Juhu Beach Club Brings Indian Street Food to the Ferry Plaza

Brie Mazurek, CUESA Staff
January 16, 2015

For Preeti Mistry, “fusion” isn’t just a hip buzzword; it’s who she is. “I grew up eating all these Indian foods, but I also grew up eating hamburgers,” says the chef of Juhu Beach Club. “You can’t ask me, ‘Do you identify as Indian or American?’ because I’m both of those things.”

With an acclaimed brick-and-mortar restaurant in Oakland, Juhu Beach Club is the latest addition to the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market’s Thursday lunchtime lineup, bringing Mistry’s unconventional blend of California-Indian street food with a seasonal flair.

Cooking Roots

Born in London and raised in Ohio, Mistry was surrounded by good food as a child but took little interest in cooking. Her mother made meals from scratch almost every day of the week, but as the youngest of three daughters, Mistry avoided helping out in the kitchen, which she dismissed as a chore.

It wasn’t until she left for college that she began to miss those home-cooked meals and started cooking for herself. “I realized it came naturally to me and I really enjoyed it,” she says. And she found that her friends liked her cooking, too, providing additional encouragement. “I’m a Libra, so I’m kind of a people pleaser.”

She moved to San Francisco with her partner, Ann Nadeau, and worked for Frameline, a distributor of gay and lesbian films, but cooking remained a passion. She eventually went back to school—at Le Cordon Bleu in London, where she trained in classical French cooking. After returning to the Bay Area, she worked in sustainable food service at Bon Appétit Management Company as executive chef at the de Young Museum and later Google. She even made an appearance on “Top Chef.”

As she rose through the professional ranks, she gained valuable experience in local and seasonal sourcing and running a business, but she also worked her way back into an office job when she really wanted to be in the kitchen. So she quit, did private consulting and catering, and traveled to India.

Juhu Beach Club Is Born

After years cooking California and European cuisine, Mistry decided to return to her roots, but with her own twist. In 2011, she started the Juhu Beach Club popup in San Francisco, taking inspiration from a city beach in Mumbai where families go to watch the sunset, fly kites, and enjoy street food.

“The food there is the Indian version of carnival food, like corn dogs and funnel cakes,” says Mistry, waxing nostalgic for her visits to Juhu Beach. “To me, the name just conjures up all that yummy food that your mom is like, ‘No, not good for you!’”

But with a strong focus on fresh ingredients, Mistry’s translation of those Indian favorites reflects an undeniably Californian influence. “Bringing in seasonality and using local ingredients is just how I cook,” she says.

Take Juhu Beach Club’s winter bhel salad, composed of house-made chickpea noodles, puffed rice, purple potatoes, Fuji apples, and kiwi, served in a mason jar at the restaurant. “Most Indian people are like, ‘What?!’” says Mistry. “Then they taste it and they say, ‘Wow, it actually tastes like a bhel salad but different.”

From Pav Popup to Permanent Shop

The pav slider became one of Juhu’s signatures. Typical Mumbai street food, pavs are buttery white dinner rolls traditionally served alongside a spicy mixture of vegetables. In India, people rip off pieces of the bread to scoop up the vegetables, but in Mistry’s version, the pav becomes a sandwich bun.

She got creative with the fillings, and since conventional store-bought pav buns are full of artificial ingredients, she approached Starter Bakery in Emeryville to develop a from-scratch recipe using organic flour and real butter and milk.

With Juhu Beach Club, Mistry found her sweet spot, and in March 2013 she opened a restaurant in Oakland’s food-loving Temescal District. “At first people we’re confused because they just heard an Indian restaurant was opening, and they had a lot of preconceived notions,” she recalls.

But within six months, the customers who “got it” found her. Since then, the offerings have evolved beyond pav sandwiches to including rotating curries and seasonal specials. In addition to shopping at the Berkeley farmers market, Mistry uses produce from her and her neighbors’ backyards. Everything is made from scratch, including the spice blends, which are freshly ground in house.

Back to SF

Though she’s made a happy home for herself in Oakland, Mistry is excited to be joining the Thursday Ferry Plaza Farmers Market, where she can reconnect with fellow vendors and San Francisco customers who supported her in the early popup days.

She’s also eager to return to street food, viewing the market as a “testing ground” for new pavs. In the coming weeks, you can expect to find veggie classics like Pav Bhaji (or as Juhu Beach Club does it, the Sloppy Lil’ P, a spicy veggie sloppy joe) and Vada Pav (a spicy potato puff served with pickled onions and chutney). Meat eaters can look forward to Pork Vindalated (pulled pork in a vindaloo BBQ sauce), Holy Cow (smoky black cardamom-braised short ribs), and Uncle’s Chicken Curry pav sliders, all served with housemade slaws, pickles, and chutneys.

Juhu will also offer bhel salads, masala chai made from their freshly ground spice mix, seasonal lassis, and other treats like Desi Jacks (aka Indian cracker jacks). The dosa waffle, now on the restaurant’s brunch menu, may even make an appearance.

While some chefs resort to culinary contortions to boast the “fusion” label, Mistry’s creative interpretations of diverse cuisines seem effortlessly, playfully, and boldly earnest. “The food is undeniably Indian in its flavors, but beyond that there aren’t really any rules,” she says.

Find Juhu Beach Club at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market on Thursdays, 10 am to 2 pm.

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