Lily Belli on Food: Outdoor dining to stay in downtown Santa Cruz; a farm-to-table guide
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… Last week, the sudden deconstruction of the parklets in front of Kianti’s, HoM Korean Kitchen and Snap Taco in downtown Santa Cruz might have led you to believe that the pandemic-era outdoor seating was being permanently dismantled, but fear not. The 1100 block of Pacific Avenue is set to reopen to vehicles by the end of the month, and the parklets will be rebuilt to accommodate one-way traffic. “We’re just making modifications,” says Rebecca Unitt, Santa Cruz’s economic development manager. In fact, the city aims to establish a permanent parklet program after the temporary program expires at the end of this year. In order to streamline the application process for businesses, Unitt and her colleagues at the city are working with local design group Dylan Design Associates to create two parklet designs that will be pre-approved by the city. Outreach for the initiative, including presentations and surveys, and requests for feedback begin early April; find more information on the Economic Development website. Until then, expect to see more modifications to parklets as the need arises. “It’s an evolving process, but we’re working through it,” Unitt says. “We definitely support the semi-permanent outdoor dining that we’ve really seen be beneficial to our businesses.” ...
… Second Harvest Food Bank recognized two extraordinary people fighting food insecurity in our community last week. The crucial Santa Cruz County organization turns 50 this year, and Cesario Ruiz is the newest member of Second Harvest’s board of trustees — you might recognize his smiling face from his pop-up catering business, My Mom’s Mole, which serves his delicious homemade mole and other homestyle Mexican dishes. Ruiz manages El Pajáro Community Development Corporation’s Commercial Kitchen Incubator, a Watsonville nonprofit that helps small food businesses get off the ground. The kitchen incubator houses more than 30 entrepreneurs, including My Mom’s Mole. The Hunger Fighter of the Year is Darrie Ganzhorn, the executive director of the Homeless Garden Project in Santa Cruz, which strives to connect unhoused individuals to gardening and the land while providing rehabilitation and work experience. Ganzhorn began working with HGP in 1991, soon after it was founded, and has helmed the organization for the past 14 years. In that time, she has shared thousands of healthy meals and helped countless unhoused persons get on their feet. Earlier this month, Lookout spoke with Ganzhorn about her career and the important work she does. Congratulations and thank you to Ganzhorn and Ruiz for their dedication to fighting hunger in Santa Cruz County ...
… Have you ever wanted to write a cookbook? In a new podcast, “Everything Cookbooks,” Santa Cruz cookbook author and James Beard Award-winner Andrea Nguyen joins a team of similarly honored writers and cooks, including Molly Stevens, Kate Leahy and Kristen Donnelly, to discuss the ins and outs of creating a cookbook. In my experience, you can trust Nguyen to know what she’s talking about. Her book “Vietnamese Food Any Day” is a staple in my house. All of the recipes are approachable and endlessly riffable (the Shaking Beef and Sriracha Tofu are favorites). It won’t be long before I add her “Into the Vietnamese Kitchen” and “The Pho Cookbook” to my shelf. In the podcast’s first episode, she and her teammates ask, should you write a cookbook? When Nguyen puts a book idea together, she’s driven in part by the belief that books are precious objects. She says she asks herself, “What can I give to my readers that’s really going to be special, something that will contribute to their being better cooks or having healthier lives? ... I don’t know, that ‘mojo.’ Having something to say is something that obviously is important to all four of us.” Listen in to hear their sage advice and experience. I also suggest you check out Nguyen’s website, vietworldkitchen.com, and follow her on Instagram at @andreanguyen88 — her tips on her favorite ingredients and kitchen tricks always spice up my cooking.
ON THE MENU
When I go out, I usually indulge in a glass of wine or cocktail, but my husband doesn’t drink alcohol at all. I also abstained for almost a year when I was pregnant, and it’s made me very aware of the lack of non-alcoholic options at local bars and restaurants. Unfortunately, most do not take alcohol-free options on their menus seriously. While Mike enjoys an Arnold Palmer as much as the next guy, with so many interesting, adult-oriented alcohol-free beverage options on the market today, there’s really no excuse not to have a few cool sodas, seltzers and kombuchas on the menu. Readers, I need your help — which local drinking establishments offer great non-alcoholic cocktails and beverages? Tell me at firstname.lastname@example.org or text me via Subtext.
- Digital Experience & Website Management at Bay Federal Credit Union
- Community Programs Operations Director at Ecology Action
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
After a two-year, pandemic-induced hiatus, farm-to-table and other outdoor dining events are back in a big way. In my first guide for Lookout Santa Cruz, check out more than 30 special events being held throughout the Central Coast through the end of the year. Use this guide to plan ahead, as most tickets will sell out fast. And bookmark it for later — we will add more events as dates become available. Read it here. Keep an eye out for the rocket ship icon — it notes my picks for especially cool events.
33.7 — percentage of American adults who don’t drink alcohol, according to a 2018 study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“I felt like I was ready.” — 21-year-old chef Malik Williams, on the decision to open his first restaurant. Restaurant Malik Williams officially opened in Aptos last week. Read about Santa Cruz County’s newest fine-dining establishment in Eaters Digest.
A QUICK ASK
I’m glad you’re reading my newsletter, and if you’re hungry for more, please join us as a member. Only members get full access to all of Lookout’s content, including Eaters Digest, published every Friday with food news, dining reviews and the best food and drink events each week. I want each of you to share what our team of 10 produces every week.
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LIFE WITH THE BELLIS
According to this brilliant meme, we may only be in the Spring of Deception, but with all this warm weather, Mike and I are already thinking about lighting up the grill. Early on in our relationship, we bonded over a shared love of cooking over an open fire. The first Christmas present I ever bought him was a Santa Maria-style grill top that fits over a standard Weber (here’s a similar model). To us, there are few foods that can’t be improved with a nice char — proteins, vegetables, stone fruit, even potatoes (cut in wedges and parboiled first). We have always used charcoal, but last year for Christmas my father gifted us a small propane grill. While nothing can replace the flavor and ceremony of charcoal grilling, the promise of shaving off 45 minutes to an hour of dinner prep as a result of not waiting for the coals to burn down is very appealing. Have you lit your grill up yet? Do you use charcoal or propane?
THIS WEEK, I’M WATCHING ...
... “Bad Vegan: Fame. Fraud. Fugitives.” Netflix’s latest crime documentary shares the rise and fall of vegan poster girl Sarma Melngailis, who opened New York City’s Pure Food and Wine, the first fine dining vegan restaurant in the world. Melngailis and then-husband Anthony Strangis were convicted of defrauding investors employees and even Melngailis’s own family members of millions of dollars, but in this four-part series, Melngailis shares the psychological abuse that drove her to her crimes. Fair warning, it’s pretty stomach-churning, but if you watched the headlines from 2014 to 2016, it’s a must-see.
THIS WEEK, I’M DEBATING ...
… Soleil Ho, the San Francisco Chronicle’s restaurant critic, who recently asked, “Is it OK to send your friends a bill when you host a dinner party?” She raised the question in response to a viral tweet from someone who had been invited to dinner at a friend’s house — and then received a Venmo request for $20 to help pay for it. So, what do you think? Is this OK, and has it even happened to you? I admit, I once hosted a party and asked guests to contribute — it was a crawfish boil, and the amount of crawdads needed to feed our guests was over $400. But, before you write me off, I asked them for the donation up front, and since it was such a special experience, all our friends were game. But under all other circumstances I would personally be mortified to request anything from my guests, especially after the fact. Do you agree? Email me at email@example.com, or text me via Subtext.
FOOD NEWS WORTH READING
➤ What a surge in union organizing means for food and farm workers (Civil Eats)
➤ Ukraine’s chefs are determined to fight (Eater)
➤ The 2022 James Beard Restaurant and Chef Awards nominees (James Beard Foundation)
Happy spring! Enjoy the sunshine this week.