Santa Cruz Women restaurant industry, Ella King, owner of Watsonville’s Ella’s at the Airport (pictured) and Cafe Ella
Dining Reviews

Celebrating Santa Cruz Women in the Restaurant Industry

Ella King, owner of Watsonville’s Ella’s at the Airport (pictured) and Cafe Ella. PHOTO: KEANA PARKER

For the next 10 days the media spotlight shines on women making history—in the boardrooms, on the streets, and at the stove. So think about putting your money where your mouths are this week and supporting one of our fine Santa Cruz area dining rooms led by a woman. Grubhub is supporting an initiative called RestaurantHer, devoted to seasoning the restaurant industry with equality for women. You might be interested in checking out the site and perhaps helping out with a modest financial match. (I have Paul Cocking to thank for this intel.)

When I think of local places that have been launched or strengthened by tough and talented women, I think of Patrice Boyle’s La Posta and Soif. Germaine Akin of Red, 515 and Splash. Of Gema Cruz, managing the kitchen and creating the aromatic plates at Gabriella. And Ella King, whose name and talent fuels two dining spots in Watsonville. The kitchen at Assembly, co-founded by Kendra Baker, is finessed by chef Jessica Yarr. Oh, yes, and there are bakery cafes launched by Gayle Ortiz (Gayle’s), Kelly Sanchez (Kelly’s), and Erin Lampel (Companion Bakeshop). There are others. But not enough. Only 19 percent of the chefs in this country are women—and they earn 28 percent less in base pay than their male counterparts. Only 33 percent of restaurant businesses are majority-owned by women, according to the initiative. So now’s a good time to dine in solidarity with these local businesses founded and/or run by women. March is Women’s History Month.


Garden Variety Cheese Open House

Here’s a chance to savor the authentic food craft of former Gabriella Cafe chef Rebecca King. Mark May 5 on your calendar and prepare to be charmed senseless as you tour King’s panoramic Monkeyflower Ranch, where you can pet baby lambs and tour the farmstead cheese-making dairy. Tastings, photo ops, meat, eggs, and cheeses for sale. A true day in the northern Monterey countryside on the 40-acre ranch of a remarkable entrepreneuse.


Landmark on Cruise Control

I have enjoyed El Palomar since the early days. And who doesn’t love the idea of savoring authentic Mexican cuisine in the retro interior of the historic Palomar Hotel ballroom. The barrel vaulted ceiling with decorated beams, the tall fireplaces and vintage paintings. Definitely landmark. But the difficulty of being a landmark is that you need to maintain your track record. Last week my order of pozole was aromatic with lemon, pico de gallo, and slow-simmered pork. This classic Mexican stew is one of my favorite comfort dishes, and El Palomar’s version was quite good. Fat nuggets of white hominy interlaced with shredded cabbage, and a squeeze of lemon added welcome bite to the rich pork, cumin and tomato broth.

I ordered the house margarita, my companion a St. Pauli Girl beer. My margarita arrived, but not the beer. I ordered the pozole, my companion ordered the tacos de mariscos and explained to the server that he would like whole pinto beans, not refried beans. Our server happily bobbed her head. But when his order arrived, it arrived with refried beans, and not the whole pintos that he’d ordered. Our server happily whisked away his plate. So we sat there, one with an entree, the other without one, and the pace of dinner thrown way off.  Butter was requested for the warm flour tortillas. But no butter arrived. The tacos themselves were curiously dry and spongy. Where were those insanely delicious house-made corn tortillas for which El Palomar had always been famous? My margarita, however, was expertly made. The smoky perfume of tequila always puts me squarely on the Playa la Ropa in Zihua. Just a hint of triple sec, lime and a crunchy salt rim. Textbook margarita, one of the great cocktails of all time. (Maybe it’s the lunch tacos I fondly recalled.)

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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