OAKLAND -- There's a new spot for dinner on Piedmont Avenue.
Opened by Fred Sassen and wife Elizabeth, Homestead is all that its name implies, a warm, comfortable environment that feels like home. The name popped up as Elizabeth Sassen's tribute to her great grandparents, who took part in the Homestead Act and acquired land in Wyoming.
"So we're paying homage to my family who came with nothing, worked hard and built up their farm," Elizabeth Sassen said. "We're doing the same thing; this is our first restaurant, and we want to build it up and make it our home."
Being located in a 1920s Julia Morgan building is a good start for the long space backed by three floor-to-ceiling windows that look out to the street. Homestyle touches include original brick inlay, subway tile, a custom-built hearth and a multiuse wood burning oven. A long butcher block counter is faced with rusted, shellacked steel panels the owners created themselves.
The restaurant can serve close to 50 guests at tables that line the windows. There's also a small dining room in the back that can be booked for private parties or used for communal dining on a nonreservation basis. An open kitchen provides a diners-eye view of the chefs in action.
The Sassens share the role of executive chef and have collaborated on the menu that gears toward high-quality, farm-to-fork dishes that highlight seasonal, locally sourced, organic ingredients -- all with neighborhood prices.
As with any true homestead, the chefs create much of their ingredients in-house, including charcuterie, pasta, savory and sweet preserves, cheeses and vinegar.
"We make cultured butter from scratch; we have canned tomatoes and preserved lemons," Fred Sassen said. "We bought 40 pounds of green walnuts and from them made pickled walnuts, walnut syrup and nocino, an Italian liqueur."
The old-American, Mediterranean-influenced dishes are cooked by hand in a way that pays homage to individual ingredients, allowing them to be easily identified and enjoyed.
"It's straightforward, but with nice touches. It's nourishing, satisfying and basically the food we like to eat," Elizabeth Sassen said.
A baked ricotta first course has been a big hit; created from house-made, pressed and salted ricotta and lardo, with the addition of fresh stone fruit and a peppery mixed greens salad.
"This dish goes back to the style of food we want to create. It's a simple dish, and you can identify each part -- the baked ricotta, lardo, peaches, salad," Fred Sassen said. "You know what it all is, and it's very comforting."
The Sassens have done their homework and more, seeking out vendors and farmers for all the ingredients they will need, having more than enough vendors to pick and choose the best. With these in place their plan is to have the menu evolve every few days based on what's fresh and delicious from their sources.
"For us it's about highlighting the ingredients and the people who provide them for us," Elizabeth Sassen said.
Fred honed his skills at Camino in Oakland and as executive sous-chef at Farallon in San Francisco, while Elizabeth worked as sous-chef at Farallon and at Water Bar, both in San Francisco. With 22 years in the food industry between the two of them, they recognized when the time had come to build on what they had learned and go off on their own.
"Over the course of the years you get influenced by where you've worked and come up with your own ideas, and I think that is where we came to," Fred Sassen said. "Now we've created recipes and thought processes we've never seen before."
With Homestead, the Sassens are looking to provide a welcoming destination where people can gather to eat good food and enjoy company -- a culture of hospitality where all, staff and guests, feel comfortable.
"We both agree that what makes a great restaurant is feeling important, being with friends and having a social gathering place," Fred Sassen said.
Before the restaurant opened people would come in and ask what the Sassens would serve, and Fred Sassen would respond by asking them what they cook at home.
"I'd tell them that's what we do here," he said. "This is our home, and we'd love to have you be our guest."
Homestead restaurant: 4029 Piedmont Ave., Oakland, 510-420-6962; open for dinner from 5 to 10 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays.