Dining Reviews

Unpacking a Delicious Takeout Meal from Pizzeria Avanti

Plus, the hot and zesty joys of the Gyro Pita at Nick the Greek

Hugo Martinez dresses a pizza hot out of the oven for a takeout order at Pizzeria Avanti in Santa Cruz. PHOTO: TARMO HANNULA

When I got home, I unpacked three containers from Pizzeria Avanti. One was the obvious flat pizza box containing our prosciutto and arugula pizza on gluten-free crust. Another large box was filled with a variety of local greens, tomatoes and shredded carrots, plus balsamic vinaigrette in its own tiny container. The third small box was filled with fresh from the grill sliced chicken breast to add to the salad. Smart, keeping the warm chicken separate from the cool lettuces. I put them together on my salad plate and added the dressing before serving. Jack scooped up huge pre-sliced triangles of pizza onto our plates. Everything was incredibly easy to organize, and as we sat down it almost felt like we were seated at our favorite table at the Westside neighborhood haunt. 

We ate our dinner of pizza and salad with eight candles burning, the last portions of two bottles of Pinot Noir (from Alfaro and Birichino), music for lucid dreaming playing on the iPad and a field full of redwing blackbirds singing out the screen door at twilight. A huge bouquet of maroon hydrangeas from my friend’s garden (and the Victorian era) watched over our meal. It was the best of a delicious restaurant meal served in our own home, the way many of our dinners are these days. We try to honor the food by providing a special setting without reinventing our lifestyle. 

It is hard to choose among the pizzeria’s pies, but we opted for the classic “Avanti,” which the pizzeria named after itself ($17). The surprisingly good gluten-free crust is both crisp and tender, topped with a slick of tomato sauce, then prosciutto di Parma, parmigiano reggiano, with an overall layer of arugula tossed in sherry shallot dressing. That’s the secret, putting a sparkling arugula salad on top of the pizza, every bite a little journey. 

The salad of mixed greens ($8) is simple and delicious, but becomes something more robust when slices of grilled Mary’s chicken breast are added (+$7). The fresh grilled chicken tasted like a rosticceria on Rome’s Via Margutta, the perfection of simple setting and time-honored cooking and a salad with dressing as moody as the dream-inducing music. Such a pleasure. 

The two pinot noirs, both vintage 2018, added pleasures of their own. The Alfaro Family Vineyards “A” Pinot Noir ($23) was a balance of cherries, raspberries and a gently tannic finish. A wine you could sip all day long. The Birichino Saint Georges Pinot Noir ($28) launched itself on a slab of minerals and spice, and didn’t let go. Both wines, 13.5% alcohol, spoke from different quadrants of the Santa Cruz Mountain wine-growing region. Lucky us! 

1711 Mission St., Santa Cruz. Open Friday-Saturday 5-9:30pm, and Sunday-Thursday 5-9pm. pizzeriaavanti.net

Greek Treats

Students are back to discovering the hot and zesty joys of the Gyro Pita at Nick the Greek, hot soft pita filled with seasoned lamb and beef, partnered with tzatziki sauce, tomatoes and fries. The sort of lunch that Socrates would have loved, though I doubt he had french fries. $10.45 with extra fries and feta. Pick up or stop by Nick the Greek to dine on site at 1133 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz. Open daily 11am-11pm.

Eggplant Avanti

Gooey with melted cheese and tomatoey sauce, tender slices of eggplant are serious comfort food thanks to the cooks at Avanti Restaurant, a few blocks up the street from its once-conjoined sibling. Given constant grooming by restaurateurs Jonathan and Tatiana Glass, Avanti offers attractive patio seating and a menu that leans toward Italianate specialties, hence the unreasonably excellent eggplant parmigiana, festooned with soft fresh melted mozzarella ($15). Perhaps it’s time to revisit some classics. Avanti has.

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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