Coronavirus

Gilda’s Closes As Local Restaurants Try to Outlast COVID-19

Venus Spirits is among those adapting amid the pandemic

Mentone’s pizza and negroni pairing can’t be beat. PHOTO: ALYSSA TWELKER

Restaurants aren’t simply about the food; they are about the lively embrace of ambiance and camaraderie. And even though that part of the experience is now missing—and when it returns the whole game plan will be noticeably altered—many food places continue to provide their signature dishes for curbside pickup. 

Many results have been surprisingly successful. VinoCruz is offering small plates, Barceloneta offers a very short list, while Alderwood has just ballooned itself into brunch, dinner and an all-day menu for pickup. The seafaring entrepreneurs of Ocean2Table have evolved creative partnerships with friends like Companion Bakeshop and La Posta—adding fresh egg pasta, fogline chicken, and Pajaro Pastures to their orders of fresh catch seafood and veggies from a suite of top local organic growers. Freshly made foods from Steamer Lane Supply include a sensational carnitas-for-two kit (more on that in my next column), plus salsas, kimchi, burritos, and pulled pork sandwiches. They pack high-wattage flavors. 

Steamer Lane Supply, 644-670 West Cliff Drive, Santa Cruz. steamerlanesc.com. 9am-6:30pm daily.

Some have taken this moment to make a graceful exit. “It is with a very heavy heart,” Laura Stagnaro Paz announced last week, “that my family is announcing the closure of Gilda’s Restaurant, their long-standing restaurant on the Santa Cruz Wharf. The Stagnaro family wishes to thank all staff and patrons for their loyalty and friendship over the years.” No words.

Pizza of the Gods: Mentone

Not since that last trip to Italy three years ago have I tasted such inspired pizza. I parked in front of Mentone and a masked man (it was three-star Michelin man David Kinch himself) placed a well-filled brown shopping bag in my trunk. 

The feast began at home when we emptied the crafty plastic container, plus decorative lemon peels, into glasses filled with ice cubes. A perfect balance of crimson Campari, carpano antica, and Nolets gin, each bracing Negroni earned its price tag ($13).

Next we scooped up the Caesar salad for two into our favorite bowls, and finally brought a slice each of wood-fired pizza margherita ($17) and pizza formaggi (four cheeses $19). From paper thin crust to sensuous toppings dusted with red peppers and drizzles of pesto, the pies were sensational. The Caesar salad of chicories with addictive anchovy dressing ($18) absolutely set off the pizza. Or maybe it was vice versa. 

But let’s just say that the drive to Aptos (quicker than usual) was worth its weight in parmesan. Kinch has transformed pizza into a special occasion entree. The curbside pickup was smooth, and the pizza was almost as delicious the next day. 

Mentone, 174 Aptos Village Way, Aptos. Mentonerestaurant.com. 3-7pm Wednesday-Saturday.  

Venus Spirits

Sean Venus was all set to open a new restaurant adjoining his artisanal distillery. But a pandemic got in the way. So thirsty regulars are stopping by for curbside pickup of Venus Spirits cocktails in designer cans. 

“We are doing fine,” Venus says. “Our business has definitely shifted. Curbside pick ups have allowed us to keep paying all of our employees. Our hearts go out to our restaurant partners that have had to close their doors or reduce their operations.” 

Construction on the new facility has ceased. And this week they had another setback when chef John Paul Lechtenberg “decided not to continue with us,” Venus says. Currently looking for a new chef, Venus anticipates a July opening. Meanwhile, online orders of Venus Spirits bottles and canned cocktails are keeping things afloat. 

“On Tuesdays we celebrate Tonic Tuesday with discount can cocktails and spirit of the week. It’s been a huge success,” Venus says.  

Venus Spirits, 427 A Swift St., Santa Cruz. venusspirits.com


Check out our continually updating list of local takeout and delivery options.

Christina Waters was born in Santa Cruz and raised all over the world (thanks to an Air Force dad), with real-world training in painting, music, winetasting, trail running, organic gardening, and teaching. She has a PhD in Philosophy, teaches in the Arts at UCSC and sings with the UCSC Concert Choir. Look for her recent memoir “Inside the Flame” at bookstores everywhere.

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