Nita Gizdich holding up one of her famous berry pies.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)
Food & Drink

Lily Belli on Food: Pi(e) Day!, more Flashbirds & winning Santa Cruz olive oil

… Did you celebrate Pi(e) Day yesterday? The date 3.14 corresponds to the mathematical number pi, the ratio of any circle’s circumference to its diameter. On what should be the most delicious of holidays, it’s customary to enjoy a slice of pie, everyone’s favorite circular dessert. Don’t worry if you missed it — it’s never too late for pie. In Santa Cruz County, there’s no one more associated with pie than Gizdich Ranch. I spoke with a local Prince of Pie, Noah Gizdich, who shared some tasty tidbits about his family’s “Eata Nita” pies, named after his mother, Nita, pictured above. You may also have noticed an “Eata Nita Pie” sticker on each of the pie boxes. The Gizdich family founded its farm on Peckham Road in Watsonville in 1937, and Noah, who is the fourth generation, runs the farm with his mom and dad, Vince Gizdich. Gizdich Ranch offers 13 varieties of pie throughout the year, and the best sellers are olallieberry and Dutch apple. The olallieberries — a locally beloved hybrid berry — and most of the apples for these pies are grown at Gizdich Ranch, but Noah says the demand is so high for their pie and juice that they also supplement production with “always grown in Watsonville” apples. During the slow season, they produce 300 to 600 pies a week for farm visitors and consumers throughout the county. In the three days leading up to Thanksgiving, they bake an astonishing 4,000 pies. The Gizdich family began baking pies in the early 1970s, during the rise of agritourism, as a way to make their commodity crop more valuable for the family business. I asked if they use a family recipe, and Noah said no. In fact, the legendary FatApple’s Restaurant & Bakery in Berkeley shared its recipe with the Gizdich family soon after it opened in 1969. You can find Gizdich pies at Deluxe Foods in Aptos, Nob Hill in Scotts Valley, Scotts Valley Market, and Shoppers Corner in Santa Cruz, and at the farm at 55 Peckham Rd. in Watsonville ...

Lily Belli, Lookout's Food & Drink Correspondent

… A local olive oil took first place last week at the 23rd Los Angeles International Extra Virgin Olive Oil Competition, regarded as one of the top competitions in the world. Wild Poppies’ extra virgin olive oil, made with ascolano olives, won Best of Show against more than 500 extra virgin olives oils from almost 250 producers in 17 countries. Sisters-in-law Jamie de Sieyes and Kim Null use olives grown outside of Aptos in the Santa Cruz Mountains. De Sieyes and Null founded Wild Poppies in 2018 after they took ownership of a grove of olive trees planted by olive farmer and producer Chris Banthien, who still helps guide the growth of the orchard. The winning olive oil has “an apple-inspired fruity nose and a long-lasting, pleasant pungency,” and is available with their other small-batch oils, including taggiasca, Meyer lemon and olio nuovo, at Shoppers Corner in Santa Cruz and through their website, wildpoppiesoliveoil.com ...

… Flashbird Chicken is opening a second location on 41st Avenue in a few months in the restaurant space that recently held Kaito ramen and sushi restaurant and Pink Godzilla sushi for many years before that. Maybe you’ve eaten at Flashbird’s first fried chicken sandwich restaurant, inside Abbott Square Market (I’m a fan of the vegetarian “hen of the woods” sandwich). In the thriving Pleasure Point neighborhood, it joins Verve Coffee Roasters, Penny Ice Creamery, Suda, New Bohemia Brewing Co., Cat & Cloud and Zameen at the Point, along with many retail businesses. Flashbird manager David Kim told me the 41st Avenue location will become its new flagship restaurant, and will feature an expanded menu with soft-serve ice cream by the pastry team at Santa Cruz’s Alderwood restaurant, root beer floats and craft beer on tap. Kim also revealed that owners Jeffrey Wall and Mike Falco will soon open a third location, in Scotts Valley in the Safeway shopping center on Mount Hermon Road, in a space that was most recently a Baskin-Robbins. Both restaurants are still in the construction phase, with openings tentatively planned for late spring or early summer. Wall is the head chef and owner and Falco is the general manager of Alderwood. Stay tuned for a deeper conversation with these local restaurateurs about their rapid growth in the county. With this expansion, Flashbird joins a burgeoning group of local chains that includes Companion Bakery, Penny Ice Creamery and Betty Burgers, among others.

When a mushroom takes on chicken-like characteristics via Flashbird.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

ON THE MENU

After a two-year hiatus, we can all look forward to a bustling season of special farm-to-table dinners and events. Wines of the Santa Cruz Mountains has already released its schedule for the year, and tickets go live Sunday for Outstanding in the Field. To make sure you don’t miss out on the fun, stay tuned for a guide to these exclusive events, including who’s cooking and when to nab a spot. Attention farmers, wineries, breweries and restaurants: If you’re hosting such an event, email me at lily@lookoutlocal.com to make sure it’s on my radar.

➤ HUNGRY FOR NEW JOBS: See all the most recent listings here.

At Pajaro Pastures, farmer Ryan Abelson supplements his pigs' diet with unsellable fruit and vegetables from nearby farms.
At Pajaro Pastures, farmer Ryan Abelson supplements his pigs’ diet with unsellable fruit and vegetables from nearby farms.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT


We are constantly encouraged to “know your farmer” and “buy local,” but when it comes to locally raised meat in Santa Cruz County, that can be a challenge. Ryan Abelson, who raises heritage pigs at Pajaro Pastures Ecological Ranch in Corralitos, is one of a tiny group of farmers doing just that. Read about the challenges facing local farmers who want to offer a sustainable option for meat eaters in this story, out yesterday.

THE NUMBER

5 — percentage of Americans who consider themselves to be vegetarian, according to a 2018 Gallup poll, the most recent national data.

A QUICK ASK

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LIFE WITH THE BELLIS

In Murphys, the small town in the Sierra foothills where I grew up, St. Patrick’s Day is second only to Christmas. Founded by Irish pioneers during the Gold Rush, every mid-March mysterious midnight leprechauns paint the town green, literally. These enthusiastic and playful community members paint giant green shamrocks on the street at every intersection, a green line between the double yellow line in the center of the asphalt, and, occasionally, dump biologically safe yet shockingly fluorescent green dye into the Murphys Creek that runs through town. Each year, thousands of people flock to Murphys Irish Days, a huge, free street fair with live music, a parade and Irish dancing that completely takes over the downtown. It’s back for 2022 after a two-year hiatus, and while I’m sad I won’t be able to make the trek to celebrate, I will definitely be channeling my Irish roots, loud and proud, here in Santa Cruz. Check out a few local St. Patrick’s Day events where you can join me, from last week’s Eaters Digest.

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, and replying.

THIS WEEK, I’M EATING ...


… the first-of-the-season strawberries, just beginning to make their debut at our local farmers markets. These first berries might be more pink than deep red and less sweet than their midsummer counterparts, but they are such a happy harbinger of spring, I can’t resist. Macerated with a bit of sugar and citrus zest, they are divine over yogurt or buttermilk pancakes.

THIS WEEK, I’M LISTENING ...


… to this delightful conversation with iconic vegetarian chef Deborah Madison on “The Splendid Table.” As the founding chef of San Francisco’s Greens, one of the nation’s first high-end vegetarian restaurants, Madison became a pioneer in meat-free cooking in America. Her pioneering “The Greens Cookbook” has served as a foundational text for plant-forward cooking for decades. Madison’s conversation with podcast host Francis Lam is a fascinating look back at the 1980s, when a plate without meat was virtually unheard of.

FOOD NEWS WORTH READING

Eating seafood is about as climate-friendly as eating plants, study finds. Here’s why (San Francisco Chronicle)
The regulations that helped grow Portland’s explosive food scene (Eater)
Ukraine invasion may lead to worldwide food crisis, warns UN (The Guardian)

Thanks for reading! Have a great week.