The much-anticipated Abbott Square Market held its soft opening on July 7 during First Friday. Any doubts about whether this pod-style food court would catch on should be allayed by the size of the crowd that came to check out the most exciting and dramatic addition to downtown Santa Cruz in recent memory.
Although only five out of a future eight restaurants and bars are currently open, it’s already become a popular spot to meet fellow downtowners for lunch or grab a drink after work at one of two bars. Already open are Pizzeria La Bufala, an Italian-owned Neapolitan-style pizza restaurant; Veg on the Edge, a vegetarian, health-focused kitchen with African-influenced dishes; Cat. Cloud.Companion, a coffeehouse and bakery collaboration between Cat & Cloud Coffee and Companion Bakeshop; Front & Cooper, a craft beer and wine bar with 12 wine and beers on tap, and Cooper & Front, a cocktail bar. A restaurant selling oysters and lobster rolls, a poke bar, and an artisan popsicle stand have yet to open.
Located on the first floor of the Museum of Art and History, two roll-up doors open from the food court to the spacious patio. There’s plenty of seating at multiple four-tops, and three long, wooden community tables under large suspended umbrellas, which cast a generous amount of shade. The bright space would benefit from a few planter boxes and additional bike parking closer to the dining area. The strong fan in the doorway between the food court and the patio blew most of the cilantro off of my stir fry—keep your napkins in hand if you don’t want to chase them.
Here’s a snapshot of my recent day at the Abbott Square Market:
8:45 a.m. Cat & Cloud’s house roast “The Answer” has become one of my local favorites since they opened last year, and their custom ceramic cups elevate a simple iced coffee ($3) to something really special. Companion’s brown butter cornbread with Padrón pepper and honey butter ($3.50) blew me away. There were a couple of tense moments between my friend and I as we attempted to share the generous slice, slathered in sweet and smoky butter.
12:36 p.m. I only waited about five minutes between ordering my broccoli and salsiccia pizza ($16) at Pizzeria La Bufala and folding a slice in my hand. The ceramic wood-fired oven bubbled and browned the crust to chewy perfection, and managed to hold up a substantial amount of toppings. The broccoli could have been crispier, but the dough is fragrant and the mozzarella gooey but not gluey. The large, thin-crust pie is plenty for two people, and next time I may choose a single slice for $5. Don’t tell my boss, but I grabbed a beer from Front & Cooper, a Highway to Hefe hefeweizen from local brewery New Bohemia Brewing Co. The range of glassware for different styles of beer and wine made my little food-nerd heart sing.
6:25 p.m. After my indulgent lunch, I looked forward to my Shiitake Fried Rice ($12.50) from Veg on the Edge, and overall it was really tasty. The jet black forbidden rice was nutty and there were plenty of fragrant shiitakes. I think it could have used a little more chard or some tofu to boost it up. The salad with organic greens, crunchy Asian pears and mustardy vinaigrette was delicious, as were the three little potato croquettes. The side of fried plantains ($3.50) could have been a little more caramelized, but were a nice, sweet companion to the dish.
7:15 p.m. Renowned mixologist Kate Gerwin has created an extensive list of enticing libations, including eight on tap, seven signature, five twists on classics and six different gin and tonics, and projects them on the wall of Front & Cooper. My “Cereal Killa” ($10), a Cinnamon-Toast-Crunch-infused rum punch with pineapple juice, comes with an actual tiny cone of the namesake cereal, and tastes like the milk at the bottom of the bowl grew up, married rich, and now hangs out on a yacht taking Instagram selfies with Rihanna. The “Not So Oldfashioned” ($12) is peaty, beautifully balanced with a sweet kiss of ripe plum, and the “Tiki Tacky” ($11) is smoky with Mezcal and bright with guava and mango. The whole wrought-iron scene is exceptionally cool, with leather-bound bar stools and butcher-block cocktail tables.