August is birthday month for several Santa Cruz County culinary establishments, and they’re celebrating in style. Plus, Lily’s new favorite local condiment and her search for a great local BLT.
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Welcome back to Eaters Digest, your weekly rundown on what’s happening in Santa Cruz County’s food scene.
It’s the birthday month for several local eateries, and they’re all celebrating in style. Bad Animal in Santa Cruz is starting a new wine club, Chubbs Chicken Sandwiches is launching two new additions to its menu and Venus Spirits Cocktails & Kitchen Westside is having a three-day party.
And if you don’t already have a jar of Hakouya’s original probiotic miso dressing in your fridge, you’re missing out on this instant umami booster. In a county that’s home to myriad talented food artisans, it’s my latest local product obsession — and widely available at local grocery stores and several farmers markets.
As you might have read in my newsletter earlier this week, I’m on the hunt for the best BLT in Santa Cruz County. But what makes a great BLT? Read on to find out, and email or text me your nominations. And just in time for tomato season, Westside craft butcher El Salchichero launches a bacon rewards card to enable anyone’s BLT obsession.
Happy Friday. Here we go ...
For three years, downtown Santa Cruz’s Bad Animal has been the place to enjoy unusual yet often thrilling natural wines, an exceptional rare book collection and exquisite seasonal plates, lately from chef Katherine Stern, owner of farmers market food stall The Midway. To celebrate Bad Animal’s third birthday, owners Jess LoPrete and Andrew Sivak are finally giving the people what they want and launching a wine club. Every month, members will receive two hand-selected natural wines — meaning wines grown and produced without additives — along with curated wine notes with potential food and literary pairings. Members will also receive a 10% discount on books in the shop and on retail wines, complimentary monthly tastings, exclusive book and wine offerings and more. I know that there are a hundred local wine clubs to choose from, but what other one enables your inner Henry Miller? Sign up at badanimalbooks.com.
I have a new indispensable local condiment to share with you: Hakouya’s Original Miso Dressing. It’s a perfectly balanced blend of rich miso, a touch of honey, fresh ginger, sesame oil and rice vinegar, and I find myself reaching for it all the time. It gives a tangy, salty-sweet umami boost to whatever it touches and is equally good on quick weeknight rice bowls with tofu and veggies as it is on salads. The other night I slathered it over a fresh piece of local salmon before roasting it in the oven, a trick I’ll definitely be repeating in the future. Next time I grill chicken, you can bet I’m going to try it as a marinade. Oh, and it’s probiotic and made from mostly organic ingredients.
The secret in the sauce is this: Owners Eriko Yokoyama and Masumi Diaz ferment their own miso at the El Pajaro Community Development Corporation’s commercial kitchen in Watsonville. You can find their miso dressing at stores throughout the county, including Aptos Natural Foods, New Leaf Markets, Staff of Life and Wild Roots Market. Thank you to Doug Wallace, owner of the Food Bin in Santa Cruz, who recommended it to me. Hakouya also sells at the Live Oak and Aptos farmers markets, where it offers a range of homemade miso, sauces and fermented rice drinks called amazake. More info at hakouya.com.
The height of tomato season is also the apex of BLT season, and this week in my newsletter I asked for your recommendations for the best BLT in the county. With such a simple sandwich, every ingredient should be the best version of itself. Too often people focus on the bacon and forget that it must sing in harmony with a sweet, ripe tomato, crispy lettuce and fresh bread. Many of you have already nominated your favorite spots — the Westside’s Ivéta and downtown’s Café Delmarette both have several votes — so it looks like I have my work cut out for me. This week, I tried the BLTs at downtown deli Zoccoli’s and at the Hideout in Aptos. Both came with avocado — a welcome addition, in my book — and plenty of bacon, but lacked the oomph of a locally grown tomato. Both good BLTs, but not quite the paradigm I’m looking for. Email or text me your favorite BLTs — I’m on the hunt and will report back!
And just in time for BLT season, Santa Cruz craft butcher El Salchichero is offering a rewards card for its in-house smoked and seasoned bacon. Buy 9 pounds of bacon, made from sustainably raised pork belly from family-owned Llano Seco farm in Chico, and receive the 10th free. El Salchichero offers three flavors: maple syrup and bourbon ($15.14 per pound); apple cider with cinnamon, nutmeg, clove and fenugreek ($15.98 per pound); and tasso, a spicy Creole-style flavor ($16.61 per pound). Visit the Westside shop at 402 Ingalls St. to grab some.
Two local food businesses are planning very tasty birthday celebrations this weekend. Venus Spirits Cocktails & Kitchen Westside is throwing a three-day birthday bash with pop-ups and local vendors to celebrate its second anniversary. On Friday, Tumbleweed Found will sell vintage Hawaiian shirts from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m., vintage flower truck Olive & Coyote will offer its beautiful blooms from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. and DJ Jared G will bring the dance party from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. On Saturday, find Sugarcoated Cupcakes in the tasting room from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., and on Sunday Detroit-style pizza pop-up Jayne Dough will bring its farm-to-table pies from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Of course there’s a cocktail special — try the Venus Stardust made with its Gin No. 1, Campari, elderflower, lemon and Champagne, garnished with edible glitter. Sparkle on!
On Saturday from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., fried chicken sandwich-slingers Chubbs Chicken Sandwiches are throwing a party to celebrate one year inside the Santa Cruz Art Center. In addition to its always crispy and juicy fried chicken, the team is launching two new menu items: a vegetarian fried mushroom sandwich and chicken tenders. Plus there will be mini cupcakes from NotPie Cakery — the people behind Chubbs’ gluten-free buns — and live music by Paul Sprawl.
Heads up — two wine, beer and art festivals are comin’ atcha next weekend. On Saturday, Aug. 20, the third annual Watsonville Wine, Beer & Art Walk will take over downtown Watsonville from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. More than 20 local wineries and breweries are participating. Guests receive a handy passport to make sure you can visit them all while strolling through historic downtown Watsonville and checking out talented artists. Tickets are $40 through Eventbrite.com.
And the Scotts Valley Art, Wine & Beer Festival returns Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 20-21, to its longtime home at Sky Park. This is one of the premier events in the county. Enjoy the work of more than 100 artists, sample 24 wineries and breweries and enjoy live music all day — Lyin’ I’s headlines on Saturday and the Lost Boys featuring James Durbin on Sunday. Plus, enjoy the Cops ‘n Rodders classic car show on Saturday and Dog Day on Sunday, featuring contests for your pooch. You will work up an appetite, and there’s plenty of food — 14 food vendors and trucks, including Cracked Cookies, Aunt LaLi’s ice cream treats and Epoch Eats. This event is free, but you have to purchase drink tickets to imbibe. Head to svartfestival.com for more info.