Pre-Game Warm-Up

dining hulasSanta Cruz Warriors’ games redefine ‘dinner and a show’ for downtown restaurants

Santa Cruz Warriors’ games have brought us back to downtown. A few thousand of us, that is. While our intention was to walk the mile and back, it’s easier to carpool and pay the paltry few bucks at one of the downtown parking garages. Whether we walk down Front Street or Pacific Avenue, restaurants seem to be doing a fine business both before and after the games. I’ve taken advantage of the team’s month-long road trip to check out some of the pre-game options.

Surfrider Café One busy spot is Surfrider Café. Their daily happy hour from 3 to 6 p.m., and again on Friday and Saturday from 9 to 11 p.m., features microbrewed pints ($4), most of which are made locally. The epitome of family friendly, little ones get crayons as well as a little cup of goldfish crackers to make the wait for food more tolerable. The Marianne’s ice cream milkshakes ($4.95) are large enough for tykes to share, and strawberry and mango flavors are made with real fruit.

Surfrider is also the home of celebrated burgers ($5.50 to $11), made with a third pound of natural  Black Angus beef. Before you head out, check the specials tab on their website which may have money-saving deals and coupons. 429 Front St., 713-5258,  surfridercafe.net.

Motiv For the adult crowd, Motiv’s contemporary lounge has a sweet happy hour every day from 4 to 7:30 p.m. Not only will you find specially priced well drinks and draft beers ($4), but also a burger with fries or salad or three tacos ($5) filled with chicken, steak, fish or sweet potato. 1209 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz,
429-8070, motivsc.com.

Hula’s Closer to the arena, Hula’s also has a nightly happy hour from 4:30 until 6 p.m. Here you will find $5 specials on appetizer pupus, tiki drinks, and wines by the glass.

Filling and antioxidant-rich sweet potato fries are served with a secret dipping sauce. The Vietnamese spring rolls contain an interesting combination of peanuts, tofu, apples and lemongrass. Soybean edamame is spiced with serrano chilies, while strips of fresh wakame seaweed are tossed with a spicy sesame dressing.

Tiki drinks with threatening names such as Zombies and Painkillers are joined by the more familiar Mai Tais and Blue Hawaiians. They also boast a selection of more than 30 rums if you’d like to kick it up a notch. 221 Cathcart St., Santa Cruz, 426-4852, hulastiki.com.

Kianti’s Pizza and Pasta Bar currently has some very nice specials that include two meals for $20 on Monday, half-off appetizers on Tuesday, kids eat free Wednesdays and all-night happy hour on Thursdays. While there always seems to be a party there, it felt more extravagant and exciting on a Warriors’ Friday game night. The servers wore white T-shirts emblazoned with the blue and gold Warriors’ logo, and they timed their dance and pizza-tossing extravaganza perfectly, rather like a thank you and farewell to the soon-to-be departing ticket holders.
We arrived just before the end of the weekday happy hour, which runs from 3 until 6 p.m. in the family-friendly bar area.

We sipped on happy hour pints of hoppy IPA ($3), red wine ($4) and well drinks ($3) while the men in front of us deftly tossed circles of dough in the air. There wasn’t an idle hand in the kitchen as the staff, working almost aerobically, prepared salads, calzones and pasta dishes that quickly made their way to waiting tables.

Our pair of happy hour appetizers included a Kianti Pizza Roll ($4). Pizza dough had been rolled burrito-style around pepperoni, marinara, and mozzarella, which was hot and stretchy as we tore the shiny-crusted pieces apart. Ranch dressing was a fine accompaniment to soothe the bite from the pepperoni. Happy hour chicken wings ($5) were juicy, but quite lightly spiced and served with blue cheese dressing.

From the regular menu came a crisp caesar salad with tomatoes and traditional dressing. At 6:30, a hot pizza topped with pickled jalapenos was delivered as our finale, and the staff prepared to entertain us. Akin to a pre-game rally, bright yellow feather boas were donned in the kitchen and moved somewhat to the beat of Abba’s “Dancing Queen” while the servers made choreographed moves of their own in the dining area. The song “Footloose” signaled the pizza-tossers to take front stage for an enthusiastic performance.

We joined the other patrons who streamed out the door heading toward the nearby arena where we all looked forward to another big show. 1100 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz, 469-4400, kiantis.com.

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