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June 17, 2011 > New Dining in Old Niles

New Dining in Old Niles

By Denny Stein

It's been said that you can't go home again. True? Not in every case. Annie Wood, a Niles native, has come home to revitalize one of Main Street's iconic cafes. The Vine will be opening in July, just across from the town plaza in the Essanay Cafe location. Ms. Wood once put in a stint as executive chef at the Essanay, then left to travel the world. With her business partner and long-time friend, Margo Cristein, Annie Wood will once more call Niles "home." Good news - a new name, new menu, an imaginative ambience, and delicious food will characterize one of Fremont's favorite eateries, while maintaining its devotion to community.

Annie Wood and Margo Cristein want their Fremont neighbors and customers to feel comfortable at The Vine: stop in for a cup of coffee, hang out in the lounge area, read, meet friends, have a sandwich and a beer. Bring the kids, because the back patio area is going to expand, providing not only more seating but a picnic-style area with room to play. If you prefer, you can sit out front at an umbrella table, with your dog, and people watch while sipping iced tea, French press coffee or infused juices.

Last Wednesday the keys were passed from retiring owners Bruce Cates and David Price to Annie and Margo (as they will surely be called) and Annie's twins, eight month old Sophia and Olivia. Three of the six were jet lagged, having just returned from a trip to Peru. But the time change didn't seem to dampen anyone's eagerness to describe their plans for The Vine. Chef Wood and Ms. Cristein are really excited, and so keen to begin work on The Vine that the lights were on well into the night that very first evening.

Annie's background includes culinary training in Santa Barbara, catering, executive chef posts, and several years as a flight attendant (free travel perks!). Margo and Annie have been friends since they were four years old and they not only enjoy each other's company, but admire and respect their differing talents. Margo is a union member construction worker, with a background in theater and serious dining. A definite "foodie," she started a restaurant club in San Francisco, and has been described as a "Jill of all trades." Some of her more wide-ranging experiences you'll have to ask her about yourself; suffice it to say she is a renaissance woman.

Community, family, local ingredients, sustainability, affordability, good food and good company are the touchstones for the new restaurant. While, the Essanay Cafe, under the direction of Chef Matt, held up a fine tradition of white tablecloth, high-end gourmet dining, the new Vine will be less formal, more eclectic, with kind of an agri-pop atmosphere. The farm to fork policy will continue with simple but elegant food taking the form of small plates, salads, sandwiches and desserts. Wine and beer tastings will be offered, from local vintners and breweries and fresh, organic produce will come from just up the street at LEAF, Bruce Cates' newest adventure in cooperative local farming. You can watch your lettuce grow and then stroll a few blocks to find it on your plate!

The best of the cafe's traditions will continue: Open Mic and music nights, weekly specials, the Vintner's Dinners. The Vine plans to be open for business on July 1, Tuesday - Sunday 10 or 11am to 9pm. Brunch will be served on the weekends. Keep an eye on the windows and this paper for up-to-date information so you won't miss a minute of news about The Vine. There's cause to celebrate that what happens in Niles, stays in Niles, and we can all be a part of it.

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