Abbott Square restaurants
Dining Reviews

Abbott Square Brings Six Restaurants and Two Bars to Downtown

Abbott Square seeks to have a big impact on the dining scene

The imminent opening of Abbott Square also presents a number of new additions to the local dining scene, most operating out of a building at the top of the space. Front & Cooper, a bar designed by mixologist Kate Gerwin, sits opposite a full-on oyster bar (with lobster rolls and seafood panini) called All Aboard. Handcrafted small-batch popsicles from Milk and Wood should please young gourmets. Deeper inside the 7,500-square-foot interior, look for an Asian/Hawaiian fusion shop called Poke It, as well as a wood-fired Neapolitan pizza parlor, Pizzeria la Bufala. Bordering Abbott Square itself, a walk-up window will serve up Cat & Cloud espresso drinks along with pastry temptations from Companion Bakeshop. At Veg on the Edge, organic veggies will fuel West African-inspired dishes at yet another of the ambitiously diverse food shops. And all of this will be accessible from both Front and Cooper street portals and served by the newly reimagined Abbott Square seating area.

In total, that’s six restaurants, two bars, a verdantly planted Secret Garden, and the outdoor plaza itself, which MAH envisions will not only attract patrons of the new restaurant, but locals as well, who simply want to come to sit, study, talk, relax, and chill out for a while. I was happy to know that the historic Octagon building itself, leased by the Market, will house two food shops, one of which will showcase the culinary zest of chef Santos Majano of the Kitchen at Discretion. And the $5 million reinvention starts its preview week on June 2 with a first look at the restaurants, special nibbles and tastes as well as giveaways, parties, music, and a chance to be impressed with what hard work, vision, and savvy fundraising can accomplish.

“The guiding concept,” MAH Director Nina Simon recalls, “came from the community desire for a community plaza. Then people told us that we needed food to tie it all together. Nothing brings people together like a meal.” And so the public market, one that echoed the diverse and active MAH mission itself, was born.

Abbott Square itself, wedged deep into the space between the Octagon and Pacific Avenue retail, has arguably remained underused and loosely defined since the earthquake-forced razing of the original golden era Cooper House. MAH is betting that the spell of past social gatherings—Max Walden’s epic bar, Hilaries, et al.—will infuse magic into this new expansion. Curated by developer John McEnery IV, the official “master tenant” of the Abbott Square Market entity, the choices reflect desires of MAH that there be an emphasis upon diversity of cuisine and cultures represented. Simon notes that national chains or fast food establishments were not considered, and that priority was placed on local food.

“We wanted to create a market whose creativity, diversity, and flexibility would mirror that of the MAH,” says Simon.

The choices are nothing if not diverse, and yet they also reflect the Santa Cruz personality, both in terms of what locals enjoy and also what visitors come to sample. Seafood, sophisticated cocktails and fine coffee and pastry combinations seem destined to attract a regular, year-round patronage. It’s doubtful that anyone will complain that we already have enough coffee shops or cocktail lounges. But there is already a pizza parlor across the street. Perhaps “more is more” will prevail. The West African and Asian menus will doubtless increase the push toward adventurous flavors. A half-dozen concessions filling a space adjoining the museum—already an outdoor “without walls” concept—seems likely to expand the entire MAH operation even further.

With 10,000 square feet of outdoor seating, the open-air Abbott Square is poised to become an al fresco community dining room, where the diverse menus all blend into a single community event.

Food is the way to our hearts, but it’s only part of the larger agenda, which is to open out even further the highly successful and vigorous blend of community events targeting diverse groups. Weekly readings, classes, music, and other programs—all free and open to everyone—will spring up in and around the newly restored Abbott Square.

Stop by for preview week and taste what it’s all about.

Christina Waters was born in Santa Cruz and raised all over the world (thanks to an Air Force dad), with real-world training in painting, music, winetasting, trail running, organic gardening, and teaching. She has a PhD in Philosophy, teaches in the Arts at UCSC and sings with the UCSC Concert Choir. Her new book 'Inside the Flame'

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