EATERS DIGEST: Fall festivals, a succulent plum and Reef Dog’s perfect pastrami

The "Reefy's" pastrami sandwich at Reef Dog Deli in Capitola.
The “Reefy’s” pastrami sandwich at Reef Dog Deli in Capitola.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

It’s officially autumn, and that means harvest celebrations, Oktoberfests and a Bonny Doon standby. In this week’s Eaters Digest, Lily Belli also sinks her teeth into a farmers market gem and heads to Capitola for a warm hug.

Heads up, foodies: I’m now sending alerts every time I publish a story. Sign up for texts from me here. Thanks to those of you who’ve already subscribed and offered your thoughts! And catch up on my recent work here.

Lily

It’s finally fall, officially — by far the best season. My heart is dusted in pumpkin spice and melts at the onset of cooler days. Slow-simmering stews, mushroom foraging and pumpkin patches are my love language.

This week, there are plenty of activities to help get you in the mood for a seasonal shift, including the Harvest Festival at the UC Santa Cruz Farm and Oktoberfest at New Bohemia Brewing Co. It’s a lovely time of year to make stopping at your local farmers market a weekly habit — seek out such fall beauties as Emerald Beaut plums.

This week, I also returned to Reef Dog Deli to try the pastrami sandwich made with house-cured pastrami, and it’s as memorable as chef Anthony Kresge’s winning BLT.

And while health experts love to remind us that winter is coming, they also say that now is a great time to eat indoors at local restaurants — yes, without a mask. Don’t let cooler evenings prevent you from enjoying a fun evening out. See what health officials have to say on that front below.

News

On Sunday, President Joe Biden declared that the pandemic is “over” during a broadcast of “60 Minutes.” While his statement has been hotly debated in the news cycle this week, I wanted to know what that might mean for local restaurants. In short, can we now dine safely indoors — without masks?

The clear answer from health experts is, yes! At least, it’s a whole lot safer than it’s been in a long time. UC San Francisco chair of medicine Dr. Bob Wachter announced this week that he is finally ready to dine inside without a mask, and reasoned that his chances of dying from an indoor maskless dinner are about 1 in 200,000 — that’s about 13 times less likely than being struck by lightning.

Santa Cruz County chief health officer Dr. Gail Newel, who’s been a voice of caution throughout the pandemic, agrees.

“Now is a great time to go out and eat indoors,” she told Lookout on Tuesday. Currently, local transmission for COVID-19 is so low that a few weeks ago, the county entered the lowest community level based on criteria set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That means indoor masking is optional in most situations. She offers the usual provisos that individuals who are immunocompromised should continue to mask indoors and assess risks based on their personal circumstances.

However, that doesn’t mean the pandemic is over. “We have no idea what President Biden meant when he declared the pandemic over,” Newel said. She and her colleagues were concerned that would mean the funding that supports free testing and vaccinations for local residents would dry up. Thankfully, that’s not the case and these programs will remain in place.

Newel hopes that what the Biden meant is that we’ve moved out of a pandemic and into an endemic, which means we’re learning how to live with the virus. COVID-19 isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, she says.

With the holiday season and colder weather approaching, another surge is likely on the horizon, so between now and November is a good time to enjoy some meals out, says Newel. And we should all consider getting the latest COVID-19 booster shot that includes defense against the most recent variants — and expect to get another one every year, “like the seasonal flu shot.”

Eat this

At the downtown Santa Cruz farmers market Wednesday, I took advantage of the stone fruit samples Pinnacle Organically Grown Produce offers, and the sweet, honeylike flavor of one dappled green plum stopped me in my tracks. It was an Emerald Beaut plum, and I brought half a dozen fist-sized fruits home with me. It’s one the folks running Pinnacle’s booth always recommend, I found out as I checked out.

By Saturday, my family had eaten them all, so I headed to the Westside market to see if I could find more. I spotted them at Ken’s Top Notch Produce, where the person checking me out confessed the Emerald Beaut was his favorite, too. It truly is an exceptional fruit and clearly has a lot of in-the-know fans. Grab them while you can — treats like this are worth a special trip to your local farmers market.

Reef Dog Deli in Capitola lured me in a few weeks ago when chef Anthony Kresge heard I was looking for the best BLT in the county and invited me to try his. I was impressed, and this week I was back to try another star on his menu, the pastrami sandwich. Like BLTs, I am a sucker for a great pastrami sandwich, and they’re not that easy to find. At Reef Dog, Kresge commits to making his own pastrami — a multiday process involving overnight brining and a 13-hour smoke that transforms tough cuts of beef brisket into super tender, incredibly flavorful slices of peppery heaven. Sliced paper thin, layered with sharp Vermont cheddar, homemade onion jam and whole-grain mustard on griddled Jewish rye delivered daily by Watsonville’s Golden Sheaf Bread Company, it’s like eating a warm hug — if that makes sense. Fellow pastrami-philes, check it out.

Events

The Harvest Festival at UCSC Farm is Sunday.
The Harvest Festival at UCSC Farm is Sunday.
(Via Facebook)

This Saturday, you can soak in the redwoods while enjoying local art, music, wine and craft beer at the 19th annual Bonny Doon Art, Wine & Brew Festival, noon to 5 p.m. at the Bonny Doon Equestrian Center. Don’t worry about going hungry while you work up an appetite at the silent auction, which benefits local schools: Grab a gourmet grilled sandwich from Epoch Eats, tasty tacos from Tacos El Chuy, fresh oysters from Parker Presents “Bill the Oysterman” and loaded hot dogs by Boulder Creek’s River Dogs. Tickets are $65 in advance at bonnydoonartandwinefestival.com.

On Saturday, dust off your lederhosen and dirndls and head to New Bohemia Brewing Co. for Oktoberfest. This Pleasure Point brewery specializes in Bohemia-style lagers and ales, and is releasing a traditional Festbier Oktoberfest Lager for the occasion. Enjoy live polka band The Thirsty Nine, schnitzel sandwiches and a German-themed menu. All ages are welcome; this event goes all day. More info at nubobrew.com. Prost!

This Sunday, enjoy seasonal festivities for the whole family at the UCSC Farm’s Harvest Festival. Events include live music; hands-on workshops; kids activities; and apple pie- and salsa-making contests. My Mom’s Mole, Companion Bakeshop and Penny Ice Creamery will serve tasty autumn treats. The event runs from 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Adults are $5 while kids, UCSC and Cabrillo students are free. More info at agroecology.ucsc.edu.

Latest Stories