Lily Belli on Food: Humble Sea’s Felton foray, ample crustaceans and kid-friendly places
… The highly anticipated opening of Humble Sea Tavern occurred last Thursday, and it seems like the entire San Lorenzo Valley community roared in, marking another step in a small revival of downtown Felton. While their Swift Street brewery relies on food trucks and pop-ups to feed their guests, and the Pacifica taproom serves low-key beach fare like burgers, fish and chips and wings, the tavern focuses on a full menu of “refined comfort food,” as marketing head Lee DeGraw, an SLV native, puts it, for brunch, lunch and dinner. My family and I arrived minutes after they opened for lunch on Friday, and already the wrap-around porch and interior bar area were both almost full. As our accommodating servers worked through the logistics of the “soft opening,” we enjoyed a crispy fried chicken sandwich, blistered shishito peppers with honey vinegar and yellow bee pollen, and a creamy mac n’ cheese dolled up with fresh crab. The opening was right on schedule, after the team completed some light remodeling to spruce up the historic Cremer House, which had been a restaurant as recently as 2020. The restaurant is open for lunch and dinner Wednesday through Sunday and brunch on the weekends. It’s another attraction added to the Felton downtown area, which is enjoying a revival. In the last few years, locally-owned shops like vintage store Tomboy Outpost, local jewelry maker Mountainside Made and houseware store Simpatico have helped turn the sleepy mountain town into a hotter spot. Humble Sea boasts an enormous following, and will no doubt draw tourists to the area and inspire them to stay and shop. The nearby business owners I spoke to see that potential and embrace it …
… The unseasonably warm weather that drove us all to the beach a couple of weeks ago may have tricked flowering fruit trees into thinking it’s spring, about three or four weeks early of what is ideal, and that could be bad news for local crops. Jake Mann, a fifth-generation apple farmer, grows 85 acres of apples outside of Corralitos. At Five Mile Orchard, where Mann grows a mix of eating and cider apples, he’s starting to see early leaves, or “bud break,” on his trees. “It looks like the switch has been flipped on.” Once the trees awake from their winter dormancy, there’s no stopping the steady push towards summer and fall fruit. A bloom closer to the spring equinox in late March is ideal, he says. When the trees blossom early, as they did this year and in 2021, delicate blossoms become vulnerable both to rain, which can knock blossoms off and inhibit bees from pollinating, and to frost, which destroys the flowers. Both conditions ultimately mean less fruit. I asked Mann if he’s worried, but he responds like a Zen master. “We could get worried, but what are we going to do about it? Maybe I’m getting used to how wacky the weather is. If there was more potential for freeze snaps, this could be disastrous. It’s only ok because it is unlikely to freeze.” The good news is that the trees have received an adequate number of winter chill hours. “The trees are ready, they’re just being told to start kind of early.” Mann says there’s not much he can do to battle hot or cold weather, but a few weeks ago he whitewashed a section of his orchard with white kaolin clay, which may help reflect some of the sun’s heat. He’s not sure it will work, however. “I can’t put cold on the trees, but maybe I can make them more reflective.” ...
… Crab season is still in full swing, and Hans Haveman of local fishery H&H Fresh Fish Co. says it’s likely to continue through the spring. Last year the season ended in late May, and Haveman says they’re likely to have crabs until then. “It’s just a matter of when the whales come back.” The crab season is bookended by the migratory passage of Humpback whales, which can become entangled in the heavy ropes used by commercial crabbers. To protect the whales, the crab season begins once the Humpbacks have safely passed through the area on their way to warm winter breeding ground off the coast of Mexico and ends when they return to feed off the coast of California. While the spring-like weather hasn’t been beneficial for our orchards, it’s been good news for local fishermen — the absence of winter storms has allowed them to go out every day. At H&H, they’ve been bringing in fresh crab every three to four days, and they’re still averaging between one-and-a-half two pounds. However, the catch is smaller. They’re bringing in less crab, about 500 to 1,000 pounds every week or so, instead of the usual 1,500 pounds, and Haveman says he can’t attribute the decrease to anything specific. “Fishing is cyclical,” he adds. H&H also receives a few halibut, rockfish, lingcod, bonito and mackerel from larger boats, but seafood lovers should expect to see higher quantities of those this summer when swell from the north and west dies and the season opens. We have been splurging on local crab from H&H regularly this year, and it is consistently sweet, tender and delicious. There really is no substitute for our local star crustacean, so enjoy it while you can.
ON THE MENU
After my trip to Pajaro Pastures last week, I spoke with Caleb Barron of Fogline Farm, another ecological farmer who raises sustainable poultry just north of Santa Cruz County. Pajaro Pastures farmer Ryan Abelson interned with Barron, and we spoke about why so little livestock is raised in Santa Cruz County. Although Santa Cruz County is a rich agricultural region, livestock accounts for just 1% of our total crop value according to the 2020 Crop Report. Barron asserted that the price of land is one reason and distance from USDA slaughtering and butchering facilities is another. Watch for my story later this week as I dive into this largely untold facet of local agriculture.
➤ SATISFY YOUR JOB CRAVINGS: See all the most recent listings here.
- Marketing Director at Second Harvest Food Bank
- Snap Hand (Counter & Kitchen) at Snap Taco
- Theater Parking Attendant at Jewel Theatre Company
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
Full Steam Dumpling, one of my favorite local pop-ups, is now open for Japanese tapas and donburi on Thursdays at the Santa Cruz Food Lounge. If you haven’t experienced their fiery, farmers market-driven flavors at their Wednesday Szechuan Nights or Friday Ramen Nights, read up on owner Andy Huynh and sous chef Zane Sawyer and consider your dinner plans for later this week.
3000 — Pounds of organic matter that Santa Cruz composting co-op Hard Core Compost collects every week from over 300 customers. The local business plans to work alongside the city as it implements composting service in accordance with statewide composting mandate SB1383.
“Our weather has been so wacky for the last five or six years, that it’s become a normal level of weird. It’s not normal. It makes our crop yields less reliable every year and destabilizes what used to be a reliable industry.” — Jake Mann, fifth-generation apple farmer in Corralitos, on how irregular weather patterns have challenged the industry.
A QUICK ASK
I’m glad you’re reading my newsletter, and if you’re hungry for more, consider becoming a member. Only members get full access to all of Lookout’s content, including Eaters Digest every Friday with food news, dining reviews and the best food and drink events each week. I want each of you to be able to experience all of my stories and those from the talented reporters at Lookout Santa Cruz. We can’t tell the valuable stories of our community without your support.
Enjoy our entire menu of local storytelling, including Wallace Baine’s takes on Santa Cruz life and culture; Hillary Ojeda’s wide coverage of students and schools; Grace Stetson’s focus on housing and affordability; and my own stories, by becoming a member. Not only does your membership grant you access, you directly support our ability to keep telling these valuable stories.
Become a member today.
You can cancel any time in the “My Account” portal on Lookout’s website. By signing up, you agree to Lookout’s terms and understand that membership renews automatically.
LIFE WITH THE BELLIS
I have to eat out a lot for this job (I know, the sacrifice!), and since I work from home part-time, sometimes that means my date is a sweet, silly nine-month-old. While I’m conscious that I can’t bring him everywhere, I enjoy bringing him with me when I can. One reason is that he’s a hoot, and I love having these experiences with him. The other is that I consider eating out with a baby as an important part of my reviewing process. I’m certainly not the only parent eating out with their children, and I like to take note of what restaurants, cafés and lunch spots are family-friendly. I look for things like: Is there a bathroom with a changing table? Is the high chair an appropriate height for the table (a growing pet peeve of mine)? Is there an open outdoor area nearby where a rambunctious little one might get their wiggles out while their parents finish the meal? Some restaurants are welcoming, and others aren’t, and that’s fine. Not every space is appropriate for children. But I still make a note of the places that are, for when we want to eat out as a family. Marco, for his part, is so far a pleasant companion. With a little planning — a plate with suction cups that sticks to the table and a bib are vital, and maybe a quiet toy — he’s happy to explore whatever I’m eating, and isn’t shy about reaching for the french fries.
Parents, what local restaurants do you feel comfortable eating at as a family? Would you like to see more kid-friendly recommendations? Write to me at email@example.com.
And a reminder ... you can also text me directly on your iPhone or Android device by subscribing to my Subtext channel. It’s a simple setup: Enter your contact info in the form, and you’ll receive a bite-sized message from me shortly thereafter. Thanks to those of you who’ve already offered tips and thoughts there! I’m reading them.
UC Santa Cruz student Tommy Alejandrez was living on the streets when he met former NFL player Zack Follett on a busy...
THIS WEEK, I’M READING ...
... ‘When In Doubt, Roast A Duck,’ an essay by one of my favorite food writers, Helen Rosner, for the New Yorker. In this mouth-watering piece, Rosner says she’s given up on the fantasy of the dinner party, an illusion that she finds too stressful and too contrived. Instead, she advocates for “Just dinner. No party.” She believes the secret is to cook what you know, but make it special. In this case, if you can roast a chicken, she says you can roast a duck. A recipe follows, and calls to Shopper’s Corner and Staff of Life confirm they have fresh and frozen ducks, should you be inspired to give it a whirl.
THIS WEEK, I’M LISTENING TO ...
... ‘Spam: How the American Dream Got Canned,’ a three-part podcast series presented by The Experiment with The Atlantic and WNYC Studios. America’s most infamous gelatinous meat product has a cultural history that’s as intriguing and mysterious as its ingredients. This podcast explores how Spam spread throughout the Pacific to become a beloved culinary institution in places like the Philippines, Guam and Hawaii, Spam creator Hormel Foods’ impact on the town of Austin, Minnesota, and attempts to answer why this little colorful can of mystery meat has become an American icon.
FOOD NEWS WORTH READING
➤ U.S. Lifts Temporary Ban on Avocados From Mexico (New York Times)
➤ Those Shrink-Wrapped Sleeves Atop Wine Bottles Have Got to Go (Wine Enthusiast)
➤ Restaurant owners turn to high-tech air filtration systems for the good of patrons and staff (Monterey County Weekly)
Thanks for reading! Have a great week.