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Hello eaters! Jessica M. Pasko here. While Lily is out on maternity leave, I’m pitching in on the latest local food news. A little about me — I’m a writer and a native of upstate New York, living in Santa Cruz for over a decade. Our rich food culture is just one of the many things I love about our region, and I’m especially interested in the stories of the people who grow, serve and make the food we eat. Now, let’s dig in!

Firefly Tavern brings new concept to former 99 Bottles space

Firefly Tavern took over the spot on Walnut Avenue in downtown Santa Cruz formerly occupied by 99 Bottles of Beer

Aiming to provide a spot in downtown Santa Cruz that both fosters a sense of community and boasts delicious food, Hans Losee and April Wilkerson opened Firefly Tavern in April in the Walnut Avenue location that formerly housed 99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall. Read more here.

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Beckmann’s pies take top honors at national pie competition

award-winning pies including from Santa Cruz County's Beckmann's Old World Bakery

Judges at the National Pie Championships earlier this month in Florida found out what many in Santa Cruz County already knew: Beckmann’s Old World Bakery makes some tasty pies, and the Beckmann’s team now has four best-in-show ribbons after wowing with its pumpkin, cherry, pecan and mixed berry entries. Read more here.

Shopper’s Corner: 85 years old and setting the bar for sustainable grocery store PC roadblock

Santa Cruz Mountains wine passport back for 2023

Part of the lineup at last year's Santa Cruz Mountains Grand Wine Tasting.

With more than 35 wineries participating, the Santa Cruz Mountains Winegrowers Association’s passport program has returned from its COVID layoff. A $90 investment gets holders complimentary tastings and other perks, and kickoff events are happening Saturday at Chaminade and elsewhere. Read more here.

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Cabrillo College's Sesnon House.
Cabrillo College’s Sesnon House, where advanced culinary students cater special events like weddings, memorial services and engagement parties. Credit: Via Cabrillo College

Cabrillo College’s culinary program just might be one of the region’s best-kept secrets. Not only has the program turned out some of the area’s best chefs, it also boasts its own fine dining restaurant, Pino Alto. Laura Sutherland recently profiled the program and its various efforts for Lookout. Check it out here.


54 years — That’s how long Staff of Life has been in operation, having opened its first store in Santa Cruz on May 18, 1969. The second location in Watsonville opened in 2021. Both stores will be celebrating the anniversary throughout the next two weeks with special sales, wine tastings and other events.

A Staff of Life market
Credit: Via Staff of Life Natural Food Market

“Looking back on it, perhaps it was a vision of turning blood into wine, killing fields into vineyards and hatred into love.” Heidi Kuhn, the San Rafael-based founder of nonprofit Roots of Peace, which works to remove land mines from war-torn areas and replace them with vegetables, fruit trees and grapevines. Kuhn was named the 2023 World Food Prize laureate last week.


… French bistro fare. Specifically, I’m on the hunt for a delicious tuna niçoise. This quintessential composed salad of cured tuna, hard-boiled eggs, potatoes, green beans, tomatoes and olives in a zesty Dijon-based vinaigrette is one of my favorite dishes. It’s the kind of dish I start to crave when late spring hits, the perfect weekend lunch accompanied by a glass of crisp rosé. While spring seems to be a little delayed this year, that hasn’t stopped me from fantasizing about one of my favorite lunches. Kelly’s French Bakery would occasionally have this as a special, and Tramonti used to have an Italian-inspired version that I loved. Other than that, however, I haven’t been able to find a good version locally. I’m open to interpretations, too. I’m no purist. One of my favorite tuna niçoise salads I’ve ever had was at a now-shuttered wine bar in Albany, New York, that I used to frequent. Its version made with seared ahi remains one of those dishes I still dream about over a decade later.

Generally speaking, when the weather gets warmer, I find myself craving more entree-style salads for lunch and dinner. I like experimenting with all manner of composed salads at home but I’m also so appreciative of a really well-made restaurant salad. Anyone got a lead on a really excellent local tuna niçoise I’m missing out on? And while we’re at it, how about a perfect French omelet? (The best I’ve had locally is a toss-up between the one on the menu at Bad Animal when Todd Parker ran the kitchen and one that Justin Williams, former proprietor of the late, great Kickin Chicken made for a pop-up at Birichino’s tasting room a few years ago.)


The controversy over Aubrey Plaza’s dairy commercials, explained (Vox)
Mangoes and agave in the Central Valley? California farmers try new crops to cope with climate change (CalMatters)
The next frontier in California organics recycling: edible food recovery (Waste Dive)

Happy eating!

~ Jessica

Jessica M. Pasko has been writing professionally for almost two decades.She cut her teeth in journalism as a reporter for the Associated Press in her native Albany, NY, where she covered everything from...