Calif. Families McBride Café Rouge Background

In 1982 a young woman, armed with a degree from UC Berkeley, eager to make a career change, entered the California Culinary Academy. She was determined to become a pastry chef. To her own great surprise, she fell in love with meat, a passion that led Marsha McBride in 1996 to found Café Rouge, a restaurant and meat market, that has become a Berkeley mainstay.

From the beginning, Café Rouge has showcased the meat and poultry of ranchers who steward their land with care, treat their stock with compassion, and follow principles similar to those practiced by California’s artisan farmers. But McBride’s fascination with meat extends well beyond butchering the large and small cuts to include the complex and delicate matters of mincing, stuffing, and curing patés, mousses, sausages, and all manner of charcuterie served in the restaurant.

Café Rouge set out to expand the charcuterie traditions that had been revitalized during the 1980s in the Bay Area. McBride, leveraging her nine years of head of charcuterie at Zuni Cafe with Judy Rodgers, took things to a new level by opening a butcher shop right inside the restaurant. Here customers could buy the expertly cut organic beef, air-dried steaks, pork, lamb, goat, and poultry used on the menu as well as many of the restaurant-made cured products and pantry items such as house rendered lard and stocks.

Animal husbandry in Northern California and across the country has evolved since 1996, producing more and more small ranchers, many of them raising heritage breeds. McBride, Executive Chef Rick DeBeaord, and their dedicated staff take pride in showcasing these outstanding ranchers at their very best and popularizing them among customers. Monthly butchery classes provide an unparalleled opportunity to meet the ranchers and to fully understand the journey from land to table. Not surprisingly the meat market has become a training ground, invigorating the entire trade of butchery.

Throughout the menu, meat market, and wine list, the Café Rouge philosophy is clear. An intimate acquaintance with producers and extreme care in the selection of ingredients informs the restaurant’s cuisine, a contemporary blend of rustic Mediterranean fare and American traditions. “This is the food we like to eat,” says McBride.

Evolution and development keep Café Rouge as popular as ever. Its menu changes every two weeks, reflecting the bounty of Northern California, though perennial favorites never disappear. Shoppers along Berkeley’s Fourth Street flock to the restaurant at lunchtime, diners spilling out onto the patio. Bar food is available throughout the day, where friends mingle, while customers come and go at the meat counter. Dinner at this comfortable brasserie with its extended banquettes, hopping bar scene, patio tables, and daily oyster selection makes it a destination dining spot. In a region known as a culinary mecca, Café Rouge has moved from pioneer to Bay Area classic.