It’s been a bumpy period of transition for Town Fare, the restaurant at the Oakland Museum of California. In late January, celebrity chef Tanya Holland parted ways with the museum cafe — just seven short months since she took over its operation and hot on the heels of the closure of her flagship soul food restaurant Brown Sugar Kitchen. Then in February native Hawaiian and Tongan chef Puaokalani Barquis landed in the driver’s seat, but it was a temporary move meant as a stopgap until a permanent operator could be found, the chef confirmed in an Instagram post.
Well, now it seems the museum has confirmed its new chef: Michele McQueen (formerly Wilson), who’s best known as the culinary force behind Gussie’s Chicken and Waffles, a Southern food restaurant that opened in the Fillmore District in 2009 and closed its doors in 2014. According to a press release, McQueen reopens Town Fare Cafe today, Wednesday, July 13 with a new menu and beverage program.
The menu blends influences from McQueen’s Oakland upbringing with her New Jersey family roots producing plates such as a fried green tomato caprese salad, low country shrimp and grits with chicken andouille sausage, and a deviled egg of the month (this month served with togarashi Sriracha, black sesame, white miso, and chive). A Southern dip flight combines black eyed pea hummus, collard green dip, and pimento cheese with flatbread, while curry collard, cabbage, and yam spring rolls come with curry lime aioli. Considering McQueen’s fried chicken reputation, it almost goes without saying the dish will also be on the menu, served with red beans, rice, chow chow, and cornbread.
The beverage side highlights Black-owned wineries and breweries, per the press release, including Wachira Wines, Hella Coastal Brewery, Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey, Du Nord Social Spirits, and LS Cream Liqueur. McQueen also teamed up with Sadé Stamps of SweetWater Consulting on a cocktail menu with options such as Bissap Rum Punch made with sorrel and allspice dram and the Hot Oaxaca, a blend of mezcal, watermelon sangrita, and guajillo chiles.
For those not already familiar with McQueen, the chef opened Gussie’s Fried Chicken and Waffles in 2009 in San Francisco’s Fillmore District, leveraging her prior experience helping open a Northern California outpost of Los Angeles’ Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles. Gussie’s closed in 2014 and McQueen then moved the business to the East Bay, where she’s continued to operate a monthly meal prep and catering business under the name Gussie’s Southern Kitchen.
While the McQueen’s new menu debuts today, customers will have to wait until tomorrow, July 14 for the unveiling of the Town Fare’s new sun deck. The 45-seat terrace, which is attached to the museum restaurant, will feature an outdoor bar plus new patio couches and dining furniture and will be open Thursday through Saturday from 5 to 9 p.m. Select items from McQueen’s menu will be served along with craft cocktails, wine, and beer.
Town Fare Cafe at Oakland Museum of California (1000 Oak Street in Oakland) will be open during regular museum hours from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday.