Santa Cruz Spirits vodka
(Via Santa Cruz Spirits)
Food & Drink

Lily Belli on Food: Prize-winning vodka, new efforts to save salmon & spring strawberries

Hello eaters! Jessica M. Pasko here. While Lily is out on maternity leave, I’m pitching in on the latest local food news. A little about me — I’m a writer and a native of upstate New York, living in Santa Cruz for over a decade. Our rich food culture is just one of the many things I love about our region, and I’m especially interested in the stories of the people who grow, serve and make the food we eat. Now, let’s dig in!

New Santa Cruz vodka takes top honors at San Francisco competition

Santa Cruz Spirits vodka
(Via Santa Cruz Spirits)

A double gold at the recent San Francisco World Spirits Competition has Santa Cruz Spirits’ flagship vodka trending, and its founders are aiming to ramp up production and make waves well beyond the county’s borders. Read more here.

Davenport resident vies for title of Montucky Cold Snacks mascot

Bartender and tattoo artist Bear Nataraj Champlain is among 12 national semifinalists to, among other honors, get his face on thousands of cans of Montucky Cold Snacks lager. Read more here.

California state officials announce new plans for salmon habitat restoration

a rendering of a planned fishway along the Yuba River
(Via Office of the California Governor)

After this year’s commercial and recreational salmon season was shut down, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced plans to build a fishway that will enable salmon, steelhead, sturgeon and lamprey to get around the Daguerre Point Dam on the Yuba River. Read more here.

A few more bites of news to tide you over for the week

A Get Hooked dinner at Maligne in Seaside
A Get Hooked dinner at Maligne in Seaside.
(Via Monterey Bay Fisheries Trust)

Get Hooked dinner series comes Home: The Monterey Bay Fisheries Trust’s next “Get Hooked” event, a multicourse, seafood-centric dinner, will be held at Home in Soquel on June 8. Tickets for the family-style communal dinner (which includes wine pairings) are $200 per person and are available here.

The dinners raise money for the organization’s Community Seafood Program, with 20% of the proceeds going to directly support it. The Community Seafood Program, started in November 2020, provides healthy, sustainably harvested seafood to local families, farmworkers, seniors and others in need of assistance — while also supporting the local fishing economy. Since the program’s inception, MBFT has purchased 11,000 pounds of seafood and donated over 29,000 meals throughout Santa Cruz and Monterey counties.

white sapotes in a colander
White sapotes.
(Via Freddy Menges)

Fruit-a-palooza celebrates all things rare fruit: Sure, we all know apples, oranges and strawberries, but what about the lesser-known fruits like white sapotes and cherimoyas? The Monterey Bay chapter of the California Rare Fruit Growers is fanatic about exotic and rare fruit. Next month, the organization is putting on a Fruit-a-Palooza event dedicated to raising awareness about how to grow these species — and raise money for gardening education in Pajaro Valley Unified School District in the process. The event, slated for June 10 at the Santa Cruz Grange Hall, will feature a full day of speakers and presentations. While tickets for the main event have sold out, there’s also a vendor fair being held simultaneously that’s open to the public for free. Local nurseries that specialize in tropical and subtropical fruits will be there to show off a vast array of plants.

Watsonville winery named official selection of Monterey music fest: Watsonville’s Integrity Wines has been selected as the official wine sponsor of this week’s California Roots music festival at the Monterey County Fairgrounds. Integrity wines available at the four-day music festival, which kicks off Thursday, will include an albarino, rose and pinot noir, among others. Integrity was founded by longtime friends Eric Silverman and Mark Hoover, who hatched the idea on a ski trip several years ago.

Integrity Wines chardonnay and pinot noir
(Via Integrity Wines)

Integrity was established in 2015 and its first vintage of chardonnay was made in Hoover’s garage. The winery now produces over 20 different wines, sells more than 3,000 cases annually and operates a tasting room in Watsonville.

Lusting for lambics at Lupulo: The downtown Santa Cruz taproom and restaurant continues its slate of beer-centric events with a day of celebrating lambics, a Belgian style of ale made using spontaneous fermentation. Lambics are known for their funky, fruity taste and what some people refer to as a “barnyard flavor” (in a good way).

lambic-style beers
(Via Tom Bentley)

On Saturday, Lupulo’s draft list will include Cantillon Kriek and Cantillon Nath, four varieties from Tilquin, a Brussels brewery, and more. Those beers will be poured throughout the day. There will also be a bottle sale featuring a variety of beers from both Belgian and U.S. breweries including Cantillon, Oud Beersel, Sante Adairius Rustic Ales, Side Project Brewing and more.

Sip for Second Harvest is set for Seascape: Second Harvest Food Bank will hold its annual wine tasting fundraiser on Sunday, June 25, at Seascape Golf Club. Attendees get eight tasting tickets, appetizers and a commemorative glass. All proceeds will benefit the food bank. Participating wineries include Alfaro Family Vineyards, Armitage Wines, Bottle Jack Winery, Burrell School and many others. Tickets, which are $50 per person or $90 for two, are available here.


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Taqueria De Amigos
Taqueria De Amigos, an unassuming taqueria located in Pescadero’s only gas station with popular tacos featuring locally sourced ingredients.
(Ashley Spencer / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Pescadero might technically be in San Mateo County, but it sure does give off Santa Cruz vibes. Ashley Spencer recently detailed some of her favorite places to stop during a day trip to Pescadero, including Harley Goat Farms and Duarte’s Tavern. (It’s hard to go wrong with a bowl of that famous artichoke soup.) Check out her recommendations here.


5 — That’s the number of locations that Santa Cruz-based Humble Sea Brewing Company will soon have. The brewery recently launched a seasonal beer garden on the Santa Cruz Wharf, and as the San Francisco Chronicle reports, it will also be opening a new taproom in Alameda later this year.

“The very essence of ‘Taco Tuesday’ is to celebrate the commonality amongst people of all walks of life who come together every week to celebrate something as simple, yet culturally phenomenal as the taco. How can anyone Live Más if they’re not allowed to freely say ‘Taco Tuesday?’ It’s pure chaos,” read a corporate statement issued last week by Taco Bell. The company is challenging federal trademarks for the phrase Taco Tuesday.


… spring strawberry season. After several months of gloom and gray, it’s been so wonderful to finally get some sunny days and witness the changes at our local farmers markets. Joining the heaps of hearty greens are the new spring lettuces and of course, berries aplenty. While we’re certainly spoiled here on the Central Coast with plentiful access to fresh strawberries, there’s just something about those first few spring berries that always taste the best to me. I restrained myself to just two baskets’ worth at the Live Oak farmers market this past Sunday, each from a different vendor for variety. After already eating several handfuls as-is, I’ll probably use some for a spinach, strawberry and goat cheese salad later this week and maybe whip up a quick strawberry shrub to add to sparkling water. Later in the season I’ll be purchasing larger flats for making at least a few batches of jam, but for now, I’ll just be enjoying the first sweet berries of spring in their fresh, unadulterated state.


Meet the women working to grow local food systems on U.S. island territories (The 19th)
Michelin honors 19 Bay Area restaurants as new discoveries (San Jose Mercury News)
Soaring pasta prices caused a crisis in Italy. What can the U.S. learn from it? (NPR)

Happy eating!

~ Jessica

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