Cover Stories

Best of Santa Cruz 2015 Editor’s Picks

EditorsPick BestNightcapBEST NIGHT CAP

WARSAW MULE AT SHADOWBROOK

There’s something about visiting the Shadowbrook that feels like going back in time. It’s more than just taking the historic cable car down the hill, or winding down through the garden walkway teeming with plants that overlooks Capitola. Along with the high-end service and infusion of class, the rambling rooms and elegantly lit main bar area are pungent with a sense of ineffable nostalgia. All of this makes going for a mid-week nightcap feel like you really got away for an hour or two. There are many gems on the cocktail list—like the Basil English Cucumber or the Guavapolitin—but it’s the Warsaw Mule that takes the cake when it comes to a refreshing old-timey drink to imbibe on a spring evening. A variation of the Moscow Mule, which became popular in the U.S. during the 1950s vodka craze, the Warsaw Mule is a winning combination of Sobieski vodka from Poland (made from top-shelf Dankowski rye, and distilled four times) ginger beer and lime. Served in a frosted copper mug and at a very doable $7, this drink rounds out the night with a truly satisfying cap. | MARIA GRUSAUSKAS

MOST INNOVATIVE TECH PROJECT

DIGITAL NEST

Living just a skip (albeit a perilous one) from Silicon Valley, tech growth has been a natural fit for Santa Cruz County. But as tech here has increasingly tried to assert its independence the gap between available academic resources and technology know-how has become more obvious. Last year, Tony Hill Award-winner Jacob Martinez founded Digital NEST (Nurturing Entrepreneurial Skills with Technology) in Watsonville, in the hopes of closing that gap. The NEST creates technology centers in vulnerable communities all over California—including in Watsonville, where the impact has been almost instantaneous. It gives young people (ages 12-24) from Santa Cruz and Monterey counties access to computers, software, and classes in digital filmmaking, networking, music recording, graphic and web design. The tech world is a competitive one, so hats off to Martinez for fighting to bring the necessary resources and inspiration to communities that need them most. | ANNE-MARIE HARRISON

BEST CONVENIENCE STORE/GAS STATION

EditorsPick Best-Convenience-Store A.J-and-Ellianna-JavedAJ’s MARKET

To call AJ’s the best convenience store in Santa Cruz County is almost a misnomer, because there is no other convenience store like it. You may pull up for a tank of gas and a car wash, but you’ll stay for a gourmet meal that’s around $10, and a market that stocks not only fresh and locally grown organic vegetables, but also has spices and rices from India, Japan, China and the Middle East, as well as Harris Ranch meat, Stagnaro’s fish, and biscuits from England. A.J. made a name for himself around the South County after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, when his cash register went out and he told people to take what they need and pay him later. A Pakistani immigrant, he opened this Soquel spot in 1986, and replaced the old mechanic’s bay with a natural foods store that has grown into a real Santa Cruz staple. A.J. and his wife Ellianna Javed remodeled the place six years ago, filling it with food they love and couldn’t find elsewhere. They’ve also got a butcher shop, natural foods market, and a huge selection of locally made beer, wine and goods, including Gizdich juices and a chili mix from Manoff’s, the defunct downtown chili spot. | BRAD KAVA

BEST LONG OVERDUE PUBLIC SPACE

ABBOTT SQUARE

For as many great things as there are about downtown Santa Cruz, we have a big gaping hole when it comes to public spaces—anyone who’s tried to find a place to eat lunch outside knows this firsthand. But the MAH has something exciting in the works: the transformation of Abbott Square from a so-so, concrete-rich square into a vibrant downtown hub with music, pop-up food vendors, art, and … places to sit! The project has—with the public’s input—been taking shape for several years now, and the first signs of transformation have started to appear. By this summer, we should be seeing big changes in the little square. | CAT JOHNSON

BEST NATURAL BODY CARE COMPANY

Editor's-Pick Best-Natural-Body-Care-CompanyURB APOTHECARY

It was a degree in nutrition and her interest in human physiology that led Leyna Allred, 30, to turn her garage into a production line of creative, plant-sourced body-care products. And while she hasn’t quit her day job just yet, she may just have to soon: Allred is now filling wholesale orders for Stripe in Santa Cruz, as well as for stores in Oakland, San Francisco, Nevada City, and Philadelphia. Her growing line features unique medicine cabinet must-haves, like Slumber Salve, which incorporates hops, lavender-infused coconut oil, chamomile and calendula, and puts the racing mind instantly at ease, especially if you can find someone sweet enough to massage it into your temples. Her mud masks are made from natural clays infused with various herbs, and a natural lip-cheek stain gets its vibrant ruby color from alkanet root. Besides Stripe, her entire line is available on Etsy. | MG

BEST PLACE TO SPOT A BULLOCK’S ORIOLE

WATSONVILLE WETLAND TRAILS

Located along the Pacific Flyway, a vital route used by migratory birds that pass through Santa Cruz County, the Watsonville Wetlands are a prime spot to see more than 200 species of birds. With six miles of walking trails and 29 entry points in local neighborhoods, the pathways are used by joggers, cyclists, hikers, and birders. In 2013, Watsonville created a stir in the national birding community when a common cuckoo was sighted in the sloughs, causing birders from around the country to head to the city in hopes of catching a glimpse. Earlier that same year, a bald eagle was found nesting in the sloughs. The area is also a focal point of the annual Monterey Bay Birding Festival, which occurs during the height of the fall migration in September. | Roseann Hernandez

BEST RESTAURANT DÉCOR

VIVAS ORGANIC MEXICAN FOOD

Trust me on this: The interior of Santa Cruz’s Vivas, with its wooden, shuttered windows and Spanish roof looking down on customers, is no indoor façade. Sure, the front door looks like an entrance from Soquel Avenue, but it’s actually a wormhole to a fancy barrio. Seriously, it even has a gorgeous fountain! We can’t make this up! THEY’RE NOT FAKING! Anyway, this is also a great place to come for chile verde tacos and veggie burritos. Tilapia fish tacos aren’t bad, either. | JACOB PIERCE

BEST MOUNTAIN PROTOCOL

TWO BLINKS

Sometimes when driving up Highway 9 toward Felton, you’ll find yourself being tailgated by a scorching-fast Porsche or Beamer, so you pull over, letting the reckless driver pass. Oftentimes the driver will then turn on his or her emergency flashers for approximately two blinks as they zoom by. We asked around about this practice, and it isn’t something that happens elsewhere in the state, or even the rest of the county. It seems to be the San Lorenzo Valley resident’s way of saying thanks for driving friendly on Highway 9. So, if it actually means “Quit your life, loser, you drive too slow,” could someone from Boulder Creek please let us know? | JP

BEST ROASTED BRUSSELS SPROUTS

STAFF OF LIFE HOT BAR

As a kid, I wouldn’t touch Brussels sprouts, but times have changed and I can now roast a pretty good batch. The local masters of the dish, however, are the chefs at Staff of Life’s hot bar. They have the Brussels sprouts thing totally dialed in. Roasted to perfection, seasoned just right, and finished off with some caramelized onions, they are a Brussels sprouts lover’s dream. Toss into the mix the store’s spacious seating area and compostable utensils, and it’s a win all the way around. | CJ

BEST STREET MUSICIANS

ACQUIRE A CAPPELLA

College a cappella groups have had a big resurgence since the making of the popular movie Pitch Perfect in 2012, and when UCSC’s Acquire A Cappella hits Pacific Avenue, they sweep crowds into the street. Like the best of the new groups, intriguing song selection is part of the draw. They aren’t doing old standards, but reworking unexpected tunes like the Arctic Monkeys’ “Do I Wanna Know?” Smash Mouth’s “All Star” or One Republic’s “Counting Stars” (check them out on YouTube for a sample.) They do some creative and surprising mash-ups and perform with refreshing conviction, a big bright spot for downtown Santa Cruz’s legendary but put-upon busking scene. | BK

BEST ART THEFT

KEVIN DEVANEY’S POEMS

Thirteen rare, handmade chapter books of poetry by Kevin Devaney were stolen from the Art Bar & Cafe at the Tannery Arts Center, where Devaney is a co-owner. “I’ve never been happier about thievery,” says Devaney. “I’m flattered.” The poems were created during Devaney’s work as a street poet on Pacific Avenue, where he types verse on the spot on a vintage typewriter from subjects suggested by passersby. The books disappeared gradually, although each was stamped “Property of the Art Bar. Do not remove.” Nothing else has been taken. To appreciate Devaney’s poetry while avoiding a life of crime, we recommend the poetry open mic on Monday nights at the Art Bar. For the price of a drink, guests revel in insight, inspiration and raucous good fun. | JEANNE HOWARD

BEST HIDDEN BEACH

HIDDEN BEACH

OK, we’re expecting angry phone calls from locals who have been coming to this spot for years, but the people deserve the truth—Hidden Beach is a great find. The beach is accessible via winding paths in Seascape Village, and perhaps what makes this section of shore so special is the journey one has to take to get there—brushing past overhanging branches and hedges, the crush of flora makes the air musky and almost tropical, while the sandstone cliffs loom ever larger as you near the beach. One pathway leads past an old wooden railroad trestle, while others nearer Seascape Beach Resort are paved and better maintained. The six-acre Seascape Park offers a playground, picnic area and ample benches on which to sit and contemplate the breathtaking ocean views. | RH

BEST PLACE TO NOT HAVE A BAD DATE, EVER

LAILI COURTYARD

Yeah, so maybe you went to the beach before your date, where the wind and salt whipped your hair into something resembling a squirrel’s nest that’s resisting all finger-comb attempts to rake it back into submission. And maybe you’re running late, so you just have to rock the wind-tunnel look. And maybe, over appetizers, the date you’re meeting for the first time segues from pleasant getting-to-know-you small talk into a rigorous interview—a maneuver that none too subtly weighs your worthiness of carrying on their family name. Well, set and setting matter a lot, at least when it comes to harnessing an unflappable calm in the treacherous and uncertain world of dating. In Laili’s outdoor courtyard, awkward silences are made graceful by the trickling of the outdoor fountains. Nerves are calmed by lush green foliage—which can double as conversation pieces if you’re at a loss. And the high, ivy-covered walls and open ceiling make even a simple lunch feel like high romance happening in secret (which is nice, the secret part, should everything go wrong). The Silk-Road-spice-infused menu and artfully arranged plates are just a bonus. Based on the surroundings alone, you have to try really hard to have a bad date at Laili. | MG

BEST MECHANIC FOR NEEDY CARS

TIGER MOTORS

When you drive a 23-year-old car with 301,000 miles on it, you get to be something of an expert on local mechanics. Santa Cruz has its share of great ones, and a few turkeys, but no one has done better for my beloved almost-classic car than Garrett Cotton at Tiger Motors. Two things about him: 1. His prices are half what I paid for similar repairs at other shops.

If you want, he will take you into the garage, check under the hood and then put the car on a lift so you can see underneath. He explains and shows you everything he’s talking about so well that even the most non-mechanical person can understand what he’s doing and why. It’s like a mechanic’s school for dummies. 2. He’s honest to a fault. He tells me to get rid of my old Lexus, which some see as a clunker, even though it would cut into his bottom line. The other day I took my car to one of those chain stores that sell tires and give you free alignments. They came back with a list of $1,200 worth of problems. Cotton did the work for $600 and pointed out that some of their “problems” were not even there. Raar! | BK

BEST BAKERY INSTAGRAM FEED

EditorsPick BestBakeryInstagramFeedFIREFLY COFFEE HOUSE

“Fuel for an adventure” is the hashtag often used by Firefly Coffee House’s employees, and they couldn’t put it any better. Each morning, creative and sumptuous baked goods appear on their Instagram feed (@fireflycoffee), hot out of the oven and just asking to be whisked away for a coastal tromp or pre-surf nosh. Highlights include cinnamon rolls (Wednesdays and Saturdays), espresso brownies, bagel sandwiches and our current favorite: bacon-cheddar-sweet onion corn muffins. Wash it all down with a hand-steeped chai. #yum. | MG

BEST SOUTH COUNTY BREAKFAST BURRITO

PALM DELI

We aren’t sure that anyone has actually ever answered “no” to the question: “Do you want us to throw this on the panini machine and crisp it up a little?” Um, yes, we do! Because something magical happens when you put an already pretty awesome breakfast burrito on a panini machine: it transforms into an irresistibly delicious, flaky, gooey, crispy meal that keeps you satisfied for hours. Made with free-range Glaum eggs, the breakfast burrito menu at Palm Deli in Aptos stars a vegetarian option called “Nature’s Best,” which involves sauteed peppers, onions and mushrooms along with melted cheese and locally laid eggs. It’s massive—almost enough for breakfast and lunch—but it really it doesn’t matter what meal you’re trying to satisfy, because Palm Deli serves breakfast all day long. | MG

BEST BRIDGE

CAPITOLA RAILROAD TRUSS

The Capitola Railroad Truss over Soquel Creek is more than a transportation feature along Santa Cruz County’s train corridor. The towering wall of interlocking iron beams is an artifact of mid-county, adding a rustic quality to the otherwise preppy Capitola Village. And who knows? Maybe someday passengers will be able to enjoy it on train rides to and from Watsonville. This bridge is also the best place to watch the Capitola Begonia Festival, as the flower-covered floats drift under the bridge and onlookers “ooh” and “ah” from all around. JP


 

About the Illustrator

tim bio photoThe illustrator for this issue, Tim Eagan, has been cartooning professionally since the early 1970s, after discovering there weren’t that many laughs to be found in the legal profession. His single-panel work has appeared in a number of alternative weeklies, and his comic strip “Subconscious Comics” ran in alternative publications nationwide for 20 years.

Here in Santa Cruz, his work has appeared over the years in Good Times, The Comic News, The Santa Cruz Times, Sundaz, The Santa Cruz Independent (a newspaper he started with Richard Cole), The Phoenix, The Express, The Sun and more.

While working as a cartoonist, Eagan has also found himself employed as a carpenter, teacher, editor, publisher, graphic designer, domemaker, and a contributor of radio comedy to KUSP and NPR’s “All Things Considered.” He also made an unsuccessful run for Santa Cruz County District attorney in 1978 (on the Cartoon Party ticket).

His comic “Deep Cover” has been running since the mid-’90s, when it began as a regular feature in the San Francisco Examiner. It can be found now in a variety of other outlets across the country and online, including at Timeagan.com.

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