Lily Belli on Food: Brew Cruz warms up the bus, Staff of Life’s Watsonville fun and whither free bread?
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… Betty Jane rides again! That’s right, craft beer fans — after a hiatus of more than two years, Brew Cruz’s flagship vehicle, a remodeled 1989 Thomas International school bus named Betty Jane, is back on the road. Since Brew Cruz launched its local craft beer bus tours in 2015, I’ve enjoyed at least half a dozen private tours visiting breweries around Santa Cruz County, hosted by gregarious and knowledgeable owner Annie Wolff Pautsch. Unfortunately, just as Pautsch was considering expanding her fleet to a third vehicle and offering custom tours of South County’s blossoming craft beverage scene, the pandemic forced a “temporary” shutdown. Then in 2021, Pautsch learned that her vintage vehicle’s engine was no longer compliant with California’s new diesel regulation laws and would have to be taken off the road. The Department of Motor Vehicles and the California Air Resources Board gave Pautsch few options besides selling the custom-designed vehicle out of state or installing a new energy-efficient engine — to the tune of $162,000. Which, even if the price wasn’t a factor, wasn’t compatible with the bus’ chassis.
Frustrated but determined, Pautsch focused on promoting her second vehicle, a seven-seat 1964 Volkswagen bus nicknamed Slowboy. This year, she decided to revisit a low-usage option that allows vehicles that don’t have “clean air” engines to operate as long as they drive under 1,000 miles in a year. In 2019, that would have been impossible — Pautsch reports Betty Jane operated three to four days a week and clocked over 4,000 miles a year. But because the bus has been off the road in 2020, 2021 and now the first half of 2022, Pautsch was able to qualify. She can now drive Betty Jane up to 1,000 miles through the end of this year.
“I just want to get the word out there. The big goal is to convert Betty Jane to electric,” says Pautsch. “If anyone has a lead on someone interested in doing an individual conversion project to turn a vintage vehicle to electric, let me know. Vintage vehicles are too special to not enjoy.”
Now Brew Cruz can offer a limited number of Santa Cruz-based brewery tours for 10 to 15 passengers. There are about 25 tour dates available through the end of the year.
Last weekend, Pautsch completed her first private tour in more than two years, and she’s glad to be back in her beloved bus again: “It was amazing. The bus got several honks and waves. Seeing the familiar faces at the breweries that I saw every weekend for six years was really wonderful and emotional. It felt like old times.” Tickets are $95 per person. More information at scbrewcruz.com.
… Staff of Life market, a superlative, locally owned natural foods store based in Santa Cruz, opened a new location in Watsonville last year and has been holding lots of fun events to welcome the community. For example, on Tuesday, marketing manager Hollie Wendt tells me, the store will sell cheeseburgers, pulled pork sandwiches, loaded tater tots with pulled pork and sides of tater tots in front of the store from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. This weekly parking lot barbecue has become very popular, and the Staff of Life team is considering making it a weekly occurrence. And every other Wednesday is Wine Down Wednesday from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., when it hosts a wine tasting in the store. This week, guests can try three wines from Oliver McCrum Wines, as well as a prosecco, moscato and a few other fun vintages along with specialty cheeses and sausages. All items in the tasting are 10% off. Check it out at 906 E. Lake Ave. in Watsonville.
… This is one of the silliest things I’ve ever written about, but what happened to complimentary bread at restaurants? A small basket of bread and butter or olive oil used to be ubiquitous with a sitdown meal, but now I can’t remember the last time it was offered to me. OK, that’s not entirely true — a few of my favorite Italian restaurants, including Tramonti and Lago di Como, both in Santa Cruz, still offer homemade bread. Far more often, though, I either see haute in-house bread creations on the menu — like towering, oily focaccia at Mentone in Aptos for $5, homemade bread with salted butter at Bantam for $5 and crispy focaccia at Home in Soquel with sea-lettuce butter for $7 — or I don’t see it at all. My guess is that, with surging costs burdening restaurants, free bread was one of the first things to go. Perhaps wasted bread was a concern? I can understand that, too. But I miss it. It’s relaxing to have something to munch on with your drink while browsing the menu. And a plate of bread on the table can be very forgiving to a busy server with a full station if the guests have to wait a while for their attention. Ah, free bread. I took you for granted!
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IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
Good news for downtown Santa Cruz: Vamonos Comida, a nontraditional take on a taqueria, opened in the Octagon building last week and serves a mix of the unconventional — think fried chicken tacos — with classic favorites like street tacos and quesadillas. See what I thought about the new addition to Abbott Square, plus a few summer treats to enjoy before the season’s gone, in Friday’s Eaters Digest.
60 – The amount in tons of food scraps the city of Santa Cruz expects to collect from residents once it rolls out new composing cans next week. If you live in Santa Cruz and have been patiently waiting for your new food scraps bin, expect it the week of Aug. 1.
“The short story of the pandemic is, I was able to take the time off, like many of us, to find myself and realize what I truly needed to do.” — Casalegno’s owner Gina Lund on how her experiences during the pandemic, including losing her home in the CZU Lightning Complex Fire, inspired her to reimagine the historic store she’s run since 2009.
LIFE WITH THE BELLIS
My brother, Alex, is in France right now with his Parisian girlfriend, Alice. I know, poor him, right? Not only is Alice a truly wonderful woman who adores my brother, but she’s an incredible host and a real foodie to boot. They have been blowing up our family WhatsApp group chat with photos from their trip that look incredible — a speakeasy in Paris located behind a secret door in a laundromat; a fluffy île flottante dessert in a bistro in the Bastille; okonomiyaki at a Japanese restaurant; glasses of wine by the Seine. But this is by far the French-est thing they’ve done — while hiking and camping in Annecy, they made fondue on the side of a mountain. I’m not a huge fan of backpacking, but if there was fondue involved, I would go a lot more often. Here’s the recipe, according to my brother: Start with a bag of shredded Gruyère, a can of Heineken and a few cloves of garlic. Boil the garlic in a bit of beer over a small stove, then add another splash of beer and the cheese until it’s creamy and smooth. How dreamy is that? I mean, later they almost got struck by lightning when a thunderstorm rolled in, but hey, at least they ate like kings!
THIS WEEK, I’M CHUCKLING …
… at a joke I saw multiple times on Twitter this week. While Britain suffered through a historic heat wave last week, concerned fans of “The Great British Bake Off” worried online that the poor baking contestants would be forced to film the dreaded Chocolate Week episode in temperatures that reached into the triple digits. Never fear – a Channel 4 spokesperson confirmed that filming for the upcoming season finished earlier this summer. New episodes of GBBO are coming in September.
FOOD NEWS WORTH READING
➤ Diana Kennedy, authority on Mexican cooking, dies at 99 (New York Times)
➤ Beer giant Anheuser-Busch selling Bay Area distribution center, laying off 142 (SFGate)
➤ It’s Judgment Day for Paul Hollywood (Eater)
Thanks for reading! Eat well, my friends.