off the main thoroughfare of Lincoln Avenue, on Willow Street.
Residents come here regularly for house-made French pastries, savory soups and crepes. Some come as a matter of tradition—every Christmas Eve morning, my daughter meets up with her former high school French teacher here for cappuccino and a sugar-dusted morning roll.
Flower Flour is the passion and life’s work of its owner and chef, Mimi Brown. She not only makes or supervises every pastry found in her case, but she also grows almost all of the fresh produce and herbs used in her creations. Her lemon bars are made with lemons from her own trees, squeezed by hand and made into luscious, rich bars. The organic Flat Dutch cabbage and heirloom carrots in the flavorful meatball soup I tried were grown with seeds Brown planted, cultivated, watered, weeded and harvested herself.
Brown also makes wedding cakes and bridal bouquets, in addition to owning a small country inn in St. Helena with a three-acre organic garden where she grows her vegetables, fruits and cut flowers for Flower Flour.
According to Brown, food should be a pleasure not only for its taste but also for its beauty. Conjuring up images of fresh peaches, brilliantly colored peppers and bunches of dark green chard, she states a simple truth: “You first eat with your eyes.”
Icicles, 1275 Lincoln Ave.
All Rolled Up
On a recent rainy day, when most people yearned for tea in front of a fireplace, a line of people sporting umbrellas and good cheer waited on the sidewalk, pelted with rain. What could compel these people to stand outside on a day like this?
Surprisingly—ice cream. Willow Glen’s newest addition to the fresh food scene is Icicles, offering rolled ice cream, made to order before the customers’ eyes. Fresh cream, eggs, sugar and milk are pasteurized on site every day, creating custard that is poured onto a flat, freezingcold pan. Ingredients such as fresh fruit are added. Then the mixture is chopped, spread wafer-thin and rolled into six rolls and tucked into a cup.
Icicles is the brainchild of Lynda Huynh and Lit Leong, who noticed street vendors selling rolled ice cream while traveling in Thailand. Intrigued, they imported the equipment and began experimenting in their kitchens. After two years, they opened Icicles on Lincoln Avenue in July.
Huynh has been surprised by the seemingly immediate popularity of Icicles, fed by social media posts that customers upload, showing videos of their ice cream being made. The founders already have begun to open additional stores all over the Bay Area.
20Twenty Cheese Bar, 1389 Lincoln Ave.
“A lot of people come here for first dates,” says Jordan Trigg, owner and founder of 20Twenty Cheese Bar as he gestures around his simple and stylish neighborhood tavern. “It’s not intimidating and they can linger a while if it’s a fit, or slip away gracefully if it’s not.”
Most people do linger, though. The ever-changing selection of local, regional and international wines, beer, charcuterie and cheese fill the intimate tasting room with guests interested in noshing on small plates such as salads and sandwiches or sampling chef-inspired pairings.
For example, a mixed board of cheeses and charcuterie fancied by the chef that day might include selections from Cowgirl Creamery, Oakdale Cheese and Nettle Meadow Farm with salami from Creminelli Fine Meats, served with baguette, fresh fruit, spiced nuts, baby pickles and fig chutney. “We try to be a casual place where people sample cheeses they probably wouldn’t know about on their own. It’s a way to try new things affordably,” says Trigg.
All of the Cheese Bar’s employees live in Willow Glen, including one who teaches at the local elementary school and packs in parents for the weekly Tuesday Trivia nights. Weekend nights find locals strolling down Lincoln Avenue to the cheese bar, where they unwind over lively conversation, flights of wine and beer, and of course, cheese.
Black Sheep Brasserie, 1202 Lincoln Ave.
Black Sheep Brasserie’s executive chef Jeff Fitzgerald lights up when he talks about asparagus. Not just any asparagus, but the colossal spears he awaits every spring from Zuckerman Farms in the Sacramento Delta. “It’s absolutely the best flavor of any asparagus, period. When the season is done, asparagus is off the menu.”
It’s the exacting culinary standards of Black Sheep’s owners, chefs and bar masters, honed over years working together at acclaimed fine-dining spots in the region, that makes the restaurant an attractive addition to the Willow Glen food scene. Inspired by French cooking fused with Northern California produce and style, the restaurant blends in with the Willow Glen vibe, with bike racks and dog bowls ready for the locals.
Open for dinner and Sunday brunch, the restaurant’s cocktails include a concoction called The Lincoln Avenue. Blending house-made passion fruit syrup, bourbon, Calvados and Kronan Swedish Punsch, the cocktail was a favorite of former Sharks hockey player and Willow Glen resident Tommy Wingels. “If the Sharks had won the Stanley Cup, we joked that we’d mix one up in the Cup itself,” says co-owner and bar master Jimmy Marino.
What else is on the spring menu? According to Fitzgerald, look for a bright green chowder made from the day’s most vibrant green vegetables, complemented with butter-poached potatoes, clams and maybe some chopped lobster.