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Jul 30, 2011 12:40 PM

Another week (and a half) of vacation with the family in Santa Cruz

We enjoyed our stay in Santa Cruz last summer - so much so that we're slated to come back for another week and a half starting in the second week of August. Here's my report from last summer:

Now that we have a better feel for the lay of the area, we plan on revisiting many places. We are staying a little further north from our first trip - around Wood's Lagoon. We're hoping to be a little more centrally located around Santa Cruz. I've read through a couple of Santa Cruz-related threads:

The second was recently started by poster emglow101, who recently finished an extended stay in LA. He posted extensively about Mariscos Chente, a Mexican eatery specializing in seafood from the Sinaloa/Nayarit area along the Pacific coast. He appreciated the focus that chef Sergio Penuelas had to his kitchen, and was wowed by the results. I think all of us Hounds appreciate such efforts in those who create in their kitchens, breweries, bakeries, cellars, etc. I'm getting that vibe from El Salchichero. Are there any other places that come to mind?

We will have a similar profile as last summer. Our four-legged kid - now 14 1/2 years young - will be with us again. Our two kids are still kids but are good when it comes to food. We will be hitting the Boardwalk at least once, and plan on hitting the beaches, probably the mountains, and hoping to have a lot of down time in between to soak up local food and drink. I splay myself open to any and all suggestions. Thanks!

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  1. 20 min south of S.C. on hwy 1 is Phils Fish Market in Moss Landing. Best in the bay. Not to miss is the Central Texan BBQ.30 mins south from S.C. Hwy 1 Don Haskins has been smoking his meat over oak for many years. Large plates of food. $ 20 This is one of a kind.

    Central Texan BBQ
    10500 Merritt St, Castroville, CA 95012

    1. Day One: We arrived in Santa Cruz a lot later than expected - around 4PM on Tuesday. We're staying adjacent to the harbor (Crow's Nest, Aldo's). After settling in and doing a little shopping for sundries, it was already dinner time. We didn't want to hit the places by the harbor, we didn't want to drive around, so we walked to Seabright Brewery - about five minutes or so - because our kids were pining for burgers and our dog needed to stretch his legs after the hours in the car.

      We visited Seabright Brewery on our last trip. The food is above average, the service is relatively quick and friendly, parents can settle back and choose a good to great brew, the menu is kid-friendly and our dog is presented with his own bowl of water. Like on our last visit, the place delivered what we wanted. The one caviat from our perspective is that this place is very popular, so the wait for a seat can be long, even midweek. Seabright has a special on their beers on Tuesdays so I think this kicks up business even more. We waited about 20-25 minutes and it was only 6PM.

      We had the steamed clams, baked brie w/ roasted garlic and cranberries, a few burgers and the fish tacos. No complaints, and the brew is still good to great. My wife had the amber, I had the stout - okay, two - and we all walked back to our place happy and satisfied. Seabright's stout is very good IMHO.

      Seabright Brewery
      519 Seabright Ave Ste 107, Santa Cruz, CA 95062

      3 Replies
      1. re: bulavinaka

        Seabright Brewery has always been solid. Real nice for lunch when the sunshine is out. I have heard nothing but good from La Posta across the street. I have yet to try. Plenty to try with all the other input.I still love Phils Fish Market in Moss Landing. The large bowl of cioppino with salad. This has always been my favorite Excellent for these foggy days. Go for lunch and avoid the weekends. Plus I have seen people with their dog's sitting near the entrance of the covered porch. Big menu, easy drive, why not.

        La Posta
        538 Seabright Avenue, Santa Cruz, CA 95062

        Seabright Brewery
        519 Seabright Ave Ste 107, Santa Cruz, CA 95062

        1. re: emglow101

          I really liked the stout at Seabright Brewery. solid flavors, nice mouthfeel and ABV not too high. The burger meat is grilled to doneness as well. Seabright has a lot going on by this intersection. We were planning on going to La Posta, but we were pretty beat after mountain biking in Aptos. We all felt like something simple where we could chill out in t-shirts and shorts. We had noticed both La Posta (their posted menu looks great) and Engfer Pizza Works after having breakfast at Linda's Seabreeze yesterday and gave Engfer a whirl. Their pizzas are very good - not artisan stuff where they're following some strict Italian guidelines but good local organic ingredients with tasty pizza dough baked in a wood-fired oven. Great beer selection - both tap and bottled - and wines to boot. Enjoyable local place. It's very casual and families make up about half of the tables here, so having an intimate dinner isn't in the picture.

          We hope to make it to Phil's in the next few days. Since we were already south in Aptos, Phil's was on our list, but a nice cold pint at Britannia Arms won out our midday plans - they are directly adjacent to the road that heads into the the State park. All the jokes about food at British pubs don't apply here. It's not crazy good gastropub stuff, but the fish and chips are actually very serviceable and the steamed mussels tasted like they were just picked off the rocks.

          Linda's Seabreeze Cafe
          542 Seabright Ave, Santa Cruz, CA 95062

          Britannia Arms
          8017 Soquel Dr, Aptos, CA 95003

          Seabright Brewery
          519 Seabright Ave Ste 107, Santa Cruz, CA 95062

          Engfer Pizza Works
          537 Seabright Ave, Santa Cruz, CA 95062

      2. Day Two: After getting a good night's sleep, we went to breakfast at Linda's Seabreeze Cafe on Sseabright. The places to eat around Seabright and Murray seems to be growing since last summer. It's to our good fortune since this intersection is about five to 10 minutes walk from where we are staying.

        We like the vibe of these local breakfast houses and cafes. Many of the customers are regulars, service is always friendly and attentive, and the food is very good to great. All of the above applies to LInda's. Great coffee to start with - definitely more heft and flavor than the standard restaurant coffee. We ordered The Greek Scramble, The Little Bit, and specials; omelet with plantains, black beans and rice, and the oat/cornmeal waffle topped with fruit. All of the dishes were quite good, but The Greek Scramble stood out. The fresh basil was stellar and abundant, and the feta and olives pulled the dish together. The eggs in general tasted fresh. I've mentioned this in the past about so many of the places we've enjoyed here - the agricultural components often seem to be at a much higher level than what one typically finds in LA. Even the slice of orange garnish was sweet as candy here. I totally get why this place is popular.

        After hearing that El Salchichero was in full operation and poster emglow101's stamp of approval, we headed over to Swift Street for a quick revisit to one of my favorite food centers. El Salchichero is a serious butcher shop that excels in charcuterie. The relatively small storefront and counter is not to be dismissed. The depth of this unit is fully utilized for their artisan endeavors. To many, jewelry can seem the same no matter where it is offered. For those that have an eye for detail and quality, a typical jewelry store in the local mall probably won't do. The offerings in the case at the front counter of El Salchichero are similar in my mind. Like many of the respected food providers here, El Salchichero is very particular about their sourcing. Terms like, "organic", "sustainably raised and pastured" and "local producers and farmers" came up often while talking with one of the gentlemen who served us. Add this with the time and effort that goes in behind the counter, plus a couple of dashes of whim and creativity,. and the result of all of this shines in their products. You won't find case after case piled with foam trays of commodity meats. This place is the real deal. Two modest cases display trays of supertb meats cut and trimmed with an expert hand. The rabbit - whole carcass - could have been hopping around in alfalfa a couple of hours ago. The sausages, pate, rillettes and torchon are offered either by the pound or in pre-apportioned amounts that seem just right for about four eaters.

        We picked up a "Chicken Torchon," Pate Campagnola and two flavors of beef jerky. So far, we've tried and really liked the Chicken Torchon and the beef jerky. This chicken is basically a whole deboned chicken that is stuffed with seasonings, rolled and cured. Preparation for serving is pretty simple - brown all sides in a saute pan until the skin is browned and crisp, and the bird is warmed through. This is one of the best birds I've enjoyed in a long time. The skin was so flavorful, the meat moist and succulent, and the seasonings inside complemented but didn't overpower the qualities inherent to this tasty bird. One of the seasonings used was mandarin orange peel - really nice touch. The bird will give off some juices. Save the juices and make a simple sauce to serve with the bird. The jerky is very tasty, but be warned that the spicy version is exactly that. We hoped to enjoy the pate some time this weekend and I will report back. By the way, since El Salchichero does their own smoking and curing (of course), this opens them up to some creative license. We were told that they are starting to put some of their pate and rillettes in the smoker to add an additional flavor dimension. The pate Campognola has some of that smoke treatment so we are very curious about trying this. El Salchichero regularly appears at the local Farmers Markets - I encourage you to stop by their stall or head to their brick & mortar. Santa Cruz is so fortunate to have this level of a local provider.

        Linda's Seabreeze Cafe
        542 Seabright Ave, Santa Cruz, CA 95062

        El Salchichero
        402 Ingalls St #5, Santa Cruz, CA 95060

        1. Day Two Continued: After enjoying our visit to El Salchichero, we visited a few of the shops including the yarn shop in the courtyard by Kelly's French Bakery (my wife is a knitting demon). Of course, she was lost amongst all of the yarny things, so the kids and I went to Kelly's for lunch.

          For those who haven't been to Kelly's, it's probably the de facto epicenter of Swift Street, offering just about all types of baked goods and doing it well. They also serve food for most of the day, closing in the early evening. With its high ceilings and spacious courtyard, Kelly's is a comfortable place to visit. The food is very good, the baked selection has lots of gems, and sitting around enjoying a cuppa with a nice meal or pastry in either their courtyard or their dining area is a simple pleasure.

          We ordered a couple of sandwiches, the obligatory burger and fries for my daughter (she's still working on developing a broader taste spectrum), a kale salad, some cookies and a strawberry rhubarb tartlet. I hate to keep repeating myself, but it's so obvious that agricultural components from local Santa Cruz providers really shine. Couple this with people who are deft in the kitchen and know how to play the ingredients and the results are going to impress - at least this Angeleno. The apples in my grilled cheese and apple sandwich were tasty and just tart; the kale salad was alive with freshness; the strawberries and rhubarb danced on my tongue. The lunch was a great first lunch for our vacation. We grabbed one of their popular compagnon for dinner to go with the chicken torchon from El Salchichero for the basis of a nice meal.

          Swift Street had a few changes and alterations from our first visit. Kelly's ice cream window seems to have retracted into Kelly's proper, but the biggest change I noticed was the addition of New Leaf Community Market on the corner of Fairview and Ingalis. I have mixed feelings about this. Yes, they are a nice alternative to Whole Foods - as much as I enjoy WF's beer and cheese selections, I disdain their prices in general and the corporateness of a market niche that should be anything but that. New Leaf has a similar feel and product lines - probably a bit more abbreviated. I am hoping that the local neighborhood appreciates their presence as it seems to fit and will hopefully give the WF on Mission a run for their money. I only gave the store a quick look over, and noticed the wine department covers a fair amount of floor space, the beer selection is relatively small but filled with a fair amount of serious beers, the cheese department is about on par with the average WF, as are the meat and seafood departments. My only concern is that this New Leaf overlaps with many of the businesses that make Swift Street what it is. The wine tasting rooms, Kelly's, El Salchichero, and Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing are in direct competition with the various departments of New Leaf. If I had my way, the type of store that would have been a nice complement to Swift Street would be something akin to Cowgirl Creamery in Point Reyes Station. Wonderful cheeses, a simple food counter offering foods ideal for picnicking, and a produce stand to round out a meal. After that, I think a fish monger might be the final piece to complete the puzzle. I guess time will tell if this new addition works out with the much smaller businesses on Swift Street.

          Kelly's French Bakery
          402 Ingalls St, Santa Cruz, CA

          1. Day Two continued: After gathering up the basics for a good meal (Chicken Torchon @ El Salchichero, compagnon @ Kelly's), we went to the Wednesday Downtown Farmers Market on Cedar. This FM is huge, covering the whole block at Cedar and Lincoln. The market organizers here have such a great problem: how to edit the list of various farmers, producers and craft folks down to the best of the best. Outstanding produce was obvious at every stand. We didn't try the food since it was a couple hours from dinner, but we could have easily pulled together an impromptu dinner here.

            Stone fruits are in high gear right now. The depth is unbelievable - some stands offered up to six varieties of white nectarines, four of the yellow, and multiple varieties of peaches, pluots, etc. If you haven't hit the local FMs in a while, it's really time to do so.

            We looked over as many stands as we could, purchasing produce for the next couple of days from the names I recognized like Swanton Berry, Kashiwase and Frog Hollow. Just to attest to the depth of the FM, we also found three or four stands that offered Padron peppers - all certified organic or at last practicing organic - which we thought was amazing. It seems this type of pepper is very popular up this way - we love them but rarely find any in LA, even at the local FMs. The closest type of pepper we find regularly are the shishito, which are very similar but slightly different in flavor (more smoke, slightly firmer). We grabbed a couple of baskets of those as well.

            The bounty we came home with made for a nice dinner made up of nothing but local ingredients (even our olive oil is from Frog Hollow). This was a nice day for food.