Inside: Tortilla Flats
Main Street Garden & Café
Vino Tabi, Equinox
11 Great Pizzas
Hot Deals 11 for under $11
11 Desserts & more
“I like fusion,” says Cheryl Marquez, owner and chef of the innovative Soquel restaurant Tortilla Flats. “I think Mexican cuisine can be very sophisticated. But it shouldn’t be confined. Some items on my menu are totally purist, and then with some dishes it’s just fun to incorporate other flavors. It gives you a vast variety.”
Indeed, Marquez’s menu showcases a spectrum of cuisines and influences. And she is not afraid of trying new foods, which can lead to her developing new dishes. Her travels include Santa Fe, New Orleans (she has lived there), Mexico, Morocco, Spain, and the United Arab Emirates.
Marquez opened the restaurant in 1978 and it has since been filled with many local customers, including ones that have been coming for 30 years. Some even span generations of the same family. Dining in Tortilla Flats feels like you are in Marquez’s home—in a couple of different ways, both positive. The atmosphere is warm, and if you’re lucky enough to run into Marquez she is such a genuine, down-to-earth person that you instantly feel welcome. Also, the restaurant’s décor, including the color scheme and Mexican pottery hanging on the walls, are just like Marquez’s home décor.
All the foods Tortilla Flats serves are made on-site, even the salsa and chips; one employee makes tortillas every night. Marquez uses mostly local sources, and organic whenever possible. Her ingredients include sustainable, wild-caught fish and grass-fed meats, featured in many dishes such as two of the restaurant’s most popular regular-menu dishes: chicken mole enchiladas and enchiladas with roasted red bell pepper sauce (available with filling choices including pork, beef, and tofu). Marquez’s food sources include farmers markets, farms such as Fogline, Shopper’s Corner Market, and her own one-acre garden where she grows things like lemongrass, heirloom tomatoes, herbs such as epazote, and fragrant limes found in Sopa Lima and other dishes. Marquez takes the chiles she grows, dries and pulverizes them, and then makes her own chile powders for the restaurant.
Tortilla Flats dishes have tastes that you won’t find elsewhere because these are unique powders she custom-blends.
Every month, at least once and sometimes twice, Marquez creates special menus that last from Thursday to Sunday. These are available in addition to Tortilla Flats’ regular menu. Themes include seafood, tamales, cactus, Yucatan cuisine, and Frida Kahlo-inspired dishes such as addictingly delicious Mole Manchemanteles (literal translation is “tablecloth stainer”) containing ancho, pasilla, and chipotle chiles, plaintains, raisins, and pineapple—and served with carnitas.
Marquez also pays homage to mole, the most time-consuming, complex Mexican dish that exists, with the week-long December “Olé Mole” offering a dozen moles. For the restaurant’s most popular special event, Marquez starts preparing the spice mixes in October, with nuts, chiles, spices, and more—some ingredients special-ordered from Mexico. Note: the most recent special menu was crepes last weekend, where Marquez successfully juxtaposed traditional crepes with some of her own invention (again Marquez’s love of fusion is present: crepes are originally French, but they were introduced into Mexico during the 1800s by the France-backed Emperor Maximilian). Crepas Del Mar included lobster and prawns with aji limo sauce, with Peruvian chile aji limo grown by Marquez.
“I’ve always cooked,” Marquez notes. In fact, she knew she wanted to be a chef when she was a little girl and got her first child-sized oven. “I remember when my mother went to the hospital to give birth to my brother. I was 8, and I made scallops for my father. He was so thrilled with them and this inspired me.”
Later in her culinary journey, she claims three chefs as major influences: Paul Prudhomme, Rick Bayless, and Julia Child. “They are all absolutely unpretentious, good cooks,” she says—it seems Prudhomme and her time in New Orleans greatly affected her.
“I do a lot of Creole and Cajun cooking at home, and soon I’m going to be fusing that with some of my tapas.”
On Monday and Tuesday evenings, in addition to the regular menu, Tortilla Flats features tapas, which are small dishes that originated in Spain. Marquez began Tapas nights about six years ago.
“Tapas belong to everybody,” she says. “Every culture has tapas, and they’re all different. Some are fusion, some are standard … but they’re all made to share.”
It’s apparent that Marquez is very enthusiastic about offering new flavors for people to try. For her tapas menu, she interweaves many cultures. A popular selection is tender, jumbo Cape Cod scallops in a rich, saffron lobster cream sauce, where you can see a French influence. The size is small, like traditional Spanish tapas, but the flavors are big. Another highlight is Sopa Lima, which is a Yucatan soup usually featuring chicken, lime, and tomato, and onion. Marquez infuses her broth with lime leaves and adds lemongrass, and these Thai influences greatly enhance the savory, soothing soup. She periodically adds new dishes to the tapas menu, and the successful offerings help connect people to new flavors and to each other. | Tara Fatemi Walker
Visit the Tortilla Flats website, tortillaflatsdining.com to join the email list and be alerted to special events a couple times each month. Located at 4616 Soquel Drive, Soquel, 476-1754.
Main Street Garden & Café
Chef Brad Briske joined Main Street Garden & Cafe in June 2010 after leaving his chef post at Gabriella Café. Main Street owner Evan Borthwick has given the innovative, passionate chef complete culinary control, including designing the menu and choosing where to buy ingredients, and the results have been fantastic. Customers are not only flocking to the restaurant, they are also embracing Briske’s foods, including the less traditional ones, and are coming back for more.
Some of the more unusual ingredients include rabbit sausage (featured on a recent pizza) and goat. As Borthwick says, Briske uses some of these items “… because as a chef, he likes to be challenged. That’s one reason he changes the menu almost every day.”
Another reason for Briske’s frequent menu changes is that he believes in using only the freshest, most local foods, so dishes are created based on availability and inspiration. You can taste this in the freshness and quality of all the food. Briske has developed close relationships with farmers, shopping at local farmers markets and purchasing directly from Freewheelin’ Farms, Lindencroft and Fogline (these three have CSA programs but don’t sell at markets).
A recent starter on Main Street’s menu was Freewheelin’ lettuce with Chardonnay grape vinaigrette and ricotta salata, and it was a visually appealing salad. The greens were incredibly fresh and flavorful, while the cheese and dressing enhanced the lettuce perfectly. The dressing included a bounty of gorgeous golden small grapes.
Another starter worth mentioning is Burrata with bruschetta, hand-harvested Big Sur sea salt, and opal basil. There was a generous heap of velvety burrata (similar to fresh Italian mozzarella, but even more luscious since it’s made with cream), and the grainy salt added a wonderful texture and seasoning. “I feel that salt is my favorite ingredient right now,” Briske proclaims.
Briske doesn’t just use salt as a seasoning for prepared foods; it’s an integral part of his cooking methods. The chef prefers to use an entire animal instead of just the parts, so the restaurant purchases whole animals and Briske does the butchering. One necessary element for preservation is salt, which also brings out many flavors and textures that take a lot of time to emerge. Briske uses salt for brining meats, and this can be a three-day process. “You have to make the brine, let it cool, soak the meat in it for 24 hours … then you cook it and it could cook anywhere from four to thirty hours.”
A recent pork shoulder entrée featured meat that had been brined before braising: the rich, hearty dish, with English peas, peppers, frisee, and house-cured pork jowls, contained layers of flavors that interacted beautifully.
Briske also uses salt to cure his salamis. One highlight of the restaurant, for Briske, is the huge walk-in refrigerator where meats can hang. “All the salamis we make hang anywhere from two to six months before we cut them to serve,” he notes.
The meats in his entrees and the house-made salamis are key examples of what makes Main Street worth going to. Why spend several days making something at home when it’s done so skillfully (and offered at reasonable prices) at a restaurant?
Main Street and Briske are blessed with an on-site, all organic garden with items from lemons and strawberries to tomatillos and radishes. Briske picks herbs and produce from the garden every day. During one autumn dinner, the menu included a wood-fired pizza featuring rapini plus dry-farmed tomatoes and burrata. The tomatoes in the sauce and on the pizza were from the garden. The pizzas are all baked in the restaurant’s outdoor pizza oven. The garden and patio also enable Main Street to host many fundraisers for local nonprofits. And Main Street’s spring 2011 plans include collaborating with Cabrillo College culinary and horticulture students for projects in cooking and gardening, including a full re-design of the garden. Also in the works are seasonal winemaker dinners. In the meantime, customers can enjoy a wine list with mostly local choices including organic and biodynamic selections. There is free corkage on Tuesdays, and 25 percent off all glasses of wine and beer during daily happy hour 4:30-6 p.m. (closed Mondays).
“We try to make the best food that people can eat, to help support all the hard-working people in the community,” Briske says.
Having moved here from San Francisco, he is happy about his new role in the Santa Cruz community, not only as a chef but also as a proud resident with his girlfriend Linda. He talks about staying around for quite a while and putting down roots, and we’re lucky to have them. It’s exciting to look forward to more meals from Briske with limitless possibilities, as he utilizes sustainable and local ingredients to create mouthwatering menus. | Tara Fatemi Walker
Devour some dishes at 3101 N. Main Street, Soquel, (831) 477-9265, mainstreetgardencafe.com.
Katie Fox is a dedicated winemaker. This is probably why she loves to pass on knowledge of the whole winemaking process. She has set up many programs for customers to enjoy, including Barrel Buddies; wine education programs; wine tasting events with catered food; Acoustic Fridays with live music; community nights. And the list goes on.
Vino Tabi means “wine journey” in Japanese, and was given this name because Fox was born and raised in Japan, speaks the language fluently, and loves the culture. As a former global wine marketing expert, she started making wine as a hobby, but soon realized the fun challenge of going commercial, and took courses at the University of Bordeaux and UC Davis. From successfully launching brands of wine in Japan, her wine journey began.
Fox, along with the winemaking team of Dan Santa and Jeff Ritchey, is constantly busy with planned events at Vino Tabi. There are education events and seminars with professional winemaking coaches; fun and exciting wine demonstrations and blending events; winemaking education events—with many more happenings planned for the future. And Friday nights at Vino Tabi are not to be missed— with acoustic music and hot dogs for a fun start to the weekend.
Customers who want to make their own wine can be assisted by the winemaking team to turn out a 60-gallon barrel, which results in 24 cases of wine. These “Barrel Buddies” experience their own wine journey through their personal vintage. Barrel ownership is open to individuals or small groups. And you can even get your own private label for a wedding or a special event.
Since she opened Vino Tabi two years ago, she hasn’t looked back. Hers is a busy winery and the wine tasting room is always abuzz with people having a good time.
Jeni Brill and Jessica Stutz, now in partnership with their new company, Coastal Catering, have been preparing food for various events at Vino Tabi. “What I like about Vino Tabi is their unique business model,” says Brill. “They have a barrel club, classes and bottling parties – and you can come and create your own blend of wine and label. Not everyone allows the public to have access to their wine like that. It’s very interesting and entertaining, plus the wine is wonderful. It’s a full-circle experience.” Vino Tabi and Coastal Catering now have plans for food and wine pairing classes and the first one is set for November.
Vino Tabi makes a variety of different wines – including Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, a Bordeaux blend and a Syrah, four of which won silver medals in the Santa Cruz Mountains Winegrowers Association commercial wine competition. Pairing good food with these splendid wines will indeed be a thrill for your taste buds.
Vino Tabi’s Community Nights have proved hugely popular. Every Thursday from 4-7 p.m. a different charity is featured and 10 percent or more of sales go to them. Not only do you get to taste some excellent wines, but you’re supporting a worthy local cause also.
Vino Tabi has ongoing events, and is now open daily. As part of the Surf City Vintners collective in the Ingalls Street complex, this wonderful winery is now very much part of the wine community. | Josie Cowden
Vino Tabi Events:
Halloween Party on Saturday, Oct. 30 from 5-9 p.m. This might be your golden opportunity to come as a vampire and drink some good red wine instead of blood.
Food & Wine Pairing on Sunday, Nov. 21 from 2-4 p.m. $30. Check the monthly calendar to see what’s on.
Vino Tabi, 334 Ingalls St., Santa Cruz, 426-1809, vino-tabi-wine.com.
There’s nothing like a glass of bubbly to celebrate a wedding, an anniversary, a birthday—you name it. The two gals from the British TV comedy series Absolutely Fabulous opened up bottles of Bollinger French champagne—“Bolly” as they called it—at the slightest suggestion of a celebratory moment. When it’s time to pop the cork in celebration, a drop of the old “sparkling” is the only way to go.
And this is where Barry Jackson comes in. With his Equinox “methode champenoise” sparkling wines, he celebrates on a daily basis. His whole life is wrapped around making his fabulous champagne-style wines, made exclusively from Santa Cruz Mountains grapes.
Making high-end sparkling wine is not the easiest of tasks, and it takes years. Jackson has to turn the bottles as the wine ferments—a time-consuming process called “riddling.” He also has to “disgorge” the yeast that settles in the neck of the bottle—done by freezing the neck so that the yeast can be scooped out. Everything is done by hand, a laborious task, but the end result is worth the effort. Jackson’s sparkling wines are beautifully crafted and totally delicious.
The Blanc De Blanc 1997 Cuvee de Chardonnay, available now, is aged for 10 years “en tirage”—in contact with the spent yeast—and it’s completely “au natural,” which means that no dosage (sugar syrup) is added to the finished wine. This golden-hued beauty with intense flavors of honey, citrus and hazelnut, is just what you need at year’s end to toast the start of a whole New Year.
Champagne is known as the world’s sexiest beverage, but Jackson humorously states that no aphrodisiacs are used in the production of Equinox. But consuming a glass or two is the true test!
Now celebrating more than two decades of being in business with Equinox, it’s time for Jackson to pop the cork on one of those bottles. | JC
Equinox, 427 Swift St., Unit C, Santa Cruz. 423-3000. equinoxwine.com. Visit Jackson’s working winery and tasting room Friday to Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. or call ahead to arrange a special tasting. Passport Day is Saturday, Nov. 20 when wine tasting is free to Passport holders. Info: Santa Cruz Mountains Winegrowers Association, scmwa.com.
Vine Hill Winery
Vine Hill Winery sits atop a prime piece of land in the historic Vine Hill district, which was established by George and John Jarvis and dates back to 1867. Not only is the location perfect for growing superb grapes, it comes with an incredible view. When events are held at the winery, people are treated to not only excellent wines, but also to a breathtaking panoramic vista of the Monterey Bay.
For managing partner and winegrower Nick Guerrero, it’s a dream come true to run Vine Hill Winery, backed up with a fine core team. Expert winemaker Sal Godinez, whose talents are revealed in every bottle of wine, has been at Vine Hill since 2005. Rachel Ormes, a British import, is also on hand as vineyard manager, which involves taking care of seven acres of vineyard and overseeing the winery’s beautiful landscaping. Ormes’ preference for organic and biodynamic farming in the vineyard shows in the final product, and she is certainly not afraid to get her hands dirty. Lore James, marketing director, plans events at the winery and makes sure that everyone who visits Vine Hill has a memorable experience. And Jennifer Iverson, sales manager, has the not-so-difficult task of selling Vine Hill’s superb elixirs.
Vine Hill Winery also makes wines under two other labels: Cumbre and Gatos Locos. Cumbre is considered “the pinnacle of Santa Cruz Mountains wine”—the Pinot Noir is outstanding—and Gatos Locos is a more moderately priced wine that “has its roots in the family garage.” But this certainly doesn’t mean it is in any way inferior. The opposite is true, in fact. A couple of Gatos Locos wines recently won silver medals in the Santa Cruz Mountains Winegrowers Association commercial wine competition.
Guerrero, a warm-hearted fellow with a big smile, donates generously to the community. He feels he’s lucky to be doing what he loves— making fine wines—with a fine team to back him up. | JC
Vine Hill Winery, 2300 Jarvis Road, Santa Cruz, 427-0436. vinehillwinery.com. Tasting room open every third weekend of the month from noon to 5 p.m. Fee is $10 per person, which will be credited toward any two-bottle purchase.
11 Great Pizzas
11. Cheese (from Upper Crust Pizza & Pasta)
Upper Crust makes good Sicilian pie pizza, square-shaped with a crisp thick crust (you can also order a round pizza if you prefer). The pizzeria’s basic cheese Sicilian pizza, highly recommended, starts with tangy red sauce and then is completely covered with lots of creamy cheese which is baked to a perfect golden brown. If you get there for a lunch special (generous hours: daily from 10am-4pm!), you can get one slice of cheese pizza plus a bottomless soda or a domestic draft beer for only $3.50. It’s a little more if you want pizza with more toppings. The two-cheese-slice lunch special, with same beverage choices, is only $5. Upper Crust has a myriad of specials, including several weeknight ones. If you’re a pizza fan, the night to come is Tuesday: from 5-9pm you get all-you-can-eat pizza for $7.99 (kids are $5.99). Local owners Sharon and Joe Carollo first opened Upper Crust on Mission Street in 1979; they later opened a Soquel Drive location and sold it in 2004. 2415 Mission Street, Santa Cruz, (831) 423-9010 (there is also a Soquel Dr. location), uppercrustsc.com.
10. Anthony’s Meatball (from Tony and Alba’s)
Anthony’s Meatball is a great slice (or pie) of pizza. Tony and Alba’s makes yummy meatballs, and for this pizza the restaurant slices up the meatballs and lays them generously on top of pizza dough with caramelized onions and provolone cheese. The combination is outstanding. Tony and Alba’s lets their pizza dough rise for three days, resulting in a good, flavorful crust. Other pizza combinations that are recommended: Chicken and Artichoke or Pepperoni and Sausage. If you are in the mood for a generously sized slice of pizza, you can find 15-18 different slices all day and all evening here – and they’re made to order. Note: Tony and Alba’s has several locations, including three over the hill with different ownership. The three on THIS side of the hill – in Scotts Valley, Capitola, and Santa Cruz – all share one owner. 1501 41st Ave Capitola, (831) 475-4450 plus two other area locations, tonyandalbas.com.
9. Kauai Pie (from Woodstock’s)
Kauai Pie is a tasty combination with grilled chicken, jalapeno, pineapple, and red onions. The toppings go very well together, and the special “Kauai BBQ sauce” is tangy and full-bodied. You can choose get it on whole wheat crust if you prefer; both whole wheat and white dough is made fresh every day. Although more and more pizzerias in town are offering whole wheat either now or in the future, Woodstock’s has been offering at since it opened its Santa Cruz location in 2007 (it has a handful of other California locations). You can order a whole Kauai Pie pizza anytime, or you can get slices on Wednesday, when this combo is the daily slice special (there is a different pizza flavor featured each day. Slices are available every day from 11am-4pm, and then again around 9pm to closing. There are inexpensive lunch specials too. Other yummy combos include the new Bleu Bird, Saturday’s slice special: launched this summer, it’s grilled chicken, bleu cheese, spinach, green onions, and cooked tomatoes) and Pesto Primavera, Monday’s slice special (includes broccoli and artichoke hearts). Woodstock’s also has an amazing salad selection – and TEN dressings such as balsamic vinaigrette, pesto ranch, and blue cheese. Also of note: the pizzeria offers vegan pizza with soy cheese from local New Leaf Market, and gluten-free pizza is coming soon. 710 Front Street, Santa Cruz, (831) 427-4444, woodstockscruz.com.
8. Ace’s Wild (Engfer Pizza Works)
Ace’s Wild is a unique, wonderful pizza. Like all of Engfer’s pies, it’s got a thin, crispy crust from being baked in their giant wood-fired oven – an oven that makes a great centerpiece in the restaurant. Ace’s Wild toppings are pesto, cashews (yes, you read that right, as unusual as it sounds) red onions, feta, and roasted red bell peppers. Once you take a bite, you’ll agree how well the textures and ingredients intermingle. And then you will continue eating very quickly! But save room for dessert, because there are delectable ones such as homemade cake and cookie bars, and many non-homemade treats like Tofutti Cuties and Polar Bear Ice Cream Paws. Enger’s Hot Corralitos Nights pizza also has to be mentioned. With Corralitos sausage, spinach, mushrooms, garlic, and jalapenos, each slice absolutely bursts with strong, savory flavors. Other perks include homemade soups (selections vary) and vegan pizza for those who need this variety (organic tofu spread instead of mozzarella). Note: There is a ping pong table to enjoy while you’re waiting for your food or for a fun after-dinner activity. 537 Seabright Avenue, Santa Cruz, (831) 429-1856, engferpizzaworks.com.
7. Rotating Seasonal Pizzas (from Cellar Door)
Cellar Door, which has a three-course fixed-price dinner menu that changes every day the restaurant is open (Wednesday-Sunday), also offers many a la carte options daily including pizza. Chef Charlie Parker’s pizzas are delicious – whether a simple combination of local basils and Bellwether Farms ricotta or sweet onion with rapini and gruyère or rocket (also known as arugula) and house-made sausage with a fried farm egg (Cellar Door gets farm fresh eggs each week, so if you’d like a fried egg on any pizza, ask and you can probably be accommodated). Toppings change every 2-3 days based on seasonal availability of local cheeses, produce and meats. The thin-crust dough is prepared fresh each day, thrown to order, and cooked in a brick oven. 328 Ingalls Street, Santa Cruz, (831) 425-6771, bonnydoonvineyard.com/visit_us.
6. Mexican Style Pizza (from South Beach Pizza Company)
You can find a variety of pizzas at South Beach, but Mexican Style is unique and perfect for all you adventurous eaters. It’s topped with mild picante sauce, chorizo, cilantro, jalapenos, black olives, onions, bell peppers, and pepper jack cheese. The pizzeria, across from the Boardwalk, was opened by owner Andrew Bruno on August 1, 2010. He has infused a great deal from his grandmother’s old recipes into the menu. The dough for the pizza’s thin, crispy crusts – made fresh daily – combines his grandmother’s recipe with tips from an expert pizza chef who traveled up from Southern California to train the restaurant’s staff. Another pizza of note is the satisfying Vegetarian Delight which includes white sauce (olive oil, garlic and spices) and basil plus artichoke hearts, spinach, several other vegetables, and a choice of cheese such as feta, brie, goat, or gorgonzola). 303 Beach Street, Santa Cruz, (831) 600-8900.
5. Rotating Seasonal Pizzas (from Main Street Garden & Café)
Chef Brad Briske, formerly of Gabriella Café, came to Main Street in June and has been doing wonders with the menu – including the pizza. The pies are made in an outdoor wood-fired oven, which results in an excellent crispy crust that’s thin but not so thin that it becomes soggy. The dough and homemade sauce used on all pizzas are organic. Many of the herbs come fresh from the restaurant’s all-organic garden, located on site. Although toppings rotate, there are three pizza combinations available every day – usually two meat-based and one vegetarian. A recent evening included one with Lindencroft Farm rapini, dry-farmed tomatoes from the restaurant’s garden, and burrata. The burrata, creamy and divine, takes on a different consistency when baked that works exceptionally well with these vegetables. And Briske was very generous with the rapini: all in all, a marvelous pizza. Other successful combinations have included house-cured pork loin with parsnip puree, mustard greens, and pecorino. For those unfamiliar with Main Street, the restaurant is located in the former spot of Theo’s. 3101 N. Main Street, Soquel, (831) 477-9265, mainstreetgardencafe.com.
4. Pesto (from Pizza My Heart)
This beloved pizzeria makes a killer pesto pie, among other great combinations. And the slices that you can buy individually are generously sized. The pesto has just the right amount of garlic in it, and walnuts give it an interesting flavor. The pizza is topped with some marinara sauce in addition to the pesto. Plus if you like your pesto spicy, Pizza My Heart has lots and lots shaker bottles of herbs so you can customize your own slice or pie with red pepper flakes (or if your palate doesn’t run hot, try oregano, extra parmesan cheese or whatever you fancy). Pizza My Heart’s “slice, salad, soda” deal is definitely worth buying. You get one slice of pizza, a full-size gourmet salad (such as the Greek with kalamata olives and feta or Chicken Walnut with gorgonzola), and a beverage. The price is $6.75-8.75 depending on the salad you choose. Note: another bargain is the $5 “Pizza My Heart t-shirt and pizza slice” deal, which based on the number of t-shirts you see around town, is quite successful!
1116 Pacific Ave, Santa Cruz, (831) 426-2511 plus other Santa Cruz/Capitola locations, pizzamyheart.com.
3. Traditional Italian (from Kianti’s)
The Traditional Italian starts with a foundation of pesto and pizza sauce. From there it’s topped with artichoke hearts, spinach, pine nuts, tomatoes and feta. The combination of the crust, base layers, and toppings produces an outstanding mixture of flavors. Kianti’s ingredients are fresh and the pizza dough itself is delicious. The restaurant does great things with artichoke hearts in its other dishes too, including its vegetarian calzone and its decadent Kianti’s Gourmet Pasta with bacon, sundried tomatoes, artichoke hearts, and roasted garlic cream sauce. Note: if you want entertainment with your dinner, go on Friday or Saturday night. Usually twice on these nights, the entire staff takes a five-minute break to perform (you’ll know it’s starting when the lights flicker and the music begins). There is choreography and lots to look at, including Kianti’s World Pizza Spinning Champions displaying their talents as many customers cheer them on. 1100 Pacific Avenue, Santa Cruz, (831) 469-4400 (plus A Slice of Kianti’s near Wharf), kiantis.com.
2. SmoQe’r (from SmoQe)
Although many people think of SmoQe as a barbecue joint, this restaurant also produces fabulous pizza. The SmoQe’r is the most popular, and there is a reason for that. Its toppings are smoked chicken, bacon, smoked mozzarella, Fuji apple, sweet Maui onion, green onion, and BBQ sauce. The chicken and bacon are smoked on site – like all the meats the restaurant serves, whether in the BBQ plates or the pizzas, they are slow-smoked for hours. The apple adds a nice sweetness and successfully balances the two onions and the strongly flavored meats. Smoqe’s pizzas are created with organic dough that’s made on-site and takes three days to complete (owner Aaron Duncan spent two years perfecting his recipe). You can choose from two different styles of pizza, Napoletana (baked in an Italian wood-fired pizza oven, that’s the more traditional one) or Grilled Pizzetta (this one is barbecued first, then baked, so the crust is crisper). The barbecue and pizza are cooked with 100 percent wood – no gas, no electricity. Note: if you’re a pulled pork fan, try the Duke pizza with 14-hour-applewood-smoked meat. And don’t miss the “big chocolate chip cookie” for dessert; it’s scrumptious and comes with a glass of milk. 10110 Soquel Drive, Aptos, (831) 662-2227, smoqe.com.
1. Rotating Seasonal Pizzas (from La Posta)
Chef Katherine Stern joined La Posta in November 2009, to the great benefit of the Santa Cruz dining community. Like everything else at La Posta, the pizza is fantastic. Some people choose to share one as a starter; others eat one as an entrée. The pizza has a savory thin crust, and several choices are available. There is always one with house-made spicy sausage plus a seasonal accompanying topping. During basil season, Margherita usually appears – which also features mozzarella di bufala – while Quattro Formaggi (four cheese) is a standard the rest of the year. Other combinations depend on what’s available from local farmers directly or at farmers markets, and may include a soft-boiled egg directly from one of La Posta’s four chickens that live in coops behind the restaurant. Note: La Posta makes its own sourdough starter, which is used for the pizza (and also for its delectable bread). 538 Seabright Avenue, Santa Cruz, (831) 457-2782, lapostarestaurant.com. | TFW
Hot Deals 11 for under $11
Carpo’s is a good place for the whole family to eat dinner, with its casual atmosphere (including plenty of large booths), affordable prices, and menu that includes comfort food like fish and chips plus healthier options. The Soquel restaurant makes juicy burgers such as a Black Angus at 6 oz. ($5.50) or 8 oz. ($6.25), both with hormone-free natural ground chuck, and the Diestel natural ground turkey burger ($5.50). If you’re in a seafood mood, recommended entrees include the flavorful Shrimp & Crab sandwich ($7.50) which features real snow crab, and Seafood Kabob ($9.50), a generous amount of snapper, prawns, and scallops with pasta and steamed vegetables. Carpo’s is also renowned – deservedly so – for moist, herb-rubbed half-pound Rotisserie Chicken ($9.99, served with two sides). The restaurant has a bountiful salad bar ($6.99 or $5.75 when adding to an entree); highlights include homemade salad dressings and rotating pasta salads. There is a good soup/salad bar combination available: $8.50 with soup of the day or $8.99 with Carpo’s tasty, rich chili. 2400 Porter Street, Soquel, (831) 476-6260, carposrestaurant.com.
10. Falafel of Santa Cruz
This small, casual restaurant has a range of affordable, satisfying dinner options for both vegetarians and carnivores. There are three special sandwich combinations for $7.75. You choose either a falafel, chicken shwarma, or gyros sandwich (all made with pita bread), and it comes with a generous serving of French Fries and a medium fountain drink. Falafel’s sauces, including their tahini and their hot sauce, are outstanding! The gyros sandwich overflows with tender, savory meat, and the falafel balls are fresh, moist and nicely seasoned. There are many other selections to choose from, including salads and platters, and the restaurant is open daily until 10pm. Note: You can’t use credit cards at Falafel but it does accept personal checks in addition to cash. 1501 Mission Street, Santa Cruz, (831) 459-0486.
9. Shadowbrook: The Rock Room
Shadowbrook’s bar and lounge The Rock Room has an amazing Tuesday night deal for bargain dinner, especially if you’re a party of two or more. And while it used to be valid from 4-6pm (and the web site states this 2-hour slot), the restaurant has actually extended the promotion’s hours: it’s now 4-10pm. The promotion is called “Two-fer” Tuesday, and customers get two-for-one prices on pizzas, small plates and starters, and appetizers. Selections from the appetizer menu are only available during dining room hours, which is 5-8:45pm on Tuesdays, while pizzas and small plates are available from 4-10pm. A couple pizzas worth mentioning: Castroville ($11.95 before discount, includes artichoke hearts, cave-aged Gruyere, and spinach) and House Apple Wood-Smoked Chicken ($13.95 before discount, includes goat cheese and pine nuts). Recommendations from the small plates/starters menu include Mini Cheese-Stuffed Peppers ($6.95 before discount, peppadew peppers stuffed with Point Reyes blue cheese and piquillo peppers stuffed with Cypress Grove goat cheese) and the incredible combination of Chevre and Baby Beets ($13.95 before discount, the salad includes pistachios and honey vinaigrette). Another bonus: drinks including cocktails, beer, and wine are on special during Two-fer Tuesday. 1750 Wharf Road, Capitola, (831) 475-1511, shadowbrook-capitola.com.
8. Charlie Hong Kong
There are countless inexpensive-yet-hearty dinner options at Charlie Hong Kong. The restaurant’s seven vegan Signature Bowls ($5.95) contain noodles or rice and a variety of toppings. Gado Gado features stir-fried organic vegetables including red and green chard and bok choy, plus black bean and spicy organic peanut sauce. This palate-pleasing combination is served over a bed of Jasmine rice. It’s satisfying on its own, but you can also add toppings such as wild Teriyaki Salmon ($4.50) or Organic Sweet Garlic Tofu ($2.60) in a ginger-green onion-chili sauce. Also available: several smaller bowls like Little Dan’s Delight ($4.50) with wheat noodles, vegetables, and peanut sauce. If you want a topping for this one, the flavors of Hoisin Pork ($2.75) blend well with the peanut. Charlie’s also has salads, soups, and Vietnamese Sandwiches. Actually there are only two things you can order that would make your food go above $11, and that would be if you bought one of the large Signature Bowls for $5.95, added the most expensive topping (Teriyaki Salmon or Tiger Prawns, $4.50) AND substituted organic brown rice (75 cents extra) for standard Jasmine rice. Remember this restaurant if you’re looking for a late-night dinner spot; it’s open until 11pm daily. Charlie’s ingredients include locally grown organic produce, hormone- and antibiotic-free meat, and sustainably raised “Rocky” chicken. 1141 Soquel Avenue, Santa Cruz, (831) 426-5664, charliehongkong.com.
7. Crow’s Nest: Breakwater Bar & Grill
The Crow’s Nest Breakwater Bar & Grill, upstairs from the main restaurant, offers a few under-$11 dinner selections — mostly sandwiches — but the biggest bargain is “Deal with a View.” This is offered Monday through Thursday nights September through May from 6pm until the kitchen closes (it’s put on hold during tourist season from Memorial Day through Labor Day weekends). Customers choose from three entrees (Tuscan Chicken Sandwich, Fish Tacos, or Aloha Burger) and also get either a trip to the salad bar, a side of fries, or soup – all for $6.95. The salad bar is the best choice; it’s huge and filled with high quality ingredients such as gorgonzola cheese, hearts of palm, and real blue cheese dressing. If you’re in the mood for a light dinner, you can actually fill up on just the salad bar and save the sandwich for lunch the next day. Even if you’re hungry, you may not need more than half of the sandwich plus a salad bar serving, so you can still have a half-sandwich as leftovers. In the end, it costs less than $6.95 for dinner with an ocean view. 2218 E. Cliff Drive, Santa Cruz, (831) 476-4560, crowsnest-santacruz.com.
6. Kelly’s French Bakery
The burger at Kelly’s ($9.85) is a decadent and satisfying dinner — or lunch if you prefer. The burgers are big and always cooked just to your specifications, and they are served on savory onion buns with exquisite French Fries and homemade aioli. The fries are fresh, not frozen, and hand-cut. The buns are made on site daily, like all of Kelly’s wonderful baked goods. The burger includes a yummy, proprietary “secret sauce,” also made in-house. If you ask for a cheeseburger instead of a hamburger, the “default” cheese you’ll receive is a white New York cheddar, sharp and delicious, for 40 cents extra. You can also pay 40 cents for mozzarella, or $1 extra for bleu or goat cheese. The only cheese that will make your burger above $11 is gruyere; it’s a $2 surcharge. Note: for vegetarians, a garden burger and fries is available for $10.85. Another worthy dinner option is fish tacos, served with a small salad, for $9.95. On most evenings, Kelly’s is only suitable for dinner on the early side. It’s open until 7pm daily except for Fridays when it’s open until 8. Co-owner Kelly and Mark Sanchez have been making locals happy since 1981; they opened their current location in 2003 and added a homemade ice cream shop in the same courtyard in June 2010. 402 Ingalls Street (Swift Street Courtyard), Santa Cruz, (831) 423-9059, http://www.kellysfrenchbakery.com.
One of the best things about vegetarian restaurant Dharma’s is you can go here with people craving different types of food and all will be satiated. There is Mexican, Asian, Italian, and American food, to name a few, and many selections are vegan. The American Saute, highly recommended, is priced at $10.25 for a “small” but small actually means regular size with this dish. I have a big appetite, and it’s plenty. The colorful, overflowing platter of food includes nutty brown rice generously covered with tofu and organic vegetables including broccoli, cauliflower, carrot, cabbage, kale and chard. It comes with a side of scrumptious tahini lemon sauce whose ingredients include freshly ground sunflower seeds — you will eat every last drop. The vegetables and baked tofu are sautéed in tamari ginger sauce (gluten-free by the way). The popular American Saute has been on Dharma’s menu since the restaurant opened in 1981. There are so many good and inexpensive dishes, but another under-$11-dish of note is Pesto Pasta with garlic bread and a salad ($9.95 for “small” — definitely filling). 4250 Capitola Road, Capitola, (831) 462-1717, http://dharmasrestaurant.com.
The lobster sliders, absolutely yummy sandwiches on Hawaiian sweet rolls, cost only $6.25 and are served on a bed of fries (choice of sweet potato or shoestring). You get three sliders per order, and they contain lobster, crab, celery, and aioli. This dish is also known as the D.F. Wallace, after David Foster Wallace, because the belated brilliant author wrote a fantastic essay about lobsters (originally published in Gourmet magazine). All selections’ names have some kind of resonance. For example, the Chuck Norris burger — another great entrée — “kicks” like Norris due to ingredients including jalapeno and jalapeno aioli. With any sandwich, you can pay extra to get garlic fries or chili fries. Or treat yourself to a shake with your burger; they’re made with Marianne’s ice cream including flavors like popular 10-20. Open since May 2010, the restaurant takes pride in its beer selection: 40 beers on tap and over 75 bottled beers that are primarily reserve, limited release, aged and cellared. You can even combine a beer and ice cream by getting a shake with Smashed Pumpkin Ale and Marianne’s Graham Cracker Swirl (21 and over only). 1520 Mission Street, Santa Cruz, (831) 425-5300, http://burgersantacruz.com.
3. El Palomar Taco Bar
El Palomar’s taco bar is adjacent to the restaurant El Palomar, accessible through this venue or by walking through Santa Cruz Coffee Roasting Company (it’s located in the rear of that space). Open daily from 11am-11pm, you can find fast, great, affordable Mexican food here anytime – but during happy hour the prices drop. On Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday from 5-9pm, and Tuesday from 4-11pm, tacos are only $2 and burritos are $3 if you choose a filling of chicken, steak or veggie (happy hour prices are not applicable to seafood). Regular prices are $2.75 for tacos and $5 for burritos. By the way, “veggie” filling equals tasty, full-of-avocados guacamole, and El Palomar makes delicious grilled chicken and tender carne asada. The corn tortillas are made on site, and you get complimentary chips and salsa with your food order. Another note of interest: during happy hour the taco bar offers house margarita discounts. Pitchers are $11 and individual drinks are $3.50; select draft pints (bartender’s choice) are $2. 1336 Pacific Avenue, Santa Cruz, (831) 425-7575,http://elpalomarcilantros.com/palomar/palomar.html
Popular restaurant Lillian’s has excellent Italian dinners available for reasonable prices. For just under $11, you can order a meatball sandwich for $7.95 and add soup or a house salad for $2.80. Either addition is worthwhile: the soup is hearty chicken-broth-based Pasta Fazool featuring cannellini beans and vegetables. Lillian’s house salad includes hearts of romaine with a few leaves of spring mix, red onion, carrots, cherry tomatoes, and a little freshly grated Parmesan on top. Two recommended salad dressings are pesto vinaigrette (ingredients include balsamic vinegar and house-made pesto) and gorgonzola with fresh cheese chunks. Back to the sandwich, which contains several rich meatballs, lots of provolone cheese, and Lillian’s delectable Sunday Gravy Sauce (the sauce, also available as part of Lillian’s pasta menu, is made with pork, beef, spare ribs, and Italian sausage). Plus this magical sandwich is served on a Ciabatta roll from Hoffman’s Bakery, freshly made and delivered daily by Ed Hoffman himself. Note: with a well-deserved reputation for great food, Lillian’s often has long waits for dinner – if you skip this and order to go, these sandwiches and salads travel well. Lillian’s offers many other under-$8 sandwiches and several under-$11 pasta/polenta choices. 116 Soquel Ave, Santa Cruz, (831) 425-2288.
1. India Joze
If you’re craving an inventive, international dinner in a casual setting, this is your place. Affordable, creative entrees include Dragon Chicken ($10), which is chicken breast cooked in a Vietnamese shiitake-mint-cilantro glaze, Djawa Tofu ($8) with pesto, mushrooms, and tamarind, and Vindaloo Mushrooms ($8 or $10 if you add chicken) which is seasoned with ginger, cinnamon, and tamarind, resulting in a spicy-sweet delectable curry. These entrees are served with rice. You can also put together two smaller dishes, which works equally well at similar prices. Try the Krupuk shrimp chips and Cassava crackers ($3) with a savory bowl of potato-butternut squash Dahl or Lamajoon ($6 each). Lamajoon is thin flatbread “pizza” with your choice of feta cheese or minced lamb (both scrumptious). Uh-oh, I almost forgot Kalamarakia Tighanite ($8), some of the best fried calamari you’ll ever taste! For anything you order, don’t miss the delightful chutney bar with an array of homemade sauces, some spicy and all flavorful. Beloved local chef Jozseph Schultz, a global traveler, opened India Joze in July 2010. For those unfamiliar with India Joze, the original restaurant was open from 1972-1998, with Schultz at the helm for most of the time. Note: it’s cash only, and you order at a counter before finding a table in the small restaurant. | TFW 418 Front Street, Santa Cruz, (831) 325-3633, http://www.indiajoze.com/
11 Desserts You Have to Put in Your Mouth—Now!
11. Pecan Sandie (from The Buttery)
This cookie ($1.65) has a well-deserved cult following. One fan says “I could eat one a day for life and go to the grave happy.” These cookies are larger than traditional pecan sandies, very buttery (no pun intended), and feature pecan pieces around the edge and a dollop of yummy bittersweet chocolate icing. Note: for special occasions, don’t miss The Buttery’s delectable, gorgeous specialty cakes like Hazelnut Chocolate and Black Forest. 702 Soquel Avenue, Santa Cruz, (831) 458-3020, butterybakery.com.
10. Chocolate Eclair (from Gayle’s Bakery & Rosticceria)
Gayle’s eclairs ($3.75) are decadent and worth every calorie. They are filled with a flavorful cream custard and iced with delectable chocolate, and the pastry itself is dense and satisfying. Note: if you are having a party, you might choose to buy the “Sinful Dessert Tray” which includes mini chocolate éclairs plus chocolate mousse cups and seasonal mini tartlettes. 504 Bay Avenue, Capitola, (831) 462-1200, gaylesbakery.com.
9. Ice Cream Scoops (from Mission Hill Creamery)
At Mission Hill you will find creamy, fresh, organic handmade ice cream. Some of the favorite flavors so far: Turkish Coffee and Salted Caramel. You can even take a pint home, and if you can’t figure out which flavor, the store will happily split the pint into two selections! Owner Dave Kumec opened this shop in July 2010, and has developed a loyal following. Ice cream flavors rotate, as Kumec is constantly coming up with new ideas – sometimes based on discussions with farmers (his local ingredients come from places like Straus Family Creamery, Windmill Farms and Happy Boy Farms). NOTE: Scoops $2.50 (2.5 oz.), $3.25 (3.5 oz.), $4.50 (6 oz.), Pints $7
504 Front Street (in Culinary Center building), Santa Cruz, (831) 515-8799, missionhillcreamery.com.
8. Ice Cream Sundaes (from Penny Ice Creamery)
Penny’s ice cream sundaes ($6.50), which feature rotating flavors, are always unique, creative, and tasty combinations. One recent success: the sundae with “Earl of Grey” (tea-infused) ice cream plus raspberry granita (very refreshing and added interesting texture), chocolate sauce, whipped cream, and chocolate cookie crumbles. Santa Cruz’s newest ice creamery opened in August 2010 and makes its ice cream and sorbet completely from scratch, on premises. Penny uses organic ingredients including fruit and herbs from local farms such as Frog Hollow and Route One. Talented chef and co-owner Kendra Baker is former pastry chef of two-Michelin-starred Manresa in Los Gatos. 913 Cedar Street, Santa Cruz, (831) 204-2523, thepennyicecreamery.com.
7. Warm Chocolate Cake (from Soif Restaurant and Wine Bar)
Eating this dessert ($10) is an exhilarating experience, but who would expect less from ingredients including exquisite French Valrhona chocolate and homemade ice cream? The chocolate cake is thick and moist, and inside there is molten chocolate that oozes out wonderfully – ready to be devoured. It’s served with ice cream, usually vanilla (but all the flavors are made on site). No matter what Soif’s chef Santos Majano prepares, it delights Soif patrons. Majano joined the restaurant in August 2008, and Majano, owner Patrice Boyle, and wine director John Locke definitely combine to make a winning team. 105 Walnut Ave, Santa Cruz, (831) 423-2020, soifwine.com.
6. Meyer Lemon Tart (from Gabriella)
Although this dessert ($9) is only offered in certain seasons, it’s got to be mentioned here. Meyer Lemon Tart has appeared on Gabriella’s menu for many years, and there is a reason for this. Customers agree: the pastry is delectable, the filling is creamy and tart while not going overboard, and all of the ingredients are woven together to produce an exceptional dessert. 910 Cedar Street, Santa Cruz, (831) 457-1677, gabriellacafe.com.
5. Hot Chocolate (from Chocolate)
It’s true, a beverage is traditionally not thought of as a dessert. But the hot chocolate ($3.25-$4) at Chocolate is worthy of this name. It’s so thick, you can eat it with a spoon. If you close your eyes, you can imagine you’re drinking a rich chocolate bar. Plus, there are several varieties to choose from, and if you pay a little extra for whipped cream you also get a ladyfinger cookie (other additions for an extra charge include espresso). The Frida is Mexican chocolate with cinnamon, while the spicy Fuego includes chipotle. If you can’t tolerate dairy, try the Coca made with coconut milk. 1522 Pacific Avenue, Santa Cruz, (831) 427-9900, chocolatesantacruz.com.
4. Chocolate Madness (from Saturn Café)
Saturn’s Chocolate Madness is legendary ($6.95 regular, $4.25 mini). It was popular in the 1980s, and is still popular today – even at 2am (it’s open until 3am daily). Picture this: chocolate ice cream, brownies, chocolate mousse, hot fudge, whipped cream and chocolate chips all in one dessert. Yes, it’s as good as it sounds. If you want to try out a smaller version, you can get a mini madness that is half the size. Ice cream in the Madness (and in all other Saturn desserts that use ice cream, like milkshakes) is from Santa Barbara company McConnell’s, which uses all natural ingredients. About 50% of Saturn’s desserts are vegan, including a moist, satisfying chocolate cake. Interesting dessert lore: Many years ago, Saturn reportedly held staff slumber parties with a giant group chocolate madness weighing about 25 pounds. When asked about these jumbo desserts recently, a manager said he’d be open to discussing this option if you’d like one for a special event. Note: This summer, Saturn opened a second location in Berkeley (2175 Allston Way). 145 Laurel Street, Santa Cruz, (831) 429-8505, saturncafe.com.
3. Sweet Rice and Mango (from Sawasdee Thai Cuisine)
This rich yet simple dessert provides the perfect ending to a fabulous Thai dinner at Sawasdee. It’s composed of sticky, sweet rice topped with sesame seeds alongside fresh mango. As usual, owners Bill and Dee Hongmanee have taken great care to combine ingredients that are fresh and enhance each other beautifully.(Price: $6.95). 5050 Soquel Drive, Soquel, (831) 462-5051, sawasdeesoquel.com.
2. Vanilla Crème Brulee (from Oswald Restaurant)
The vanilla crème brulee ($8) meets the high expectations diners have when going to a top-quality restaurant like Oswald. The top layer is caramelized perfectly, while the custard underneath is dreamily creamy. Plus, the essence of vanilla sings through while the dessert’s flavors have balance, avoiding the strong sweetness of some restaurants’ unsuccessful brulees. Overall, a winning and elegant dish. 121 Soquel Avenue, Santa Cruz, (831) 423-7427, oswaldrestaurant.com.
1. Chocolate Pot de Crème (from Ristorante Avanati)
Not all restaurants have mastered the art of making a first-rate, silky pot de creme, which literally translated from French is “pot of cream.” But happily, Ristorante Avanti has. Its chocolate pot de creme ($8) is rich and dense, and the chocolate, a dark Callebaut, is unsurpassable. Warning: don’t worry about appearances, this one’s so good you need to follow your impulse and use your spoon to scrape the glass container for every last morsel of the pudding-like dessert. Chocolate Pot de Crème has been on Avanti’s menu for several years; the manager says there would be a mutiny among customers if it was ever removed. Note: Avanti also makes a mean Tiramisu. 1711 Mission Street, Santa Cruz, (831) 427-0135, ristoranteavanti.com.
Olallieberry Pie (from Duarte’s Tavern in Pescadero)
Although not located in Santa Cruz, this dessert is well worth the trip. Handmade at Duarte’s, the olallieberry pie has a flaky, buttery crust and lots of tart fruit. Life magazine named this pie one of the best in the country. As Duarte’s web site states, an olallieberry is a cross between a loganberry and a youngberry – it was developed by the US Department of Agriculture in 1949 at Oregon State University. Olallieberries are grown throughout the area surrounding Pescadero. Duarte’s is also renowned for its olallieberry jam, syrup, vinaigrette (all available to purchase to-go or online), as well as savory items including cioppino and cream of artichoke soup. 202 Stage Road, Pescadero, (650) 879-0464, duartestavern.com. | TFW