LILY BELLI: Welcome to the debut of Eaters Digest, your guide to local food and drink
Dining news from Oct. 8 through the following week. Your morning guide to news and events in the Santa Cruz County food and drink world. Featuring news and reviews from Bad Animal, Discretion Brewing and Full Steam Dumpling.
Welcome to Eaters Digest, your weekly guide to food news, events, and what’s good to eat and drink in Santa Cruz County. I’m Lily Belli, and I’m thrilled to be joining the Lookout Santa Cruz team as a Food Correspondent.
I’m deeply passionate about Santa Cruz County’s rich food culture, vibrant agriculture and creative minds. I’ve reported on our food scene for the past 10 years and was a staff writer at Good Times for three years. In my reporting, I believe in widening the lens beyond “what’s good to eat” at the many excellent local brick-and-mortar establishments to include trends and industry news, from craft beer and wine, food trucks and pop-ups, and to the agriculture industry and labor market.
Without further ado, let’s get to it.
Chef Katherine Stern of The Midway Santa Cruz and previously of La Posta has found a new home at Bad Animal in downtown Santa Cruz. After closing for much of the duration of the pandemic, the indie bookshop-slash-natural wine bar-slash-restaurant gently reopened over the summer without a full-time kitchen. Now, it is once again serving five nights a week. Stern’s ever-changing menu is driven by the season and her long relationships with area farmers and will pair easily with Bad Animal’s adventurous wines. A menu in early October offered roasted delicata squash with Jimmy Nardello peppers and spice yogurt, ricotta and spinach ravioli, and duck confit with red wine braised lentils. Bad Animal co-owner Jess LoPrete told me that, originally, the new idea for the kitchen was to host different chefs as “artists in residence.” However, LoPrete says Bad Animal thrilled to have Stern and hopes she stays for a long tenure. Bar and restaurant open Wednesday through Sunday 5-9 p.m.
After Laili’s temporary closure for July and August extended through September, the Lookout team became concerned that the beloved downtown restaurant might not reopen. Happily, this is not the case. In an email, general manager Ali Amin assured us that the restaurant plans to reopen later this month, although no firm date has been set. It decided to extend its closure during the shutdown for “a variety of reasons, business and personal.” Laili, we hope you return refreshed and ready for crowds, because we have missed your delicious flatbreads, kabobs and boranee and can’t wait to dine in your gorgeous courtyard again.
Wine and beer
The wine grape harvest in the Santa Cruz Mountains is finishing up, and local vintners, so far, are excited. Ken Swegles, viticulturist at Rhizos Viticulture and co-owner of Madson Wines described it as “stellar.” “It’s one of the best vintages I’ve been a part of,” he adds. Moderate weather with few heat spikes has allowed plenty of hang time, and that long ripening is sure to develop into complex, intricate wines. The drought doesn’t seem to have had a dramatic negative effect, and yields are good for this year, even from the dry-farmed vineyards. After a devastating 2020 harvest season marred by intense heat spikes and smoke taint from the CZU Lightning Complex fire, this is welcome news for our local wine industry. Read more on this in my story Saturday.
There’s nothing like a refreshing Oktoberfest-style lager to welcome fall, and local breweries are putting their own spin on this seasonal beer. There’s something about this super crisp, malty style that pairs perfectly with falling leaves and cooler weather. I always look forward to the return of Discretion Brewing’s Accordion Man Oktoberfest Lager, which has a limited run every autumn. New Bohemian Brewing Company in Santa Cruz regularly pours delicious festbiers. Brewer David Purgason at Fruition Brewing in Watsonville is offering a traditional marzen and a version that has been aging in a Venus Spirits bourbon barrel for a year. These seasonal releases are typically gone in a flash, so head down to your neighborhood brewery and grab one while you can.
Eat this ASAP
One of the best (honestly, maybe the best) summer treats I discovered this year are the Sheep’s Milk Yogurt Popsicles from Garden Variety Cheese. Holy cow, these little frozen ice cream bars are the G.O.A.T. They are made from cultured sheep’s milk from its Watsonville farm and flavored with local fruits and spices. The tangy yogurt balances out the sweetness of maple and vanilla, or mulberry ginger, or raspberry, or chocolate … or whatever other seasonal flavorings farmer and chef Rebecca King and the other the geniuses over at Monkeyflower Ranch come up with. Grab one at Garden Variety Cheese’s downtown farmers market booth before these warm days are gone.
I stopped into H&H Fresh Fish Co.’s shop in the Santa Cruz Harbor and was delighted to discover a small market dedicated to fish flavor boosters. The small but mighty collection includes hot sauces, boutique salts, fish broth and paella bases, fish jerky, and more. If you’re looking for a specialty product or tool for your fresh catch, it might be here. Also, who else misses the freshly shucked oysters at the farmers market? H&H sadly had to stop during the pandemic, but hopefully, it will return someday!
Have you tried the char siu bao from pop-up Full Steam Dumpling? These pillowy, tennis ball-sized Asian dumplings are stuffed with sweet, spicy BBQ pork. They are available weekly at Full Steam Dumpling’s farmers market booths and many of its pop-ups, and you can also purchase them frozen to take home. It is delightful to have something so delicious available in your freezer for when cooking feels like a chore. $24 for 12 bao.
Food events this week
Gourmet Grazing on the Green, one of Santa Cruz County’s premier food, wine and beer events of the year, returns on Saturday at Aptos Village Park from 12-4 p.m. Guests can sip and sample from more than 50 wineries, breweries, chefs, food businesses and artists from around our coastal region. Proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test from within 72 hours of the event will be required to enter. All proceeds benefit local cancer support nonprofits. Organizer Keiki McKay reports that only a handful of tickets are left, so grab yours while you can. $95 adv./$120 at the door.
The final West Cliff Food Truck 2021 Summer Series is Friday from 4-8 p.m. at the Lighthouse on West Cliff Drive. Don’t miss your chance to enjoy delicious food truck fare and live music by the Lighthouse while enjoying epic views of Monterey Bay. Guests have almost a dozen food vendors to choose from, including Nomad Momo’s Dumplings, Taquizas Gabriel Mexican cuisine, Scrumptious Fish and Chips, Union Foodie Truck, Miches and Ceviches, and more. Free.
Dust off your steins, lederhosen and dirndls for Oktoberfest at the Elk’s Lodge on Saturday from 3-8 p.m. German-style food, including sausages, schnitzel and potato salad, will be provided by Mickey’s Catering, beer from local craft brewery New Bohemia Brewing Company will flow and Alpinesound will set the mood with traditional music. All proceeds will go to the California-Hawaii Elks Major Project to provide free therapy for children with disabilities. $25 adv./$30 at the door. 21-plus.
Have you ever wanted to eat one and half pounds of Maine lobster while surrounded by Santa Cruz redwoods? Good news! The 26th Annual Felton Lobster Feed is for you. On Saturday, enjoy a delicious dinner featuring plenty of your favorite East Coast crustacean with all the fixin’s and music by Americana duo Wild & Blue at Henry Cowell Redwoods Picnic Area 1 from 4:30-7:30 p.m. Hosted by Mountain Parks Foundation. All proceeds support Redwoods State Parks, Henry Cowell and Big Basin. $100 adv.