Alameda a la carte: Lola's Chicken Shack

Alameda a la carte: Lola's Chicken Shack

Denise Shelton

Photo by Denise Shelton.

It's been a long road back for 1417 Park Street since the owners of Boniere Bakery, a fixture in the district since the 1876, packed up their pastry bags and moved the business (and the name they had purchased from the previous owners) to its new location in Oakland in 2010 amid a flurry of controversy.

A bitter battle fought out in the press between the old and new owners of the business followed, while Alamedans held out hope that a new bakery would be found to occupy the space. Alas, the search proved fruitless, months turned to years, and the door remained dark as the search for a new tenant continued.

Things began to look up in 2012 when Betty Gee of Pier 29 announced plans to open a restaurant at the location. First called “Betty's Cafe” and then “Park Cafe and Bakery,” the project involved a complete upgrade and remodel of the interior and a new sign. Ads for the new restaurant promising “fresh-baked cupcakes” began to appear in the telephone directories and Alameda Magazine but as time passed, the door remained shut, the windows covered.

Unfortunately, the plan for the new restaurant fell through - reportedly due to management and staffing issues - and the search began anew for a business to replace it. Luckily, thanks to all Ms. Gee's hard work in rehabbing the structure, it was a short wait before another in a long ling of fearless entrepreneurs stepped up to occupy the location that had proved so lucky for some, so unlucky for others. Enter the Rogers family and Lola's Chicken Shack.

Owners Mark and Nancy Rogers and their son Ryan, who acts as general manager, describe their mission as “Incredible Food with Exceptional Hospitality” and if my visits there since the opening on December 2 are any indication, they are well on their way to achieving their goal.

The interior houses a combination of booths and tables and is brightly decorated with chicken-themed artwork. A big-screen TV adorns one wall, presumably for sports fans who don't want to miss the pre-game show while waiting for take-out. Patrons place their orders at the counter, collect their soft drinks and dessert items, and are given a number to place on their table. When their order is ready, a server brings it to them.

The focus here is on a more upscale experience than KFC, with chicken strips and fried chicken salads and sandwiches rather than bone-in chicken pieces and yet, the prices and portions are highly competitive with fast food establishments and the quality, far superior.

I visited on opening day and experienced a few understandable glitches in the service but was still impressed by the portion sizes and fresh, delicious quality of the food. When I returned a few weeks later, I was delighted to see that the speed and accuracy with which my order was filled had improved dramatically. The staff members were friendly, cheerful and energetic, and went out of their way to make sure everything was to my liking.

Lola's has two types of fresh, hand-breaded chicken tenders. The “Classic” is mild and crispy, while the “Signature” is spicy and crunchy. For the calorie conscious, Lola's also has a “Grilled” variety that is lightly seasoned. Orders are available in three, four, or five strip sizes but be forewarned. These are not your typical chicken strips. They're huge. A three-strip order could probably satisfy two young children.

Each order of tenders comes with a choice of 18 different sauces and diners are welcome to sample a selection. The flavors range from the pedestrian honey mustard and barbecue to the more exotic chipotle mayo, roasted strawberry BBQ, and maple mustard varieties. All those I tried were very tasty.

Combo meals are available that include the choice of sauce, one side, and a fountain drink. The sides available are french fries, side salad, slaw, or Lola Mac, a delicious homemade macaroni and cheese.

Lola's also features sandwiches on fresh Semifreddi French rolls. I tried the Chicken Bacon Ranch, made with classic tenders, bacon, tomato, red onion, lettuce, and ranch dressing. The chicken was tender, juicy and perfectly spiced and the other ingredients fresh and of excellent quality. Other choices include the California Club with bacon, avocado, goat cheese, lettuce, and roasted strawberry BBQ sauce and a Veggie made with a meatless patty and packed with ingredients too numerous to mention. I'm a diehard carnivore but this I would be willing to try. It sounds wonderful.

A selection of salads and dressings is on offer to which your choice of chicken may be added. There are also soups such as broccoli cheese, cream of chicken curry, and vegetarian minestrone.

To top off your meal, Lola's also produces delectable baked goods such as chocolate chip cookies and double fudge brownies that are frankly better than any I tasted while the building housed a bakery. Lola's may not be what some Alamedans were hoping for, but, as the song says, you can't always get what you want but sometimes, you get what you need. Viva la Lola's!

Lola's Chicken Shack, 1417 Park Street, 521-4488. Open seven days a week from 10:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.

Home Cooking

As a child of the '60s, I have spent a good part of my adult life rejecting the traditional methods of buying, cooking, storing, and managing the food I prepare at home. Budgets and coupons, and shopping the specials were the province of those pitiable “happy homemakers” who, as far as I was concerned, didn't exist outside 1950s sitcoms.

Convenience foods have long been my preference. The notion of buying several chickens on sale, cutting them up, and freezing them to save a few bucks seemed a colossal waste of time. Clipping coupons, ditto.

I formed these attitudes when my husband and I both worked full-time, had long commutes, and generally ate lunch and frequently, dinner, at restaurants. This is no longer the case and my old attitudes are no longer relevant to my current situation.

Back then, I had more money than time. Now, I have more time than money. The housewives of old took their profession seriously. They budgeted and managed and planned, running their kitchens with the steely resolve of Fortune 500 executives. This year, I've resolved to be just a little more like them.

My 2014 New Year's resolutions are fairly modest, but, if I stick to them, they may result in profound changes in the way I feed my family and manage my time. Here they are:

1. I resolve to shop food sales.
2. I resolve to use only the coupons for things I really want and need.
3. I resolve to buy in bulk.
4. I resolve to set aside time each week to cook and freeze extra meals and staples.
5. I resolve to plan meals so that I use what I have and do not waste food.
6. I resolve to keep growing herbs, lettuce, and onions.
7. I resolve to accept the fact that I don't have a great place to grow tomatoes and to stop trying.

So far, I've managed to cook two huge pots, one of beans, and one of rice, separated and frozen the contents in multiple servings.

I've also bought peppers, onions, and carrots on sale in quantity, and processed and froze them.

I planted lettuce in my greenhouse window box and continued to cultivate the herbs I planted last year.

I did one massive shopping trip for mostly staples using coupons and saved $100.

I've used up a number of things in the freezer and got rid of the stuff that was too old and taking up space.

In the coming months, I'll report on how I'm progressing. In the meantime, here's a trick I learned a few months ago that is really wonderful.

Regrowing Green Onions

How many times have you purchased green onions, used a few and then forgot about them until they wilted and got all nasty in the bottom of the crisper? When this happens, don't throw them out. Just cut off the green part and put the white onion bulbs in a glass or jar of water. Change the water every day and in less than a week, you will have fresh green onion tops to chop up and use. How cool is that?