Downtown Oasis

dining_CenterStreetGrillInside and out, relaxing Center Street Grill dishes up Mediterranean style

It was a perfect October day when I settled on the tree-lined patio for lunch at the Center Street Grill in Santa Cruz. Although the sun was still warm, the autumn air, perfumed by long, pendant angel trumpet flowers, was comfortably cool. The sound of water trickling from various fountains added a touch of tranquility—just a block away from the bustling downtown.

Freshly squeezed grapefruit juice, thick with pulp, and just tart enough to jumpstart the day, foreshadowed the freshness of the meals to come and the attention to detail paid by the chefs here. Inside the restaurant, I noticed the walls at sharp angles painted soft taupe and olive separate the dining areas. Cups of crayons awaited children who would doodle on white paper tablecloth covers.

The morning menu includes a basic two-egg breakfast ($5.95) with Center Street potatoes and choice of toast or English muffin. For heartier appetites, bacon, chicken sausage or skirt steak can be added. If you’re hot for house-made hollandaise sauce, try one of the Benedicts ($10.95 to $11.95) with salmon or artichoke hearts replacing the Canadian bacon, or hand-formed crab cakes instead of a muffin.

I was intrigued by the Ooey Gooey Breakfast Nachos ($8.95), an enormous platter of tortilla chips fried puffy and crisp in the kitchen that morning. Topped with fluffy, tender scrambled eggs, quarter-sized rings of pickled jalapeños, beans, black olives and cheese before heating, the fragrance of steaming roasted corn accompanied the plate. On the side were containers of sour cream, guacamole, and both cooked and raw tomato salsas.

The full lunch menu includes small plates such as Fried Artichokes ($9.95), salads, sandwiches with choice of Caesar salad or fries ($10.95 to $12.95), a handful of entrées, and pizza.

The large Center Street Cobb Salad ($11.95) featured warm, grilled chicken breast on a bed of crisp romaine lettuce and spring greens. Freshly cut tomatoes, circles of English cucumber, quartered hard-boiled eggs and half of a perfect pastel green avocado added color and flavor. It was sprinkled with crumbles of crisp apple wood-smoked bacon and salty blue cheese. The thick, creamy side of dressing was exceptional, with light lemony tartness made chunky with more blue-veined cheese.

Never one to pass up a pizza, I gave the Margherita ($11.95) a go. The ten-inch pie was lightly coated, Naples-style, with herby house-made tomato sauce. The house-made crust was tender, although I would have crisped it a bit more on the underside. A good amount of mozzarella bubbled beneath hot, juicy, halved plum tomatoes sprinkled with a chiffonade of fresh basil.

The grill’s dining rooms are available for meetings and special events. Whether you dine inside or out, Center Street Grill’s charming staff and made-from-scratch meals wait to captivate you.

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