EATERS DIGEST: Big Basin’s new downtown tasting room, plus where to celebrate St. Paddy’s
Lower Pacific’s food and drink scene is about to get a major upgrade, and there will be no shortage of places to shake your shamrock around Santa Cruz County next week, including a salute to the Poet & the Patriot.
Céad mile failte, dear foodies! St. Patrick’s Day is Thursday, and for the first time in two years it looks like we will be able to celebrate. I’ve had a love affair with Ireland since I was a kid, and even lived there for a while after graduating college, so I will definitely be enjoying some of the festivities around town, including fun parties at Rosie McCann’s, Chaminade and Santa Cruz Cider Company.
In other news, opening day for Big Basin Vineyards’ new tasting room at the end of Pacific Avenue is fast approaching. Last week I was able to get a sneak peek at the new space, and it looks like it will be a unique experience in the city. Read on to find out more.
Although Lower Pacific connects Santa Cruz’s major tourist area with its commercial center, the stretch of Pacific Avenue between Laurel Street and the roundabout at Depot Park has been something of a “no man’s land” for years. That’s about to change with the opening of Big Basin Vineyards’ new satellite tasting room at 525 Pacific Ave., which aims to be a destination for tourists and locals alike. Bradley Brown, owner of Big Basin Vineyards in Boulder Creek, and Emily Choinski, the tasting room and events manager, sat down with me last week at the space, which is in the final stages of preparation, to share their plans. The new tasting room is only the second wine tasting room to open in downtown Santa Cruz, after Birichino at Cedar and Church streets, and the first to have an in-house kitchen with a menu of hearty bar snacks.
The tasting room sits on the ground floor of a newish apartment building at the intersection of Pacific and Front Street, and boasts indoor and outdoor space for more than 50 guests. Inside, the street noise is muffled by floor-to-ceiling windows and doors. Guests can sidle up to a stunning bar of salvaged curly redwood to taste Big Basin’s organic estate grown and Santa Cruz Mountain-sourced wines. Brown, an amateur photographer, plans to decorate the interior with prints of his own photographs of his vineyards, the mountains and local beaches in order to bring the local terroir to his guests.
On the terrace to the side of the tasting room, guests can cozy up around two outdoor fireplaces, and wine club members will be able to reserve them in advance, says Choinski. Hedges and a large fountain separate the patio from the sidewalk, and Brown believes the plants will grow tall enough to decrease street noise and increase privacy. He also hopes to have live music on the patio at some point, but is working out the details with the city.
Brown, Choinski and culinary program lead Julie Villaire are working with local farmers and collaborating with chefs in the area on a short, but hearty, menu. “We’re not trying to be a restaurant, but we really want to be a place where people come and experience what the Santa Cruz Mountains and the Santa Cruz region have to offer,” says Choinski. Brad Briske of Home has created a beef stew, the centerpiece of the menu. Other options include cheeses and charcuterie from the Tasting Room in Los Gatos, two or three sandwiches, a seasonal salad and snacks like house-made hummus and tapenade with bread from Companion Bakery.
Brown founded Big Basin Vineyards outside of Boulder Creek in the early 2000s, and opened a satellite tasting room in Saratoga nearly 10 years ago. He eventually outgrew the space, and it met a natural end during the pandemic. After the CZU fires destroyed his home and much of the adjoining winery in August 2020, Brown relocated to Live Oak and reconnected with city life and the beach. When it came time to find a new space for a new tasting room, he says “the light bulb went on.”
“This is my town,” he says. “I love Santa Cruz. This is where we have to be located.” Most of Santa Cruz’s wineries are clustered on the Westside, but Brown says he wants to take advantage of tourism near the Boardwalk. “We wanted a destination venue.”
Brown hopes to be open by the end of March or in early April. Hours will run from Thursday through Monday, before expanding to seven days a week this summer. Join the mailing list to stay in the know at bigbasinvineyards.com.
If you’d rather spend your time sipping Guinness than slow-simmering a corned beef, Gayle’s St. Patrick’s Day specials might be the way to go. Choose between a corned beef dinner with cabbage, potatoes, carrots, onions and horseradish cream, or a Guinness beef pot pie. Both dinners should be ordered in advance for pick up on the 17th. Order at gaylesbakery.com.
More St. Paddy’s!
The Irish spirit is always alive and well at Rosie McCann’s, but St. Patrick’s Day feels especially merry this year with the recent reopening of the beloved downtown restaurant after a two-year closure during the pandemic. If you haven’t yet been by, March 17 is the perfect time to soak in the Irish jubilation, and the pub has quite the party planned. Green Isle-inspired dishes like Irish nachos, fish and chips, lamb stew and corned beef and cabbage are always on the menu, and general manager Heather Boyd says they’ll have food and drink specials all day. The festivities continue throughout the day with giveaways for guests, live bagpipe performers, acoustic music and a DJ.
The View at Chaminade is also throwing a St. Patrick’s Day party, featuring traditional Celtic music by the Crooked Road Céilí Band. Sit down in the dining room to enjoy sous-vide corned beef brisket or lamb and venison shepherd’s pie, or grab a seat at the bar for smoked brisket nachos with Guinness queso and Reuben sliders. A variety of drink specials including Jameson whiskey sours, Irish coffee and the hate-to-love-it green beer will ensure that the evening won’t be too buttoned up. Make your reservations at chaminade.com.
If you, like me, used to think that St. Patrick’s Day wasn’t complete without a stop at the Poet & the Patriot Irish Pub, I have some good news. No, the noble dive bar isn’t reopening, but some passionate regulars are moving the party to South County. Cider sisters Nicole Todd and Natalie Henze are hosting a “Remember the Poet and Patriot Party” at Santa Cruz Cider Co.’s tasting room on Hangar Way in Watsonville next Saturday, March 19, from noon until 8 p.m. The event hopes to be “a gathering to remember the good times at a place that meant so much to so many,” with music by DJ Soulciter, food trucks, cider, beer and darts. More information at santacruzciderco.com.
Happy anniversary this week to three local breweries: Discretion Brewing in Soquel and Humble Sea Brewery and New Bohemia Brewing Co. in Santa Cruz are celebrating nine, five and seven years, respectively, in business. Visit NuBo and Discretion this Saturday and Humble Sea on Saturday, March 19, to wish them happy anniversary and enjoy some killer all-day birthday parties with live music and lots of craft beer. More information on Instagram at @nubobrew, @discretionbrewing and @humblesea.