How can they do it? I wondered, taking my first bite of an apple mini-pie, fresh-baked at Staff of Life. A gluten-free apple pie. It was delicious and completely “I need a piece of pie!” satisfying. Terrific non-cloying apple and cinnamon interior, and crust worthy of any pie made with wheat flour. Just to make sure it wasn’t just a fluke, I sampled another one of Staff’s gluten-free pies, this time a blueberry variety. Also delicious, tender crust and spectacular filling of barely sweetened organic blueberries. Mini pies (the equivalent of a slice of pie) for $2.49 each. Whoever is handling the bakery research there, the one who has come up with a perfect balance of (I’m guessing) brown rice, white rice and tapioca flours deserves a James Beard award. And there was a world of other fresh-baked possibilities at Staff’s in-house bakery, including a slab of gluten-free chocolate cake I could have wolfed down on the spot. The word “impressive” comes to mind the minute you walk into the sustainably minded consumer paradise that is Staff of Life.
And here’s the thing—there are more than a few folks in Santa Cruz who’ve been walking into Staff for almost half a century. Celebrating its 49th birthday next month, Staff of Life was the pioneer natural foods store in our area for those who knew that preservatives and chemicals weren’t exactly healthy. Thanks to founders Richard Josephson and Gary Bascou.
But—if you’re not a regular in the Eastside neck of the woods—before you start imagining a domain strictly devoted to chai, patchouli, incense, and lots of stuff made with whole wheat flour, you really need to check out today’s new, improved, well-stocked natural foods mother lode. Oh, you can still find a wall of medicinal dried mushrooms and teas, and the vitamin and supplement section is the size of most condos. Incense, yes. Essential oils, yes. Staff of Life honors its natural roots. But it has opened its shelves to an impressive inventory of power bars, wines, seasonal produce, fresh-caught seafoods, charcuterie, and breads of every description. I almost ate one of the luscious lemon cream tarts while I was checking out the Jane Iredale mineral-based cosmetics. And, frankly, there were almost too many choices of in-season mandarins at the store’s entrance. I could barely choose. Fresh flowers at reasonable prices and little heirloom tomato seedlings also proved too tempting to resist.
The Cafe del Sol under the solarium roof was filled with patrons mellowing out over coffee and pastries as I stopped by the other day. If it’s been a while since you checked out Staff’s cavernous Green Certified interior, here’s an excuse: from 12:30 to 4:30 p.m. on Sunday, May 20, you can help friends and neighbors of this local landmark celebrate 49 years of delicious service. Live music, dancing, cooking demos, beer tastings, raffle prizes—you get the idea. Stop by and re-discover this intrepid only-in-Santa-Cruz store that respects the past while plunging deliciously into the future. Don’t miss the incredible pastries! Substantial, wonderful, and non-harmful! Staff of Life Natural Foods, 1266 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz. Open 7:30 a.m.-9 p.m., and from 8 a.m. on weekends. staffoflifemarket.com.
Wine of the Week
Morgan Winery Metallico 2015 Unoaked Chardonnay ($20). Made and bottled in Salinas, Morgan’s newest unoaked white wine has a lot to like. Low 13.5-percent alcohol delivers a vibrant suite of sensory impressions starting with persistent citrus, plus hints of jasmine and pineapple. Uncomplicated, this wine is amiable and fresh. No overbearing oak enhancement! A fine partner for seafoods, it goes well with pasta and pork. Worth looking for at your favorite wine merchant.