Photograph by Carlie Statsky
They really take the Cake: The Democratic presidential hopefuls mutter unprintable things to one another through clenched smiles after running into each other at The Buttery.
Best Food & Drink
The voters have spoken, and they like to eat. More to the point, they know where they like to eat when they've got a hankering for barbecue, a yen for sushi or a taste for Thai. Outdoor dining, vegetarian cuisine, comfort food, coffeehouses--it's all covered in these pages and vetted by your neighbors. Read on to see what the wisdom of the crowd has to say about all things gastronomic in Santa Cruz.
Best Teatime Destination
According to legend, some leaves off a Thea sinensis shrub blew into a cup of hot water that the second emperor of China was drinking in 2737 B.C.E. If not for that gust of wind, perhaps tea never would have come to hold the illustrious place in our culture that it does today. The beverage can be appreciated on levels deeper than its widely nuanced flavor profiles, bringing comfort to the sick, stimulation to the weary and community to all when shared. Look for a diverse offering of teas at the following local destinations:
Chaikhana Tea Culture
317-A Cedar St, Santa Cruz. 831.423.4200
Proprietor David Wright has a strong commitment to spreading the joys of tea. He has curated a large collection of rare brick loose-leaf teas and teaware available for purchase. He offers informative Sunday tea sessions for up to five people by reservation.
Chateau Chansons d' Amour
437 Hillside Ave, Ben Lomond. 831.336.9632
Open Friday-Sunday, 1pm and 3pm, by reservation only
Zeda and Dennis Dowell offer weekend tea service in their recently renovated 1903 mansion. Over 20 teas are available to be with a changing menu of soups, tea sandwiches, quiche, scones, fruit and petit fours flown in weekly from France.
Country Court Teahouse
911-B Capitola Ave, Capitola. 831.462.2498
Open Tuesday-Saturday, 11am-3pm
Offering tea since 1978, this tearoom is tucked away next to Caress Day Spa and features a large variety of tea menus in a quaintly furnished atmosphere. Available for private parties on Sundays by reservation only.
Lulu's at the Octagon
118 Cooper St, Santa Cruz. 831.429.5858
The well-organized tea collection features dozens of herbal, green and black selections, all available to smell in accompanying tins with flavor descriptions documented in an informative menu.
816 41st Ave, Capitola. 831.475.7776
Attention to quality from small-scale sources creates high-integrity beverage options. Several whole leaf, farm-direct teas available, procured from Teance in Berkeley, which emphasizes traditional tea cultivation techniques.
The White Raven
6253 Highway 9, Felton. 831.335.3611
Home of "Larry's Famous Chai," an aromatic and orange-spiced blend brewed to order with a variety of milk options, the White Raven also offers a floor-to-ceiling wall of loose leaf teas to choose from.
Need some sugar, sugar? Get on board the candy train. First stop--Marini's downtown. Step inside this sugar palace and get giddy with it. There's saltwater taffy, cotton candy, chocolates, caramel popcorn, candied apples, lollipops, ice cream and fudge galore. Check your insulin levels, kids--next stop: Mackenzies Chocolates, where they go beyond the truffle. There's a mold for everything, and if there's a mold Mackenzies will fashion it into something deliciously chocolate. How about a chocolate banana slug?
The cacao express makes a quick stop at the Food Bin for the locally created Golden Bean chocolate bar from High Integrity Foods. Made with fair trade Peruvian chocolate and agave nectar, this bar will satisfy the theobromine monkey in you if you want to keep it raw and organic.
Final destination: Donnelly Fine Chocolates for a soul-soothing dose of Donnelly's world-famous confections. Take home a unique chocolate flavored with Chinese five-spice, or perhaps a liquor bomb filled with Patron tequila or raspberry wine. And don't forget the cocoa lip balm and heavenly chocolate massage oil--you deserve it after a long day, and of course it's edible.
Donnelly Fine Chocolates
1509 Mission St., Santa Cruz. 831.425.0678
High Integrity Foods Inc.
1492 Soquel Ave, Santa Cruz. 831.425.1492
Downtown: 1308 Pacific Ave, Santa Cruz. 831.423.3299
Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf: #55A, Santa Cruz. 831.425.7341
Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. 831.423.7258
Best Legal High
If your knowledge of absinthe doesn't extend beyond Ewan McGregor's exploits in Moulin Rouge, then you're in for a real eye opener--and no, you won't see any green fairies when you open those peepers up to the truth.
The popularity of absinthe is more mysticism and intrigue than delicious flavor. For years a chemical called thujone (found in wormwood, which is used to flavor the drink) was thought to turn absinthe drinkers into raving, murderous lunatics. For a time people believed thujone was related to THC, the hallucinogenic compound in marijuana, and it is true that certain levels of thujone can affect neurotransmitters. However, the levels found in absinthe are negligible, and it should also be noted that sage oil, an ingredient in American cooking, is made up of up to 50 percent thujone.
Traditionally, absinthe is diluted with cold water in a ratio ranging anywhere from 1:2 to 1:5. Pouring the water over a slotted spoon that holds a sugar cube is slightly less authentic by some accounts but won't lose you any street cred. Lighting the drink on fire, however, will place you strictly in the Hollywood fan club. When the water is poured into the absinthe, the oils react with the water, turning the green liquid a cloudy white color, a process called the louche. Absinthe should start as a light green color--anything resembling a neon sign has had food coloring added--and the louche should be smooth, slow and homogenous. The resulting drink will be milky and opalescent in appearance.
The first legal imported absinthe in the United States in almost a century, Lucid can be found at supermarkets and a few local bars. Lucid's strong licorice taste and smell is prominent, though there are occasional hints of anise to balance it out. Because of the presence of licorice and the numbing effect on your mouth, many people will associate Lucid with Ouzo or Jagermeister, but the subtleties of Lucid are more akin to wine than party liquor. Lucid's louche takes time to get going, a good sign, and once it hits. the transition is seamless. Expect a bottle to cost between $75 and $90 from a store such as Shopper's Corner.
515 offers both Lucid and a Swiss brand of absinthe called Kübler Absinthe. While Lucid is a French absinthe crafted from old recipes, Kübler is one of the original absinthes produced in Switzerland. The Crepe Place adds two more brands to the mix; a Brazilian brand called Absinto Camargo and the first American absinthe, St. George Spirits. It's clear from the Midori-like color of Camargo that it has been artificially colored to appeal to the masses duped by the media, which is always a sign to stay away. On the other hand, the absinthe produced by St. George Spirits is delicate and complex but can be very pricey; a glass will cost you $15.
The Crepe Place is certainly doing its part to turn Santa Cruz on to absinthe by making every Tuesday Absinthe Night, but the discounts are minimal--sometimes only $1 off the normal price of a glass--and we were told that unless you're sitting at the bar, tableside preparation was not an option "if the place is busy." The concept needs some work, but with a group of friends the trip can be worth it.
While you won't be seeing the green fairy, absinthe does weigh in around 120 proof, so it can pack a wallop. If you're looking to trip out, keep moving. But for curiosity's sake, why not give it a try? Think of it as alcoholic Mythbusters.
Here are some places to experience the louche life:
The Crepe Place
1134 Soquel Ave, Santa Cruz. 831.429.6994
515 Cedar St, Santa Cruz. 831.425.5051
622 Soquel Ave, Santa Cruz. 831.423.1398
Best Treat for the Inner Child
Sexier than a muffin and more festive than a slice of cake, the cupcake is enjoying a resurgence in popularity with the adult set. Simply put: it's nostalgia in a paper cup, with icing on top. And while Santa Cruz isn't on the cupcake underground map, there are a few cakes in town worthy of your inner child.
If you're feeling shy or just restrained, you could start with the mini cupcake at Kelly's French Bakery. One little chocolate or vanilla bite and BAM!--right back to your kindergarten birthday party. Go ahead; lick all the icing off in one go. If you want to skip the icing, head for The Buttery for the black bottom cupcake ($2.35)--deep, rich chocolate topped with a cream cheese cover. You would never get one of these in a lunchbox trade.
The empress of the cupcake is the big warm chocolate cupcake ($6) at Chocolate. The cupcake is a dream: warm, filled with whipped cream and molten chocolate chips, then covered in chocolate ganache and more whipped cream. Every bite is luscious and I know I'm not the boss of you, but it is big enough to share.
702 Soquel Ave, Santa Cruz. 831.458.3020
1522 Pacific Ave, Santa Cruz. 831.427.9900
Kelly's French Bakery
402 Ingalls St, Santa Cruz. 831.423.9059
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