Bernal Heights is a close-knit neighborhood, and when the Liberty Café decided to close after years of drawing the Cortland Avenue community in with chicken pot pies and such, there was a bit of consternation. Some people will miss it dearly, others saw a gradual slide into mediocrity after the original chef-owner, Cathie Guntli, passed away in 2009. Having shuttered and re-opened in only a couple days as Bernal Star, we had to investigate what's new at this anchor tenant of Bernal dining.
Bernal Star -- which seems inclined to nickname itself "B Star" even though there's already a place with that name in the Richmond -- focuses on "brunch, burgers, and brews." Gone are the vegetarian pot pie and porcini turnovers, with somewhat trendier dishes in their stead: farro salad, a fried chicken sandwich with jicama slaw, oysters, a roasted chicken, and gluten-free pizzas. (It looks like the bakery department has been taken over by pizzaiolos.) The price range of the entrees is almost exactly the same, although there's a wider variety of slightly snackier items.
The indispensable Bernalwood launched a parallel inquiry that netted a further scoop from the new proprietor, Vega Freeman-Brady (who also runs Vega across the street). In short, Bernal Star will continue a number of the Liberty's traditions. They'll screen movies on the patio at sunset, Tuesdays will still feature half-off bottles of wine, you'll still be able to order at $15 burger-and-beer every day from 4-6 p.m., and they'll be hosting monthly dinners with rotating guest chefs. It also appears that the management and staff have largely been retained.
So if you were afraid this lovely institution had been given over to rampant trend-chasing, worry not. Bernal Star is basically a light rebrand, both to preserve the memory of the original restaurant and to keep the success going.
Bernal Star, 410 Cortland, 695-8777.