A cozy, homey destination, River Cafe has long been famed for fresh-baked breakfast pastries and fragrant lunch specialties. Recently challenged on all sides—it can’t help that the foot traffic from Oasis has come to a halt, and so has the traffic on River Street, thanks to endless road work—the plucky little terrace eatery continues to hold forth. Organic items line the blackboard listing of lunch and breakfast, e.g. half panini plus a side will run you $12. I decided on a ham, apple, cheddar and Dijon panino plus a side of gorgeous spring salad of gigante beans, paper-thin sliced radishes and baby spinach, and then I turned my eyes toward the Eden that is River Cafe’s pastry display. Farmhouse Apple Cake ($4.5 for a generous slab) nestled prettily in its cast iron skillet. Muffins, seasonal fruit crisps, each in individual white baking bowls, tempted me. Scones with fat strawberries looked, you guessed it, good enough to eat. And I almost caved at the sight of a fresh rhubarb galette ($6). In the end I chose the apple cake, very eggy and custardy, laced with the farmhouse aroma of warm sliced apples. Next time, I promised myself, I’ll try the grilled cheese with pesto panino.
Everything about River Cafe feels like someone’s grandmother’s kitchen. Small in footprint, the tiny space looks out onto the world that wraps around it—Hive & Hum, Patagonia, and the now-defunct Oasis. I always love sitting in the sunny window over coffee and a scone at the high wooden counter that lines two of the cafe’s miniature walls. I enjoy perusing the line of elegant olives, hot sauces and exotic honeys on the wall opposite the main counter.
When I got my lunch order home, we tore into the panini and enjoyed the flavor contrasts of warm ham and green apple, nestling in a blanket of melted cheese and baby lettuces. The attractive salad of beans and radishes proved mysteriously free of flavor, and needed salting and peppering. Another side dish, of roasted Brussels sprouts and walnuts had been infused with a distinct hint of honey—a nice touch that brought out the faint bitterness of the cruciform. The apple cake was also under flavored, very delicate, almost invisible in terms of spicing, making me wonder whether the kitchen is neglecting to taste before presenting their wares in the showcases. Still, it’s a sweet spot for coffees, breakfasts and lunch made with fresh organic ingredients. River Cafe, 415 River St., Santa Cruz. Open daily 7 a.m.-4 p.m.
Mega Sale on the Hill
You might wait all week for Friday happy hour, but serious gardeners in our area wait all year for the UCSC Farm & Garden’s annual Spring Plant Sale, which sets a broad table with the region’s largest offering of organically grown everything! Veggies, herbs, and flower starts, as well as favorite landscaping plants. Check it out—more than two dozen tomato varieties—heirloom, canning and slicing—a wide range of specialty peppers from colorful to hot, lots of lettuces including green and red butter, romaine, and specialty types, Asian greens, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, summer and winter squashes, pumpkins, leeks, cucumbers, kale, and you have the picture. If it’s a vegetable, you’ll find it at this giant botanical event.
The Spring Plant Sale happens Saturday and Sun, April 28 and 29, in the Barn Theater parking lot at the base of the UC Santa Cruz campus, corner of Bay and High streets. Members can arrive one hour early each day, but for the rest of us this incredible plant sale runs from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. on Saturday, and 10 a.m.-2 p.m on Sunday.