EATERS DIGEST: Local panettone for the holidays, festive foodie events and brunch at Venus

Chef Enzo Pelliccia with a holiday panettone at his bakery, Emozioni Patisserie
Chef Enzo Pelliccia bakes holiday panettone at his bakery, Emozioni Patisserie, located inside Lago di Como restaurant in Live Oak.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

If you enjoy panettone, the Italian Christmas bread, this time of year, find it freshly made at Emozioni Patisserie and Manresa Bread. Plus, kick off the season with two tasty holiday events.

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Lily

Welcome to the holiday season and all the delicious things to eat and drink it has to offer.

Today in Eaters Digest, I dive into panettone, an Italian Christmas bread that’s ubiquitous in many homes during the holiday season. There are just two local bakeries I know of that take the time to make this finicky sweet bread, Emozioni Patisserie in Live Oak and Manresa Bread in Santa Cruz. I tried them both so you don’t have to ... although, I mean, you definitely could if you want. There’s room for more than one panettone in the month of December, and both have qualities unique to them.

The Capitola Village Holiday Cookie Walk and Staff of Life Market’s annual Holiday and Entertaining Inspiration and Tasting are both this weekend, too. Last, two local restaurants are adjusting their hours this winter. Persephone in Aptos is no longer offering lunch, while Venus Spirits Cocktails & Kitchen is expanding to Monday nights and now offers brunch on the weekends.

Read on for more.

News

I have a couple of restaurant notices to share. First, Persephone in Aptos is no longer serving lunch, although it might make a return in the summer. Dinner is still available four nights a week, Wednesday through Sunday from 5 p.m. to close. More info at persephonerestaurant.com.

On Santa Cruz’s Westside, Venus Spirits Cocktails & Kitchen is expanding its hours. It is now open every day of the week for dinner from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. — yes, even Mondays! It now also serves brunch on Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The brunch menu includes updated classics like fried chicken & waffles with bourbon maple syrup, smoked pork belly hash, lobster croque madame and huevos rancheros. Of course, there is a menu of handcrafted cocktails made with the distillery’s own spirits. View the full menu at venusspirits.com. FYI — reservations are not available for brunch, so roll yourself out of bed and come early. Also, ICYMI, Venus Spirits Beachside in Aptos is now closed until this spring for a remodel.

Chef Jessica Yarr's pop-ups Chicken Foot and Brunch Shift.
Chef Jessica Yarr’s pop-ups Chicken Foot and Brunch Shift are in residency at Ulterior through the winter for dinner three nights a week, plus brunch on Saturday.
(Via Jessica Yarr)

For the first time since the pandemic, there’s a new chef-in-residence at Ulterior, the chic speakeasy kitchen and cocktail bar upstairs at Motiv in downtown Santa Cruz. Starting this weekend, chef Jessica Yarr of Chicken Foot, a pop-up that serves plant-forward takes on traditional Eastern European cuisine, will serve dinner three nights a week. On Sunday, she transforms the space into Brunch Shift, her other pop-up that offers playful takes on breakfast classics. Yes, she’s a busy lady, and I’m looking forward to having her vibrant and unique menu in one place for a few months. View hours at chickenfootsc.com and find out more about the residency in Tuesday’s Lily Belli on Food newsletter.

Eat this

Since I started dating my now-husband, Michael, panettone has become part of my holiday season. His family is Italian and these large fluffy loaves of holiday sweet bread — panettone literally means “big bread” — are traditionally given around Christmas as gifts, especially if you’re invited over to someone’s house. My father-in-law never fails to offer a bit of the yeasted bread dotted with dried fruit, along with a cup of tea or coffee, every time anyone steps through his door from Thanksgiving through New Year’s. Made of mostly air and Yuletide cheer, the large slices can be eaten with guiltless holiday abandon.

Panettone are notoriously difficult to make at home, and most bakeries don’t bother making the effort, but there are two in the Santa Cruz area that do. The first is Emozioni Patisserie, located inside Italian restaurant Lago di Como in Live Oak. Here, Neapolitan pastry chef Enzo Pelliccia crafts loaves of traditional panettone with dried cherries, apricots and oranges. His loaves are just barely sweet, a touch sour from the natural fermentation and would be delicious with a glass of fizzy moscato d’asti or a cappuccino, or made into French toast for a decadent holiday breakfast. Pelliccia’s panettone is $35 and comes beautifully wrapped in ribbon and festive decorations — perfect for a holiday or hostess gift. He’s also rolling out other traditional Italian holiday goodies and sweets — see his hours and location at emozioni.cafe.

The new Manresa Bread on the Westside also offers a panettone for the rather formidable price of $70 a loaf. I was curious if baker Avery Ruzicka’s version would live up to the price, and I have to admit that it does. The airy loaf I brought to share with family over Thanksgiving was richly textured, decadent and studded with plenty of dark chocolate and candied orange, which was evenly dispersed throughout the bread. Best of all, Ruzicka glazes the top with a thin, crusty coat of sugar — a delightful addition to the normally not-sweet bread — yet it still doesn’t stray into dessert territory. We all agreed it was exceptional and couldn’t stop sneaking into the kitchen to quietly steal slivers when we felt like no one was looking. Whether or not you want to pay $70 for a loaf of holiday bread is a private conversation between you and your credit card, but I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. Order online at manresabread.com.

Events

Here’s a sweet way to celebrate the start of the holiday season, especially with kids: The Capitola Village Holiday Cookie Walk returns this Saturday and Sunday. From noon to 5 p.m., stroll around the village and fill a box with holiday cookies from participating stores. Tickets are $20 online via Eventbrite or at Capitola Candy Café at 205 Capitola Ave., and proceeds benefit Santa Cruz’s Salvation Army Angel Tree program, which provides gifts to local families in crisis.

If you’re looking for delicious treats to share at your holiday parties this year, there’s no better way to weigh your options than Staff of Life Market’s annual Holiday and Entertaining Inspiration and Tasting, happening this Saturday from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. at the Santa Cruz store on Soquel Avenue. The Staff of Life staff presents all of their best holiday specialties for a festive tasting event — find handpicked wines from a dozen different wineries, local and international cheeses, charcuterie and a cornucopia of holiday sweets. Tickets are usually $25 per person for unlimited tasting, but right now they are 30% off — just $17.50. Purchase yours via Eventbrite. I attended this event last year and it was a blast. Proceeds benefit the Second Harvest Food Bank of Santa Cruz. There will also be a collection barrel for food donations, so bring a few nonperishable items to donate.