Breakfast in Santa Cruz – A six month sojourn (Long)
For reasons I won’t bore you with, I had found myself in Santa Cruz with about 4 hours to kill, every other Saturday morning at about 10:00 for the last six months. My hour and fifteen minute trips there from my home in the East Bay have now come to an end, and I thought I would share my highly subjective take on the local breakfast scene. Many of the establishments I tried had been recommended at one point or another on this site.
To make the comparison somewhat fair, I ordered an omelet or something similar at each. I have listed them below in order of preference from least to most and awarded them stars from 2 to 5. Not one got less than 2. What they all had in common was great service. There was always someone checking on how the food was, and to pour another cup of coffee (with the exception of Kelly’s-see below).
I really wanted to like this place, so much so that I went there two times in a row. It has a very funky feel and I could see myself just hanging there reading the paper and drinking coffee for hours. Unfortunately, I found the food bland. From the pastry of the day, to the bacon, bland, bland, bland.
The somewhat limited choices, the fact that you have to bus your own table, and no one to refill your coffee, keep this from a higher rating. What does come out of the kitchen is very tasty though. And the pastry selection is terrific.
Café Brazil ****
Outstanding coffee. Great omelets. And those killer banana pancakes. Oh yes, a waitress that looks like Gwyneth Paltrow, but I digress. I probably would have given it a higher rating but what’s up with serving hard French bread with the omelet? OK, I said this was subjective. I would go back just for the coffee though, and did.
Silver Spur ****
With the look and feel of a diner, great tasty food, with friendly waitresses. The wait for a table can be long. So, if you’re by yourself, sign up for a counter seat and watch the cooks work – wow!
Walnut Avenue Café ****1/2
Great flavors emerge from this kitchen. The bacon is fantastic as were the hash browns. I did not try their Mexican egg variations but they certainly looked good on the plates of my neighbors. The pricing here truly represents a great value.
Hoffman’s Bakery ****1/2
I went here twice. I had the omelet the first time and the eggs benedict the second. Both were outstanding. The scone they comp you at the start of the meal is a great touch and has been wonderful each time. The atmosphere is lovely here, and is the type of place you would not think twice about bringing your parents to. It was very hard to resist the pastries as well. Also, great espresso.
515 Kitchen and Cocktails *****
I decided to try this on my last visit. Truthfully, if I was planning to continue my trips to Santa Cruz, I might not have even mentioned this place out of fear of having to wait for a table the next time. They start serving “brunch” at 10. They start you with these great warm biscuits accompanied by honey butter. The omelet’s ingredients were vibrant, as were the sweet potato home fries (with fresh rosemary) that accompanied it. The coffee was individual French Press - Yum. Clearly, this is a place that takes pride in what they serve and has someone in their kitchen that knows what they are doing. If I had come here first, I probably would never have made it to the other places. And at 10:15, I was their first customer and remained the only one sitting upstairs the entire time I was there. Where is everybody? By the way, the pricing was not significantly different than any of the others. I need to try this place for dinner sometime.
So there you have it. I may be starting another six month sojourn in November, so if there are places I missed or new ones that open, post it. I’ll be watching this board.
You missed a couple of legends-with-the-locals in there: Cliff Cafe (815 41st Avenue, Capitola), a favorite with surfers, as it's close to Pleasure Point, and Linda's Seabright Cafe (alas for the lame website, which doesn't furnish the address of the cafe, courtesy of the design team who uses half the page to promote themselves instead). Thank heavens for Google: it's at 542 Seabright Ave., Santa Cruz.
Both of these places are rather like the Silver Spur (owned by Linda of Linda's Seabright Cafe): popular for a reason. (Cliff Cafe, though, apparently serves margarine with its pancakes. Eeesh.)
I've never been a big fan of either Zachary's or Walnut Cafe: the former because it's just too much a melange of hippie cooking and unskilled staff, and the latter because there is uniformly unripe fruit served with everything. I do like their huevos rancheros, though.
Do not, under any circumstances, be lured to Paula's on Portola. It's the most disgusting excuse for food I have ever seen emitted from a professional kitchen. I'm talking rancid here.
You might go to the farmers market on the west side on Satuday mornings—Highway One at Western Drive (the last traffic light out of town, as you're heading to Davenport). River Cafe and Cheese Shop serves pastries, muffins, cookies, cheeses, and Gabriella Cafe has focaccia with various toppings, tamales, breakfast sandwiches (sausage/eggs, smoked trout/goat cheese, stuff like that), and there is live music with seating. The market is from 9:00AM - 2:00PM, I think. (The Sunday market, on East Cliff and 15th Avenue, also features Gabriella Cafe as well as Frog Hollow farm pastries, crepes from Nina, and Beckmann's Bakery. It, too, features live music and seating. This market is from 10:00AM - 2:00 PM, and will reopen the first Sunday in May.) These, honestly, are my favorite breakfasts in the county, at least on a warm and sunny day. The market manager finds good local musicians, and it's a very pleasant social scene.
Thanks for the report! So nice to have a breakfast round up since visitors often ask and I don't tend to eat breakfast out. I can see what you mean about Zachary's, but the two items that I have liked enough there were the corned beef hash and the gourmet burger. We just tried Walnut Ave. Cafe on Sat. and I thought the food itself was just ok (the ambiance and service were great though). I agree with you on Hoffman's. The benedict and scones are very good.
Let's see, I was going to mention Linda's Seabreeze (not Seabright) Cafe. The wait has always looked horrible, so I've never been. In the yacht harbor area, I like to linger at Aldo's which serves breakfast and lunch. I think they serve breakfast til 1pm or so.
There's also a locals hangout called Harbor Cafe on 7th or 17th Ave that I've wondered about. Anyone have an opinion? If you like bakeries, then you could try The Buttery on Soquel Ave. by Shopper's Corner. I like their croissants. They've expanded which has made the ambiance more chaotic and less charming IMO but it's worth checking out.
There are some taquerias around town and Watsonville that serve up breakfast fare, although I don't have personal experience. Anyone been to The Roadhouse in Davenport for brunch lately?