Fresh and Fired-up

Dinning_CafeEllaWatsonville’s Cafe Ella celebrates the bounty of local produce with homemade recipes
his week thousands of us will travel on East Lake Avenue towards the Santa Cruz County Fair. Huge hogs raised by 4-H kids, rides, carnie games, and exhibits of local artisans are sure to draw crowds. Nevertheless, what if you’re just not a fan of fair food?

Cafe Ella is hidden in a modern two-story office building across East Lake Avenue from historic Tuttle Mansion, a massive, elaborate, barn-red Victorian. With abundant availability of fresh fruits and vegetables, Café Ella’s mission is to provide nutritious, homemade fast food using preservative-free, natural, and local ingredients.

On my first visit, after placing my order at the counter, I chose a table beside a trickling fountain on the shaded patio. Mini Pizzas ($9.50) come with either a half salad or a cup of soup. I waited for mine while sipping a delicious mango-enhanced iced tea. The salad, which I had selected from the list of daily specials, arrived first. Baby spinach leaves, tossed in flavorful chili-lime vinaigrette, were topped with creamy crumbles of French feta, candied almonds, sliced radishes, and sweet fresh white corn kernels. I never imagined that raw corn was so flavorful.

My Margherita pizza passed by on its way to the outdoor wood-fired oven where it would spend just four minutes. Made in the Neapolitan manner with a thin crust, thin coating of tomato sauce and not overly loaded with fresh buffalo mozzarella, it included thin slices of fresh, fat tomatoes and torn fresh sweet basil. Although I would have cooked it hotter or longer to further crisp the center of the pie, I ate every piece.

Another wood-fired oven specialty is the Gooey Gorgonzola Garlic Bread ($3.75). The aroma of warm minced garlic wafted from the slice of multigrain sandwich bread. This time the perfectly crisped bread was topped with browned and bubbly blue cheese and sautéed, sweet onions.

From the wood-fired oven also come chicken wings, open-faced sandwiches, baked pasta and pastrami. The Messy Hot Pastrami ($6.75) lived up to its name. Lean and nicely seasoned beef was layered between toasted multigrain bread with caramelized onions, sautéed mushrooms, melted Swiss cheese, avocado and Ella’s secret spread, which seemed to include whole grain mustard. It was served with herbed Cole-slaw in a pesto-like dressing.

The ingredients for panini sandwiches can be either served in wraps or pressed and grilled between bread. The Pavo Mia ($6.75) included thin slices of roasted turkey breast, caramelized onions, baby cornichons pickles, Swiss cheese, and organic greens with the Ella spread.

There was a nice selection of desserts, including bread pudding from Ella’s sister restaurant in Hollister, as well as carrot cake from Kelly’s Bakery.
Breakfast entrees include panini, croissant sandwiches, waffles and wraps, with numerous pastries, breads and biscotti to choose from. Beverages include a full selection of smoothies, teas, espresso and coffee drinks as well as freshly squeezed orange and grapefruit juices and fresh lemonade.

Cafe Ella,7334 East Lake Ave. #1, Watsonville, 722-0480. Serving breakfast and lunch Monday through Saturday 6:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Closed Sunday. Visit cafe-ella.com

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