Photo Gallery

Thursday, February 17, 2011

A Tasty Tour of Santa Cruz: Five Favorite Flavors

I have lived in Santa Cruz long enough to sample plenty of the local restaurant fare. As the song goes "these are a few of my favorite things" and trying to tell others about them is like trying to describe air. So the logical solution was just to plan a food excursion to enjoy them first hand. And I could think of no better person to imbibe with than my good foodie friend, Stacie Tamaki from The Flirty Guide. On our January food adventure Stacie and I headed north to sample the street food of San Francisco including carts, stands and trucks.

Here was our Santa Cruz food tour itinerary with five specific foods targeted:

1. Cinnamon Roll at the Seabreeze Café
2. Garden Wrap at Charlie Hong Kong
3. Veggie Burger at Betty's Burgers
4. Peanut Butter Cookie at The Buttery
5. Artisan Ice Cream at The Penny Ice Creamery

Our first stop was one I have made many times and actually blogged about it last month. Seabreeze Café, a popular breakfast spot is known for their homemade-style cinnamon rolls and also features a daily muffin special. While I normally order their Huevos Rancheros yesterday, we both tried the hot cinnamon roll and freshly baked Apricot Almond muffin. Once again they never disappoint in the bakery department. Here are photos of their specialty baked pastries as they were served and then as we partook.

As we indulged and snapped away with our cameras it was pretty obvious to our server that we were not just your average pair stopping by to enjoy their famous breakfast menu. She told us that the owner, Tex, had just made a peach cobbler and asked if we'd like to see it. We said "bring it on" but just for looks as we had many miles of munchies ahead for us. This first stop on our food tour of Santa Cruz was no place to over do it. At that point we were fully aware of the need to pace ourselves for the rest of the tasty endeavors ahead. This first photo is just the pastry top of the peach cobbler which resembled a mountain range of crusty biscuit-y goodness.

And then slipping off to a side view of the baking dish the sweet peaches rest below in syrup. This dessert choice will be much to the delight of the those who will be making the Sea Breeze Café their lunch destination this afternoon.

Stop #2 was at the wildly popular Santa Cruz iconic purveyor of Asian Street Food, Charlie Hong Kong. This unassuming little spot rests on one of the busiest corners in town where Soquel Avenue and Seabright Avenue meet.

I am a self-admitted sucker for spring rolls of any kind. But Charlie's garden rolls are in a league of their own. My first shot is one of the whole plate showing the tangy Hoisin Sauce on the side. For $2.95 you get marinated carrots, daikon, avocado, rice vermicelli noodles, fresh cilantro and mint rolled in a rice paper wrap. This roll has subtle flavors but can knock you off the picnic bench seats on their patio.

Zooming in for detail I found myself wanting to just climb inside this bundle of organic goodness.

Stacie could not resist the green curry bowl on the menu but she did not exactly have to twist my arm into ordering it.

This organic Asian street food tastes so good that I kept thinking the closer I get the better chance you will have of tasting it. :-)

Stop #3 was Betty's Burgers where they boast "Juicy Patties & Hot Buns." When it comes to burgers nobody does it better than Betty. Their menu just shines with simplicity. It is classic burgers, shakes and fries food but all done with care and not just speed.

Surprise surprise, we ordered a burger and fries! We opted for their house made veggie patty they call "Tracks in the Grass." Every Betty burger comes standard equipped with lettuce, tomatoes, red onions, dill pickles and Betty's special lube which is a mayonnaise based secret sauce.

Zooming in on my burger shows the beautiful layers and precision building which has made Betty's an overnight sensation in Santa Cruz and now at their new Capitola location too.

And not taking a backseat to anything on their menu are the fries. They are shoestring in size and so super crispy they must be double fried. These fries as well as their onion rings are so on point that you must eat them to believe.

It was getting time for dessert and that meant our last two stops were for sweets. First we swung into another Santa Cruz landmark, a bakery called The Buttery.

Everything they make at this bakery is excellent but The Buttery makes my Taste of Santa Cruz list for their peanut butter cookies. These cookies have solid peanut butter flavor throughout but the good amount of peanut clusters around the edge takes them over the top.

So last but certainly not least was Stop #5 at one of the newest members of the Santa Cruz food scene, The Penny Ice Creamery. Did Santa Cruz need another ice cream shop? They did when it makes small batches of gourmet ice cream completely from scratch in house with local organic ingredients.

The Penny Ice Creamery is a model for any small business. Your first impression of this shop is snappy. They are not only experts in making artisan ice cream in unique flavors but also wetting your appetite with branding and merchandising. Here's just a taste of the place starting with their story that is prominently displayed at the front door.

Even the iron sculptures, store sign and counter tops are indigenous to Santa Cruz created by local artists from Five Feet From The Moon.

The menu board greets you right on their front porch and obviously changes daily with whatever ingredients are fresh and available.

How cool (or should I say cold) is this little ice cream cart! It is not only on display but fully functional as well. The Penny Ice Creamery uses it every Wednesday at the downtown farmer's market in addition to a variety of events like school functions, private parties and even weddings.

Oh, and yes the scratch made ice cream comes pouring out of the machines right before your eyes in a glass walled room where you can watch it being made by owner, Chef Kendra Baker.

Even the scoop of chocolate sorbet that I got to go for my daughter looks as rich as ice cream. This place just rocks. It has the cozy feel of an old time ice cream parlor but operating with the highest standards of local, sustainable, organic, wild, humane and green.

So if just reading about these great flavors did not fill you up, then come on over to Surf City and try them yourself. All of my favorites on this food tour are the kind of local spots you'll never find at the mall food courts. Santa Cruz is a great town where ma and pa eateries still can thrive and keep us customers coming back for more great tastes.

More Food Adventures:

January - The Eats of San Francisco:
February - A Tasty Tour of Santa Cruz
March - The Cowgirl Creamery
April - Confessions of a Sushi Virgin
May - Best of the East Bay
June - Palo Alto Eateries
July - Cheap Eats & Secret Menus

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Carl Cooks: Celebrating Grilled Cheese

The culinary world is forever coming up with upgrades, twists and re-mixes of classic foods from your childhood. The perennial favorite grilled cheese sandwich is no exception. Shown here is just one of many cookbooks completely dedicated to the classic marriage of melted cheese and bread. It is time to think outside of the white bread and American cheese box. One of my favorites from Marlena Spieler's collection is Spinach and Dill Havarti on multi-grain bread.

4 Garlic cloves
1/2 Pound Baby Spinach leaves
8 Slices of hearty Multi-Grain Bread
3/4 Pound Dill Havarti Cheese (Sliced)
Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Assemble bread and cheese slices
Brushing oil on both sides of bread that will touch pan
Mince Garlic
Heat Oil and Add Garlic until sweated
Add Spinach and toss

The key to a successful spinach saute is speed and constantly turning the leaves so all of them get a quick wilt. In a hot pan it will take just a few minutes. Start with just sweating the minced garlic but do not let it brown. The following sequence of pictures shows how quickly the tender spinach leaves will wilt.

Lay sandwich assemblies on griddle oil side down
Top each side with garlic sauteed spinach
Put both sides together
Cover with pressure to put final melt on cheese

Here I just used a clear lid for pressure and to trap the heat to promote melting.

And BAM! the new spin on an old favorite is finished.

Marlena Spieler puts this recipe in her chapter called "Five Minute Wonders." Other recipes can take more time but I doubt they could be much tastier. The combination of garlic sauteed spinach and dill laced cheese is a significant flavor explosion on a crusty loaf. Marlena claims her collection is "50 Recipes to Make You Melt." It is certainly a good start but also try letting your imagination run wild with any number of ingredients and variations. You will be surprised what can happen when cheese meets bread and things heat up.