Shelving lines every available space in the small River Café and Cheese Shop, cradling a fine selection of artisanal gustatory creations; most of it Californian, much of it local, and all of it sure to add a new spin to your favorite dishes.
The small, but well-picked cheese selection includes farmstead Blue from Point Reyes Farm and soft-ripening Mt. Tam from Cowgirl Creamery of the same town. Local olive oil and balsamic vinegar from Belle Farms, Pasolivo lemon olive oil from Paso Robles, and River Café’s own organic jams make a colorful display. Numerous wines from the Santa Cruz Mountains are also featured.
I was excited to find an 8-ounce chub of Dry Chorizo, the essential Spanish salami, made by Berkeley’s famed Chez Panisse Chef Paul Bertolli, proprietor of Fra’ Mani Handcrafted Salumi. I also picked up a wedge of sheep’s cheese from North Monterey County’s Garden Variety Cheese, to be enjoyed with the chorizo as tapas.
The shop has also managed to fit a kitchen in its small space. Breakfast includes frittatas ($8 to $10.95), breakfast burritos ($6.50 to $7.50) as well as steel cut oatmeal with house-preserved pears and apple cider syrup. To drink, try the organic coffee from local Verve Coffee Roasters or Teance Teas, sourced directly from boutique Asian farms and cooperatives by another Berkeley purveyor.
For lunch I enjoyed a Grilled Cheese Sandwich ($9.50) on the accessible, sycamore tree-shaded deck. The scent of flowers from Lina Floral Boutique drifted on the breeze. Hearty sliced bread bearing light, panino-like grill marks held melting cheeses sweetened with a touch of red chili jam.
River Café and Cheese Shop, 415 River St., Santa Cruz, 420-1280. Beer and wine. Open Monday through Saturday 6:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Visit