At Alderwood Pacific, the new casual sibling to fine-dining staple Alderwood Santa Cruz, executive chef Jeffrey Wall’s menu is more approachable from a gastronomic and financial perspective, but still emphasizes the seasonal, creative fare that Alderwood is known for. Its beverage menu, however, lacks compelling nonalcoholic options.
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Alderwood Pacific opened its doors to the public on Feb. 3, marking one of the most significant restaurant openings in downtown Santa Cruz in recent years. The brasserie-style menu focuses on burgers, inventive salads, creative twists on comforting favorites and hearty mains, served alongside more than a dozen batch-made cocktails on draft, as well as beer and wine.
This is the newest restaurant opening from Santa Cruz Sky, a local portfolio company headed by Ahmed Hamdy that includes Alderwood Santa Cruz, the Flashbird restaurants, Burn Hot Sauce and in-house bakery Buns & Sons. Alderwood Pacific is a sibling to Alderwood Santa Cruz, its fine-dining sister located just a few blocks away and the only Santa Cruz restaurant mentioned in the prestigious Michelin Guide.
The family resemblance is everywhere, from the color scheme to the servers’ industrial-style aprons. Several items from the Alderwood Santa Cruz menu have moved over to Pacific Avenue, including the fan-favorite Alderwood cheeseburger, thick potato pommes frites, sourdough tempura onion rings and roasted hen-of-the-woods mushroom appetizer. There is also a short but sweet raw bar menu of fresh oysters, shrimp cocktail and ahi tuna crudo.
In fact, frequent diners at the original restaurant are likely to recognize some familiar faces, too, as many staff members are now at Alderwood Pacific while Alderwood Santa Cruz is temporarily closed for an update and menu redo. Here, executive chef Jeffrey Wall crafted a new menu that’s intended to be more approachable from a gastronomic and financial perspective — the price of some of Alderwood Santa Cruz’s choice cuts of meat can reach upward of $200 — while emphasizing the seasonal, creative and meticulously executed fare Alderwood is known for.
Here, as at Alderwood Santa Cruz, most guests start the meal with a cocktail. However, I was disappointed to discover that all of the 14 batch-made drinks contain alcohol — there are no booze-free options. I had looked forward to sampling the bartender’s creativity, but as a pregnant person was unable to indulge. The server noted that zero-proof options “were coming,” but I thought it was peculiar that all Alderwood Pacific offered was two conventional sodas and sparkling water.
My guest was thrilled with her Alderwood Cocktail, a riff on a gin martini with more substance. Made with gin, fino sherry, dry vermouth and bitters, served up and decorated with three olives and twist, she was pleased that it complimented rather than clashed with our first few dishes, too.
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The wine list includes another signature drink — an Alderwood pinot noir ($20 glass/$70 bottle). This wine is produced in partnership with Bonny Doon’s Beauregard Vineyards and is made from pinot noir from its estate Coast Grade Vineyard in the Santa Cruz Mountains. The current 2021 vintage is earthy and lean, with plenty of bright cherry — you can almost taste the redwoods.
Foodwise, Wall exceeds expectations. Each dish was beautiful and memorable, with thought-provoking details. One scene-stealer was a smoked beet and baby kale salad ($18), with layers of crunch from radicchio, crispy shallots, radishes and thin cucumber with a tangy, creamy dressing. The hearty portion could be a meal for one, especially with the addition of one of Alderwood’s add-on options, which include a fried egg ($3), grilled shrimp ($5 each) and a bavette steak ($21).
Other dishes were amped-up takes on retro classics. A silky grilled half-avocado ($14) arrived decorated with pimento chili threads and cilantro microgreens on top of a kicky wasabi buttermilk dressing. The fried jalapeños that joined the calamari ($18) were irresistible. Served with a roasted poblano vinaigrette, the heat level was enough to excite our taste buds without becoming overwhelming.
Of course, I couldn’t leave without trying a burger. Since I have enjoyed the namesake cheeseburger with onion jam and garlic aioli at the original location several times, I decided to try something new and settled on the Cali-bacon deluxe ($21), a smash burger with barbecue sauce, cheddar cheese and crispy onions. If you are the type who likes potato chips on your sandwich, this one’s for you. A thin house-made sesame bun soared over more than an inch of fried onions, a textural delight once squished into a manageable mouthful. But for $21, it would be nice if it came with fries.
My guest and I also dug into a pork schnitzel ($36) the size of a baseball glove — a massive cutlet from organic Oakland butcher Marin Sun Farms pounded thin, fried crispy and topped with gently wilted bitter greens, thick grilled onions and mustard seeds. I gave this satisfying, easily sharable dish a squeeze of lemon in addition to dipping pieces in the provided mustard beurre blanc. It would be stunning with a crisp pilsner.
We finished the meal by cracking into Teta’s Favorite Creme Brulée, a traditional take on the classic that owner Hamdy told me was named after his late-mother-in-law, who enjoyed one every day in the last months of her life.
Wall and Hamdy have succeeded in creating an elevated neighborhood restaurant that’s sure to turn heads and gain many repeat customers. I look forward to coming back and discovering more of the menu.
Alderwood Pacific is located at 1108 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz and is open Wednesday through Sunday, 4-10 p.m. Call 831-588-5651 for reservations.