There are a few surprises at Raphaels, like the coffee menu on the wall designed by Raymond Saunders a renowned artist whose work is displayed at museums like the Whitney Museum, Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Gallery and SF Museum of Modern Art. Another collage by Saunders is on the wall at the front of the Cafe.
When Otis took over ownership of this El Cerrito landmark in 1979, he hired Mary to do the cooking and run the café. Mary, who will be 90 next month is still cooking up some savory soups three days a week.
My favorite so far is the fresh tasting ham/barley soup, smoky from the chopped ham and full of barley, potatoes and cabbage. The split pea was very good too. On Fridays there is clam chowder which is on the list to try.
The food is basic, homey, inexpensive and tasty. For breakfast there is French Toast, pancakes omelets, and eggs with breakfast meat including Shutters pork sausage, a spicy pork patty. One of the options for the omelets includes blue cheese.
Lunch is simple sandwiches like burgers, tuna melts, grilled cheese, meatloaf a hotdog plate, chili and a few other items like that. The salads are served with Shutters home made Honey Dijon Dressing.
The salmon salad is very good fresh salmon on a bed of greens with portabella mushrooms, peppers, tomatoes and a scoop of an excellent potato salad.
Shutters has one of my favorite desserts, what it calls blueberry shortcake ($1.95). It is really one perfect, fluffy pancake drizzled with chocolate syrup, generously topped with lightly sweetened blueberries, dusted with powdered sugar and finished with a few dabs of whipped cream.
The omelets are good, but not my favorite. The thin three egg omelet was folded over poached salmon sprinkled with parmesan cheese of the Kraft variety. Since the shortcake was so good, Id probably choose pancakes next time.
There are a few specials that are either written on a board or on a wall mirror.
The café currently is open for breakfast and lunch. There are plans to open it on Friday and Saturday evenings with an added wine bar starting in November.
Currently there are dinners on Saturday nights. A customer of the café asked Otis if she could cook one night a week to test whether cooking would be a career shed like to do professionally. Otis gave her use of the restaurant Saturday evenings. When Otis starts his own dinner menu in November, she will be cooking on Sunday nights.
Im not sure about the wine bar plans. Currently there are just half dozen of inexpensive wines which include two of TJ's Charles Shaw wines.
The Shutter Café has been open since the 1930s. When Otis bought the restaurant, he planned to turn it into a frozen yogurt shop (it was the late 70s). However, because the Shutter Café was an El Cerrito institution, people pleaded with him to keep the café. He did and my guess is that the yogurt shop would not have lasted this long.
Otis who runs the café is very nice and is interested in art and photography. When his brother-in-law travels, he does sketches of the places he visits and sends those rather than postcards. Some of these sketches are displayed next to Saunders collage.
It seems fate that this part-time photographer would buy an establishment called the Shutter Café, even though it was named for the other type of shutters. Add the name Raphael and it just seems it was meant to be. Not sure though if Raphael was the original owner.
When I asked the title of the Saunders collage, Otis said there wasnt one. Saunders created it as a celebration of Otiss opening day. It does look like a celebration.
Shutter Café is a pleasant, relaxing spot with two sidewalk tables, two sunny cozy window tables and a counter that seats six in addition to a handful of tables along the walls.
In about a year, the El Cerrito theatre will be opening and Otis said that it will also have a café in it. The owner of that cafe studied at the California Culinary Institute. Two places to keep an eye on in El Cerrito.
The restaurant is on San Pablo Avenue about a half a block away from the El Cerrito Plaza and is a nice place to stop before or after hitting the stores. Catering is available.
Raphaels Shutter Café
10064 San Pablo Ave
El Cerrito, Ca 94530
Open Tuesday Sunday (I know they close at 3 pm. Not sure of the opening time)