From snacks to hearty dinners and bocci ball to nightly live music, Bocci’s Cellar remains an important gathering place
In the first decade of the 17th century, Mission Church planted vineyards in the area of Harvey West Park, ostensibly the first local viticulture. A few Victorian homes built a century later still stand nearby. Angelo Peter Urbani was born in one of these on Encinal Street to Italian immigrants. The family elevated their home to create a cellar underneath in which to age barrels of wine. Of Angelo’s sons, Joseph is immortalized on a plaque outside of Bocci’s Cellar for adding the bar and dining room that transformed the home into a gathering place for the Italian community.
The small bar was alive with banter as we arrived for a Saturday dinner. The formality of white tablecloths and romantically dim lighting brought to mind historic Italian eateries. At Bocci’s, however, the menu is a juxtaposition of hearty Old World favorites such as braised lamb shanks and colorful California cuisine featuring panko pork loin salad with ginger-soy vinaigrette.
As an appetizer, BAR-B-QUE Combo ($9.95) offered a meal-sized serving of spicy andouille sausage, smoky tail-on shrimp, and tender chicken in a sweet, salty barbeque sauce topped with green onions.
Soup or salad is offered with the entrées ($2). A large plate of romaine was topped with sweet, grated carrots, crunchy croutons, plump cherry tomatoes, a generous amount of blue cheese, and salty pink, pickled radishes. The light vinaigrette was tart and laced with dried oregano.
Pork Newbury ($18.95) combined sweet and saline elements with hearty mashed potatoes and just-cooked summer squash. Between slices of pork loin were thin slices of ham reminiscent of Canadian bacon, thick warm pieces of smoky Gouda cheese and sautéed spinach. All were topped with sweet chunky apricot-port glaze.
Basil-mint Lamb Skewers ($16.95) featured thick slices of tender lamb woven onto two long rods and covered with a salty, strong mint and basil pesto. Cashews and pieces of chow mein noodles added crisp crunch to the cranberry and mandarin orange rice.
Leftovers in tow, we were much too full for the house-made cheesecake and bread pudding.
Outside for lunch, booths and plastic tables were covered with vinyl vegetabl- patch tablecloths. A whiteboard displayed a long list of daily specials including tri-tip spinach salad ($10.95) and honey-dipped fried chicken with a waffle and corn on the cob ($9.95).
Noodles were mixed with sautéed tomatoes, garlic, Parmesan, green onions and gaping mollusks in the Linguini with Clams ($11.95). The accompanying Vegetable Beef Soup ($2) in a densely flavorful broth held ground beef and plump mushrooms.
With clouds gathering for the first storm, Meatloaf ($9.95) called. An oval slice of herbed, finely ground meatloaf with the familiar tomato sauce topping and pockets of creamy melted Parmesan, jack and Romano cheeses was nicely seasoned, flecked with minced carrots, and covered with brown saline gravy.
I had a surprise awaiting me: our thoughtful server Barbara had first wrapped my leftovers in cellophane, safeguarding the luscious juices from the thirsty paper box.
Bocci’s Cellar, 140 Encinal St., Santa Cruz, 427-1795. Full bar. Serving lunch Monday through Saturday 11 a.m. until 4 p.m., and dinner from 5 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays, and from 4 p.m. Sundays. Live music every night. Visit boccis.net.