Sunday, July 27, 2008

within driving distance (but not much isn't)

Davenport, is so small you may miss it altogether if you blink at the wrong time while driving down scenic hwy 1 just north of Santa Cruz. (see still somewhat local, besides they have a locals discount night, and they count me in, so I will count them in.) The town was originally founded and named after Captain John Davenport who came here and opened a whaling company. Eventually from this bloomed an artisan community. Not entirely sure one had to do with the other, but non the less that is how Davenport came to be. And though the Roadhouse has been many things through the years it strives to remain true to the artisan community it is a part of.

In 2006 The Roadhouse at the Cash Store became the dream of its newest owners as a combination store, bar, cafe and restaurant as well as a place to showcase local artists work. Fitting as it at one time was a potters studio with apartments above for those learning the new craft. The newly renovated Roadhouse is charming. Even more so when you discover that it is a Green business. It is also privy to an amazing view of the Pacific Coastline, which doesn't hurt it's standing in my book. The history as well as the present desire to honor that which was while caring for that which is to come make the Roadhouse something special.

I wish that I could say I found the food as appealing as the atmosphere, but alas I cannot. I tasted the Fish and Chips, which I assumed would be fitting of a place named for a whaler, but found the fish to be quite tasteless. My dining partner said of his Fried Chicken Sandwich, "they're trying to hard". I think that sums it up. They have a nice size menu, and the dining room is relaxing, but the food seemed just for show and flavor an afterthought at best.

A spent some time pursuing their web page for you though, because I was sure you would have questions. I suggest you check it out. Because, though I left somewhat disappointed by the food I was encouraged by the history, the dream, the fact that they have entertainment, and that they have in fact received more positive reviews than my own. I was also struck by the simplistic beauty that the inn portion of the Roadhouse which I did not see while there in person. It seems that their good intentions may indeed pay out if you were to be a guest for the evening, and while the rates are not cheep, they are not outlandish either, especially for this area. I may have to go out and give it another chance to win me over.

On a side note, they had these lovely tables that are just like the one we had in my home as a child. I am sure my mom will be on the hunt for one now that I know they are around here somewhere, she (we all) always loved this table. Perfect for games, and cozy breakfasts before school. It also is super easy to expand, for those less intimate meals.

See told you it was a side note. Thanks for bearing with me. But I didn't want to forget.

I guess you ought to go check it out, and let me know what you think, as I am clearly undecided.

(Pics. by Brandon.)

All in all I give it a 6

Friday, July 18, 2008

Not Really at the Harbor

Though it is not really at the harbor, in fact you cannot even see the beach from this hole in the wall cafe, it still bears the name Harbor Cafe. You may have driven past it many times before as I had, without even noticing. At a first glance it is not a place that screams eat here, but once you get onto the patio you know you have entered a place guaranteed to leave you happily full.

I'll admit I have at this point only had the chance to dine here twice, but I had a great time and great food on both occasions so I figure it deserves some good press. From the looks of things on my last visit they are expanding their services to include bands, and light beach fare in the evenings along with cocktails on the patio. I am not sure on any of that, it is based on overheards and a bit of remodeling. What I can tell you is that it is available for private parties, and from the looks of things I think it might be a great spot for one, so if you are having one soon send me an evite.

But you want to know about the food, cause lets face it what's a restaurant review without some food chit chat? You won't be disappointed unless you hate hearty portions, great food with lots of flavor, and fantastic friendly service at great prices.

This is a picture of the food from my first visit to Harbor Cafe. Looks good right? Tastes better. Better yet, on Fridays they have Mimosa Friday, which means that on my day off I can order a mimosa and they just keep wandering by with pitchers of the the yummy blend of O.J. and Champagne.

I had the Eggs Benedict which is one of my favorites, and they did it proud. My friend had an omelet as you can clearly see and also was pleased with the offering. On my next visit I ventured out and tried the fritatta which was the best and largest I have ever had.

Harbor Cafe is as beachy as it sounds, and as local as it gets which in my book combined with the great food and friendly service makes it a great place to meet up with friends over a filling breakfast.

Under the Boardwalk

Align Center

You know I love the beach, and you might guess that I am still a sucker for a ride on the world famous Giant Dipper, but you can be sure that I cannot stand the beach on which the Santa Cruz Boardwalk is built.

Why? Ummm, let me count the reasons.

1. Way, way to crowded.
2. Dirty
3. Not so pretty, and often kinda smelly.
4. Parking is a nightmare.
5. Tourists

Just to name a few. I am not one of those people who are anti-tourists, but I am anti-places that are breading grounds for them. And this is one of those beaches in which you might actually be witness to the breeding of new tourist. (yeah, that is what I said) Now I realize there is not an abundance of hotels to choose from in SC but seriously some of the people on this beach need to get themselves a room.

I think what really frustrates me is that this beach has such potential to be a great beach. Sure it would take some effort, but all the pieces are there, they just need to be unburied. There are great volleyball games that take place, fun. But the parking situation makes this difficult to enjoy. There is the Boardwalk, and of course shops and restaurants, but there are a lot of shady looking places intermixed. I think that we should just own up to the fact that this is going to be a tourist trap beach, add some nice looking lounge chairs and umbrellas, maybe some people who go around and pick up trash, like they do on the nice touristy beaches in Italy. It would be nice if there was a shuttle option near by, to help cut down on some of the parking craziness.

I don't really envision Santa Cruz ever adopting these ideas, but until they do something you can remain confident that the Beach under the Boardwalk will never rank my list of top beaches.

Third Ave

Finding the perfect beach is hard especially when you live in such close proximity to so many great spots. Santa Cruz is known for it's beaches and they are one of the things I love about living here. Yet over the years and the thousands of trips to the beach 3rd Ave is still my favorite go to beach.

Third Ave has its own set of charms. Nestled between the Harbor Light House and the Board Walk it is the summation of all a Santa Cruz Beach should be. From the sand you can watch the sailboats sail by, you can hear the tourist screaming on the Giant Dipper. From this vantage point you can also see the other Santa Cruz Light House on a clear day. Pretty much the only thing missing from this quintessential Santa Cruz Beach is the surfers you might expect.

But never fear, there are often people skim boarding boogie boarding and if you are lucky you can see some surfers in the distance. There are also lifeguards standing guard in their little lifeguard stands which gives it that CA Baywatch vibe, but just subtly. There are also volleyball posts where you can either hook up your own net, or practice your tight rope walking as was the case this afternoon. There is never a lack of people to watch.

From the tight rope walkers to those practicing Poi (fire dancing) or working out their juggling skills. Plus the assortment of sunbathers, good and bad alike. Be warned often you will find one or men strutting about in a bright shiny speedo, not a good look. And while this is a family friendly beach there is often girls who have decided topless is the way to go.

All of this adds up to make Third Ave. a top pick beach in Santa Cruz. At least in my humble opinion.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Beach Fare

The Crows Nest nestled right in the Santa Cruz Harbor is a classic. Great view, great food, and great service. Now I am speaking mostly of the upstairs portion of Crows Nest, because that is the part I frequent most often, though I have had some great dining downstairs as well. The first floor is more of a "fine dining" experience, you know white tablecloths and all that, while upstairs you will find much more relaxed. Both upstairs and down have great outdoor seating and both have delicious food, but as you would expect, down costs much more than up. So head upstairs and enjoy the same if not better view and some really good California cuisine.

It may be only an appetizer but the best thing on the menu in my humble opinion is called...

Our Famous Smoked Salmon
Fresh Salmon, marinated, then hot-smoked for hours over
an alder wood fi re. Sweet, smoky and delicious! Served
with wasabi-mayonnaise 9.95

Umm yeah 9.95 is a bit on the pricey side of things but rest assured you will not be sorry that you spent the almost 10.00. skip everything else if need be, but trust me. I would go so far as to say that even if you are not a seafood fanatic you will find this to your liking. I could be wrong, but it may be worth the risk.

There are plenty of other good things to try but seriously try the salmon.

The fish and chips are good, as are many other non fishy things but you are at the harbor for goodness sake, so it seems only reasonable that I assume you are going to order fish.

There is also always something going on upstairs in the evenings. My favorite night to go is Sundays because it is comedy night. But I warn you that I do not recommend all of their comics, as I have had to sit through many a bad night of stand up to get the good stuff, but if you are brave, and won't hold it against me then you should go. But go early as it often fills up and you won't get a seat. The late night stuff has a cover usually only $7 and there is an atm there if you need one. This is also one of those places where you have to pay to park so come prepared to either close the place down and leave after the lot attendant or bring a few extra bucks. If you have a beach parking permit for live oaks then you can park a little further away but for free (aside from the cost of your permit that is)

Another little known or at least little taken advantage of secret is that in the afternoons during the summer there is a man with a water taxi who will take you from the Aldo's Side (west side ) of the the Harbor to the Crow's Nest Side. This is handy for those of you who have parked near third ave for a day at the beach and then discover you really wish for some great salmon. Just go flag down the FREE water taxi and get shuttled over, or just for fun take the whole ride up and down the harbor. A great diversion for those of you with kids or those of you nanny's who need a free outing with the kids. You can also park at the back harbor and take the water taxi up to Twin Lakes/Crows Nest or to Third Ave/Aldo's. See aren't you glad we are friends all these useful tidbits of information making your life so much more enjoyable.

Oh and I almost forgot they have beach parties in the summer time! Every Thursday starting at 5:30 with live music and NO COVER! How fun is that. Don't you just love this place. It is a family friendly time or so I hear, with the outdoor BBQ going. Maybe I'll see you there.


Sitting atop Margaritaville in Capitola Village is Mr. Toots a local coffee shop that has been in this same beach side local for over 26 years. What is great about this place is the relaxed vacation like feel that you get going there. There is a tiny and I mean tiny outside patio that overlooks the beach, but inside there is lots of seating and even boardgames in case you actually came to a coffee shop to play instead of work. You will also find many local artists works on display as well as local musicians playing in the evenings.

The coffee not bad, not great either. I have heard that they have great tea, which they seem to have an abundance of. There are some tasty treats to be had if you are in the mood. And they will pour espresso over gelato when they actually have gelato. (sometimes they are out, which is sad.) All in all I would recommend Mr. Toots for a small gathering of friends. If you are local you may want to wait till summer has wound down as you can imagine or may know there are way too many tourists this time of year and parking can be tricky. They do have wireless for those of you who want to know, but this is not the most conducive place to study as the tables are all somewhat tipsy.

If you are not a coffee or tea person, I am not sure why you read this far, but there are plenty of other good places to explore in Capitola Village, which I am sure I will do in future blogs, but feel free to branch out on your own. Zelda's is a great place to start if you are unsure.

The Office

Lets be honest it is this logo that was going to keep me from ever setting foot in Coffee Cat. I mean the thought of a cat in a cup isn't exactly appetizing. Who wants to drink from that cup? I don't, but I do want to drink from a Coffee Cat Cup oh just about anytime. I don't know what it was that got me through the door, but I am oh so thankful that I set aside my snobbery and silly ideas about graphic designs.

Coffee Cat has become what I fondly refer to as "the office". Why? Because it is where I get a vast majority of my work done. I am so much more productive while sipping on a Cappuccino Royal than when I am in my real office. What is a Cappuccino Royal? I am so glad you asked. It is the nectar of the gods, yes it is that good. It is like a normal cappuccino, except that in a small there is three shots instead of the normal two. Simply a much stronger dose of my drug of choice (caffeine). If you are not afraid to live on the edge (may cause cancer) then I suggest that you order one and add two packets of sweet and low. You won't be sorry. Unless of course you get cancer, in which case I am so sorry and I did warn you.

Why else is Coffee Cat my home away from home? Because the barista's are amazing. They are. Not only do they know how to make a fantastic Royal, they can decorate the top with nifty designs in the foam. Besides the fancy coffee skills they all seem to be nice friendly people. They greet people warmly and if you are a regular they know what you want and sometimes have it for you before you can order. Joe the manager is fantastic at his job. He takes pride in what he does, making sure to live up to the owners high standards. The place is always clean, and the shelfs are kept just show. If you are into supporting local artists than that is just one more reason you should check out Coffee Cat, because the walls are always changing. Local artists display their masterpieces for you to enjoy whilst you sip your coffee.

Coffee Cat is not in Downtown Santa Cruz, you will find it in Scotts Valley next door to Safeway. But never fear, for those of you who don't find yourself up in the SV area often you will be pleased to know that LuLu Carpenters as well as the new LuLu's at the Octagon are owned by the same man and carry the same great coffee. They both have their own style, but you can be sure that the coffee will be excellent. For those of you who would rather sip on something less acidic don't you worry your pretty little selves because they also carry a wide variety of tea. My favorite tea is the Oolong Songbird. Odd name but tasty tea non the less.

Mentioned Earlier

If you have been following along than you may recall that in my blog about Book Shop Santa Cruz I mentioned in passing a little cafe nearby, Chocolate. I thought that I might be fair and give it its own space. As I stated in that previous post I tend to truly enjoy this little bohemian cafe. Though if you Google it you may find that not everyone shares my adoration. Their frustrations with Chocolate are not unjust, just unfortunate, and I must admit that there have in fact been times where I would have to share in there opinions.

There have been those who have been turned off by the
laissez-faire attitude of the wait staff. I would concur that at times I have received less than what I would maintain to be great service. I would however point those who complain about this back to the unarguable fact that this is in fact a bohemian style cafe, which would imply just such service (I suppose). There have been times when I have been the recipient great service, it really seems to depend on the day and the hour with this place. In which case I suggest that if timeliness and always seeing your waiter is important to you than just go somewhere else, there is limited seating anyway, and there is nothing I hate more than when I am trying to enjoy my leisurely indulgence in good food than to overhear people wining over the fact that it is taking to long. If you really want fast food, then there are places for that. This is not one of them. At the same time I have to be fair and say I really never wait long for the food, just the bill and who really wants to pay anyway?

I already told you of the Chocolate Orgy (it is as sinful as it sounds). Let me tempt you a bit more. It comes in three sizes I believe. May I suggest that if you are with anyone else you just go for it and get the large. When it comes you will find yourself presented with a 3 tiered plates of chocolate ecstasy. An assortment of truffles, cakes, gelato and even pie. It is a sample plater from Heaven.

If you are not in the mood for desert (umm not sure why) then I strongly urge you to go for the Pasta Rosettes with the artichoke creme sauce. Yummy. As is the Chicken Soup. I have heard tales of the Chicken Mole, which I have not yet sampled, but it is raved about.

After that scrumptious dinner or lunch you will likely not have room for much else and certainly not the Chocolate Orgy, but if you are now ready for a desert of perhaps less commitment level then try the Warm Chocolate Cup Cake which melts in your mouth or the Tiramisu.

More than just food this is an excellent place for people watching on Pacific Ave. Or for sitting down with a new book from Book Shop Santa Cruz. Go, Relax, and Indulge in Chocolate.


Locally owned Italian restaurant is got its name from Santa Cruz's Sister City in Italy, Sestri Levante. Pictured here below.

Not a bad place from the looks of it. Our own Sestri though not as appealing from first glance is a great find once you step inside. Located on Capitola Rd. it is in a somewhat inconspicuous building and local. I encourage you to make the effort to get beyond first glances and take a deeper look into the heart of Sestri. If you do I am sure you will be delighted as I was to find a warm inviting Italian dining experience.

Not only is Sestri Levante the sister to our beautiful it is also the home town of the owner John Mootz. This would explain the great art on the walls as well as the welcoming neighborhood place feel that they have managed to maintain.

Sestri may be named after our sister city but it is a sister business of Aldo's located by the Santa Cruz Harbor as well as Aldo's Italian Bakery found in Soquel Village. I have not yet had the chance to sample anything at the bakery, but Aldo's has been a family favorite for a long time. They have filling yummy breakfasts, with an amazing view of the boats coming and going into from the Monterey Bay.

Back to Sestri, the dinners that I have had there were all very enjoyable. Prepared just right, and just the right amount. (I have become increasingly annoyed at places that give you portions large enough for a family of 4.) I will say that my favorite part of dining at Sestri is there deserts. My favorite being their Affogatos the Nora-Nocello with Espresso over Gelato is simply to die for. I have in fact gone on many occasions just to partake in this blissful pleasure.

Go seek out this local link to Italy allowing yourself to be carried away to the Italian Riviera as you sample some fine seafood dish and one of the wines from their great collection of local and Italian wines. Enjoy!

Saturday, July 5, 2008

A Must Read

Bookshop Santa Cruz is my favorite bookshop. It has that "Independent/local" vibe, but is not the small hole in the wall that only specializes in a certain type of book. I love the smell of the books when you walk in. The fact that they are local and have public restrooms is also a huge plus!

There staff is helpful and the selection is fantastic. You will also be pleased to find a great assortment of magazines, the normal ones and a few extras like "Found". There is also a fine variety of cards and gifty little things to tempt you as you browse.

If you are passing through you might bump into me near the travel books or the foodie books, as those are the places I frequent. If you are not in a rush you should snuggle up in one of their chairs and check out which books grab you most. Try them on for size if you will.

Be sure not to miss out on Chocolate a great little Parisian style cafe just outside the front door when you are on the Pacific Ave. side of the store. Their Chocolate Orgy is a great late night snack to share with a friend or two.

Bunny's Shoes

Not to leave you boys out, but this one is really for the girls. If you have not checked out Bunny's Shoes in downtown Santa Cruz you are missing out. I am addicted to very few things in life but I cannot walk past the window of Bunny's with out longing to venture in to check out not only the amazing shoes within, but the sales. That's right girls not only are there great shoes but there is almost always fantastic deals on equally fantastic shoes.

I was not even addicted to shoes until I found this splendid candy shop of heals, flats, boots and more. Oh did I forget to mention there is more than shoes? Oops. Of course you cannot just have the shoes there's the bags, wallets and sunglasses. Just across the street you will find an equally addictive second part to the store, filled with fabulous clothing, and great little things to fill your home.

Its almost more than a girl can handle.