Venus Spirits Cocktails & Kitchen Beachside opened in Rio Del Mar in June
Venus Spirits Cocktails & Kitchen Beachside opened in Rio Del Mar in June, and it’s taking over more of the block along the Esplanade.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)
Food & Drink

Lily Belli on Food: Charting the local pie scene, compost-bin tips & seeking S.F. recs

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… Pies dominate this newsletter’s headlines this week. First, the good news. Not for the first time this summer, I’m glad to tell you that Venus Spirits is opening a new restaurant in Aptos. Just two months after Venus Spirits Cocktails & Kitchen Beachside opened in the space that previously held Café Rio in Rio Del Mar, the Westside-based distillery announced Friday that Venus Pie Trap, an outpost for sweet and savory pies, will open in the former Flats Bistro spot next door. (Flats Bistro closed earlier this year.)

Two things immediately caught my eye — the first was that Venus Pie Trap will serve New Haven-style pizza. Owner Sean Venus hails from Connecticut, and enjoyed the charred, thin-crust, Neopolitan-ish pizza style as a kid. At the Pie Trap — opening this week — he will recreate classic combos like clams and garlic and the cheese-free tomato pie. I believe that this will be the first time New Haven-style pizzas will be served at a restaurant in Santa Cruz County, which makes it another new-to-us pizza style that comes hot on the heels of the Detroit-style pizza craze that has swept our area in the past few years, and can now be found at Slice Project in Watsonville, Bookie’s in Santa Cruz, pop-up Jayne Dough and soon-to-open Scotts Valley restaurant Pizza Series.

The second thing: Oakland’s Edith’s Pie will be on the menu at the Pie Trap. This Bay Area pie pop-up rose to prominence during the pandemic for its undeniably delicious pies, in sweet flavors like raspberry lemonade icebox, fudge banana cream and honey ginger chess, as well as savory pot pies and quiches. Now, we won’t have to travel to Oakland to get our hands on one. South Bay-based Manresa Bread pastries, bagels from Santa Cruz’s bagel darlings Holey Roller and coffee from 11th Hour Coffee will also be on the menu. Best of all, we won’t have to wait too long to try all these treats — Venus Pie Trap opens this Thursday. Once open, its hours will be 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday.

A Rogue Pye stuffed with beef and vegetables.
(Via Facebook)

… Now, the bad news. Rogue Pye, a local pie company selling savory, English-style hand pies, has stopped production, although the owners are unsure if they will close for good. Over the past six years, Rogue Pye earned devoted fans for its stuffed, flavorful meat and vegetarian “pyes,” pasties and sausage rolls. Last month, owners Ed and Uandi Fordyce announced that they are “hitting the pause button” and stopping production. Tuesday is the last day to purchase their remaining pyes, which will be available at the Felton farmers market.

Ed Fordyce told me that the company has sold more than 160,000 pyes — last year selling 4,000-5,000 pyes every month, and had plans to increase production even more. Unfortunately, he and Uandi haven’t been able to find the staff they need to support that growth. Ed, who is in his 60s, confessed that he’s “not getting any younger” and continuing to put in the hours necessary to produce thousands of pyes a month is not sustainable or desirable. He has been searching for an apprentice he could train to take over the business, but hasn’t found the right person. Now stuck at a point where the business should scale up but is unable to, he and Uandi have decided to take a much-needed break and will reassess their business plan and decide what their next steps will be. So if you have a passion for pyes or pies, reach out to

… While most of the county now tosses their food scraps in with their yard waste, if you live in Santa Cruz, you have been getting used to living with a new 6-gallon food waste bin. I’ve heard some residents express concern about animals getting into the pail if it’s stored outside or left on the curb for trash day. This video from Santa Cruz’s Public Works Department shows that the lid locks if you leave the handle in the upright position, which should prevent any curious critters from investigating the bin. The video also reminds residents what can be added and tips on how to manage smells, like freezing waste until the night before trash pickup. Hope it helps!

School might be back in session, but the summer weather is still here. Celebrate by getting three free tickets to Gilroy Gardens, a value of $120. The first three people to purchase annual Lookout memberships will each receive three tickets to Gilroy Gardens. Just click this link or the image above and choose an annual membership.

If you enjoy my free newsletter every week, you’ll love my stories on our local food scene. Only members get full access to all of Lookout’s content, including Eaters Digest, my Friday column with dining news, reviews and the best food and drink events in town each week. At Lookout, we strive to create a better Santa Cruz County with high-quality, trustworthy local news and information — and that includes all my coverage through the week of the people behind our food. Become a member today.


The wine grape harvest has begun, and you might have already seen truckloads of grapes being transported across the county. Harvest started in mid-August this year, about three weeks earlier than 2021. Although winemakers disagree about why that might be, all are optimistic about the quality of the fruit. Read what they had to say about the harvest so far.


9 — Number of BLTs I ate in search of the best bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich in the county. I based this journalistic investigation on dozens of reader recommendations and my own instincts, and I arrived with two clear winners. Café Delmarette offers the best classic BLT, an utterly perfect rendition that hits all the high points. But Reef Dog Deli in Capitola challenged all my expectations and raised the bar on BLTs forever, crafting an unforgettable sandwich I’ll be dreaming about for many summers to come. Read the results in Friday’s Eaters Digest.

Nesh Dhillon, director of Santa Cruz Community Farmers' Markets
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

“It’s a town square, where everybody comes and meets once or twice a week and checks in. It’s a way for us to stay human and take a look at our priorities as a society and as individuals, especially now that we live in such a hyperdigital world.” — Nesh Dhillon, executive director of Santa Cruz Community Farmers’ Markets, on why farmers markets are important in a community. Hear more from Dhillon on the growth of SCCFM over the past 20 years, including its development into a local culinary destination.


Next week, my family is taking a little summer vacation, but we aren’t going anywhere. We decided traveling with a toddler didn’t sound like much fun so we’ve been planning a relaxing staycation at home. In addition to spending time at the beach and enjoying schedule-free days, I’m really looking forward to visiting San Francisco with my husband. When we were dating, we used to go up to the city for “eating days,” and we would try to eat at as many places as we could in a day. On an “eating day,” we might start with bowls of noodles and pineapple buns in Ocean Beach or bagels with lox at Wise Sons Jewish Delicatessen, followed by pastries at Tartine and loaves of perfect sourdough to take home. Then we would usually grab epic Italian sandwiches at Molinari Deli before grabbing a beer at Cellarmaker Brewing or Toronado in the Haight, eventually crawling our way back down Highway 1.

It pains me to say this, but I haven’t been to San Francisco since 2019 and feel woefully out of the loop. What are some of your favorite places to visit when you’re there? Because the goal is to visit several places in one day and we aren’t staying the night, these need to be to-go shops or quick sit-down places — no fancy dinner or extravagant lunches. Bonus points for great sandwiches, incredible dumplings, Vietnamese food and barbecue. Email or text me your faves!

P.S. There’s no Lily Belli On Food newsletter next week — the next one will be Sept. 13!


… to this totally catchy song. Remember the cute viral “It’s Corn” video of the kid who loves corn? Well, the internet worked its magic and now a buzzy, addicting song version of that iconic interview exists. It’s almost as cute as the original and it will definitely get stuck in your head. Don’t mind me if you see me humming, “It’s corn! It’s got the juice (it’s got the juice!)” to myself while I’m walking down the street.


Diet for a hotter climate: Five plants that could help feed the world (The Guardian)
4 a.m. last-call bill voted down once again, this time in the Assembly (SFist)
California passes bill to regulate wages for fast food workers (CalMatters)

Thanks for reading! Eat well, my friends.