EATERS DIGEST: New Driscoll’s strawberry, Avant Garden Party returns and fun summer drinks

Eventgoers take in the music at Midtown Fridays in the city-owned parking lot at 1111 Soquel Avenue.
(Via Matthew Swinnerton)

Enjoy June’s arrival with these warm-weather recommendations, including a refreshing local pilsner, fun ciders, local pie crust and the return of Midtown Fridays and the Avant Garden Party.

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Lily

Welcome to the weekend! This first week of June definitely felt like summer, and this week’s issue of Eaters Digest is full of warm-weather recommendations. Locals know not to take sunny days for granted, and June gloom is likely around the corner, so get out there while the getting’s good.

Right now we are deep in berry season, and Driscoll’s — always on the cutting edge of berry breeding — has released a new strawberry that tastes like tropical fruit. You might just be inspired to bake a pie, and Marge Clemens at El Salchichero makes a wonderful pre-made pie dough.

In Watsonville, the Slough Brewing Collective brews my current favorite beer, called Arpeggi, a dry-hopped Italian pilsner. Next door to the brewery, Santa Cruz Cider Company offers a cider that screams summer — it comes with a popsicle.

Midtown Fridays block parties return Friday night, Jozseph Schultz caters the 43rd season of the Avant Garden Party in Live Oak this Sunday, and make your reservations for a seafood-themed collaboration between Home restaurant and the Monterey Bay Fisheries Trust.

News

Driscoll's Sweetest Batch, Rosé Berries and new Tropical Bliss strawberries.
(Via Driscoll’s)

What does a pineapple-flavored strawberry taste like? For the first time, we have a chance to find out thanks to the berry breeders at Driscoll’s. The banana-colored Tropical Bliss Strawberry allegedly tastes like tropical punch, pineapple and passionfruit. Driscoll’s created the berry with selective breeding and without the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), and it took years to develop. I’ll admit, I was a little suspicious at first, but berry breeding is how we got the beloved olallieberry, after all — its parents were a loganberry and a youngberry — so it can’t be that bad.

This is the third berry Driscoll’s has bred with novelty, high-impact flavors in mind. The other two are the Sweetest Batch Strawberries, said to taste like a handful of strawberries, blueberries, raspberry and blackberries all at once, and the Rosé Strawberries, which I have tried and which truly do taste like pink lemonade and peaches — although to me, the pale pink color looks like an unripe strawberry. Find the Tropical Bliss Strawberry wherever Driscoll’s berries are sold through the spring and summer.

Someone with the best job in the world decided that Friday is National Donut Day, and who am I to argue? Go forth and enjoy donuts, as is your duty as an American. And if you haven’t read it yet, take a few minutes to enjoy my deep dive into the history of Ferrell’s Donuts, in which I reveal why some are “original” and some aren’t, and why Santa Cruzans have a sweet spot for this local chain.

Eat this

We are well and fully in berry season, and with those new strawberry flavors from Driscoll’s plus blackberries, blueberries, raspberries and strawberries filling farmers market stands and olallieberries here for a couple of weeks, you just might be inspired to bake a pie. If you do, save yourself the trouble of making pie dough and treat yourself to some made by Marge Clemens, the matron of El Salchichero in Santa Cruz. For the first time, the Westside craft butcher shop offers frozen pie dough made by Clemens, a skilled cook and baker who is the brains behind many of its provisions, including the shop’s corn dogs and meat pasties — and also head butcher Chris LaVeque’s mom. Each pie dough comes frozen and rolls out to a 9-inch pie crust, so you’ll need two to make a covered pie. It isn’t sweet to my taste, which makes it useful for both sweet and savory applications. I used one to cover a chicken pot pie, and found it to be easy to work with, tender and incredibly flaky — probably due to the mixture of homemade lard and butter. Each pie crust is $6 at the butchery at 402 Ingalls St. in Santa Cruz.

India pale ales might dominate the craft beer scene, but there’s nothing like a crisp pilsner on a hot day. Or any time, if you’re me; it’s by far my favorite style of beer, and my current favorite local pilsner is the Arpeggi Italian pilsner by the Slough Brewing Collective in Watsonville. It’s a traditional European lager with a refreshing crisp, malty center. Dry-hop additions of earthy Noble hops give it a fruity, floral nose. It’s easy to love, and with a modest alcohol level of 4.9%, you can enjoy more than one. Find it on draft at the Slough tasting room on Hangar Way in Watsonville and at Mentone in Aptos, and in cans at D’La Colmena in Watsonville.

Speaking of fun summer drinks, at Santa Cruz Cider Co.'s tasting room — right next door to the Slough brewery — I saw several guests enjoying cider pops on a hot Friday afternoon. What’s a cider pop? It’s simply a pint of Wooden Tooth Special, its classic hard apple cider, with a strawberry or mango fruit popsicle submerged in the glass. One enjoys the popsicle as a treat while it slowly flavors the cider and helps keep it cold. Ice schmice — I’m cooling my drinks down only with popsicles from now on. Available for $8 a pint only at the cidery at 65 Hangar Way in Watsonville.

Events

Midtown Fridays — everyone’s favorite weekly summer block party — returns Friday night for a second season. While we might quibble over whether this shindig at 1111 Soquel Ave. is on the Eastside or Midtown, there’s no doubt that these music-, vendor- and food-filled fiestas are a great time. Kicking things off, S.C. Bread Boy brings hand-piped cannolis, Pana Food Truck offers Venezuelan arepas and Epoch Eats rolls in with epic grilled cheese melts. Alex Lucero & the Live Again Band headline. These events are free and run every Friday through Sept. 30. This year, Lookout is a sponsor, so look for our booth and come say hi.

His iconic India Joze restaurant might be closed, but Jozseph Schultz isn't giving up the craft.
His iconic India Joze restaurant might be closed, but Jozseph Schultz isn’t giving up the craft.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Fans of the now-closed India Joze restaurant, here’s a chance to get your fix: New Music Works’ Avant Garden Party returns for its 43rd season Sunday at an enchanted lagoon in Live Oak. Every year, iconic Santa Cruz chef Jozseph Schultz rolls out nonstop entrées and hors d’oeuvres — all included in the price of admission. Enjoy globally inspired snacks while listening to skilled feature performers, including Samba Cruz and the Singing Wood Marimba Ensemble, within a beautiful natural landscape. Hidden Peak Teahouse will also offer serene tea ceremonies in a quiet garden nook, while guests are invited to serve themselves at the no-host, tiki island-themed wine and beer bar. A silent auction benefits New Music Works, a local nonprofit and music venue. Tickets are $35 in advance and $40 at the gate, with discounts for seniors and students. More information at newmusicworks.org.

Make your reservations now for a seafood-focused five-course tasting menu on Monday, June 13, at Home restaurant in Soquel, featuring sustainable seafood from the Monterey Bay Fisheries Trust. MBFT is a local nonprofit that works to ensure that our coastal communities benefit from sustainable seafood and active waterfronts for generations to come, and local fisherfolk will be present at the party to share their knowledge of our nearby fisheries throughout the evening. This event is part of MBFT’s “Get Hooked!” dinner series, which previously held dinners at Big Sur Bakery and with Colectivo Felix in Santa Cruz. Home offers two seatings, at 5 p.m. and 8 p.m., for $125 per person, with an optional $75 wine pairing. 25% of the proceeds from the dinner benefit the MBFT. Save your seat at homesoquel.com.

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