Breakfast at the Westside farmers market to vino with a view to dinner al fresco in Boulder Creek and Soquel, summertime is the ideal canvas for Santa Cruz County chefs, restaurateurs, vinters and more to up their game.
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Eating well outdoors is an ideal way to celebrate summer in Santa Cruz County. The farm-to-table events gathered here are, every one, one-of-a-kind and temporal; the chef, wines and location come together to produce the best menu that can be conjured with locally sourced ingredients.
As diners arrive, the chef and staff are often heads down and on view, busting out dozens of starters and finding their rhythm in an ad hoc kitchen. The winemaker might be opening bottles and chatting as they fill glasses and welcome guests. It takes a moment for people to take in the spectacle of the carefully set table, placed in a spot that doesn’t normally act as a dining room: a beach, an orchard, amid the vines, or between stalls at a farmers market — all of them transform from workplace or play place to event space, and the wonder of a momentary dining room creates happy anticipation for the meal about to unfold. Pop-up meals are a wonderful way to mark a special occasion, support our local chefs and to enjoy the best of a Santa Cruz summer evening.
Note: Many of the events listed below benefit the nonprofit activities of their host organizations in support of sustainable farming and food justice. Check the ticketing website to find out if a portion of your ticket price is tax-deductible.
Santa Cruz Community Farmers’ Markets pop-up breakfasts on the Westside
Nothing better encapsulates the pleasures of a Saturday morning farmers market than these lovingly curated, multicourse breakfasts. Guests tote their own utensils and plates to long, communal tables set amid the convivial mayhem of produce stalls. A local string band is likely to be plunking away happily as diners make new friends over innovative food that celebrates the peak of summer. Chef Andy Huynh of Full Steam Dumpling is headlining July 29, and chef Katherine Stern of The Midway will be at the helm Aug. 12.
Both chefs have deep ties to Santa Cruz Community Farmers’ Markets, where each launched their current restaurant as a pop-up concept. Nesh Dhillon, executive director of SCCFM, says he’s delighted to relaunch the pop-up breakfast series, which has been on hold for three years due to the pandemic. “Andy has an exciting, unique perspective on food,” says Dhillon, “and Katherine is the master of subtle impact. It will be great to see what they come up with.” Menus will be posted on the SCCFM website, where highlights from past breakfasts remain available. Tickets are priced on a sliding scale from $50 to $150 to encourage donations in support of farmers market public education programs. Pop-up breakfasts have been wildly popular in past years, and though each will accommodate up to 125 diners at the Westside market, they sell out fast.
July 29: Chef Andy Huynh of Full Steam Dumpling
Aug. 12: Chef Katherine Stern of The Midway
Chaminade Vine to View dinners
On warm summer evenings, the patio at Chaminade Resort & Spa offers an ideal setting for an indulgent, carefully crafted dinner paired with local wines — and one special event showcasing Maker’s Mark bourbon. Over the past 12 years, the culinary team at Chaminade has embraced Vine to View as an opportunity to feature peak-of-season local ingredients and collaborate with some of the area’s finest winemakers. Each event offers outstanding views to 70 diners. Tickets are $85.
April 14: Bargetto Winery
May 12: Silver Mountain Vineyards
June 16: Equinox Winery
July 21: Maker’s Mark
Aug. 18: J. Lohr Vineyards
Sept. 15: Alfaro Vineyards
Oct. 20: Calerrain Wines
According to the creative, welcoming soul of chef Diego Felix, summer pop-up dinners on the Equinox patio on Swift Street on Santa Cruz’s Westside are “spontaneous, unrepeatable dining adventures” and the members of his team are “culinary troubadours.” At the convivial table for his Valentine’s Day pop-up dinner, I can attest to the quality and joy offered over the arc of five courses. Felix takes inspiration from the local bounty and presents it with a South American twist that honors his Argentinian roots. These monthly four-course dinners are a joint venture with 11th Hour Coffee, which supplies flights of South American wines to complement each course. Each event is limited to 30 seats, and tickets are $100 per person/$135 with wine.
Dates: March 18, April 15, May 27, June 17 and July 15
Kin & Kitchen
Private chef Emily Beggs will offer two al fresco dinners at Camp Joy Gardens in Boulder Creek. One of the oldest sustainable agriculture training programs on the West Coast, Camp Joy Gardens offers a wide range of workshops from fruit tree pruning to seed starting for children and adults. The flower farm and orchards aren’t just an enticing backdrop for late-summer dinners — they are both muse and source for the menus: Aug. 26 will feature stone fruit, and Sept. 30 will showcase varietal apples. Each four-course dinner is $130 and seats 40 guests, with wine and cider sold separately by Camp Joy Gardens.
Aug. 26: A menu centered around stone fruit
Sept. 30: A menu celebrating local varietal apples
Tickets available at kinandkitchen.com.
Outstanding in the Field
This well-known series of farm-to-table events aim for the wow factor, pairing well-known chefs with mushroom foragers, local fishermen and ranchers in unexpected locations. Dinners are staged in rolling meadows, perched on cliffs overlooking the ocean, on working cattle ranches — and in one notable case, amid wandering zebras. In all, the series offers more than 70 unique locations around the world, and 26 of them are in California. The chef behind it all, founder Jim Denevan, has a local pedigree, having worked for 10 years as the chef at Gabriella Cafe.
Two special dinners will be held in Santa Cruz County and nine more are within an hour’s drive. The series on California’s Central Coast begins in Half Moon Bay in May and comes to a close in Pescadero in November. Be sure to peruse the Outstanding in the Field website, which offers events in a dizzying variety of locations, domestically from Seattle to Georgia; internationally from Tuscany, Italy, to Burgundy, France; two dates in Canada; and a final dinner in Stellenbosch, South Africa. All events are held outdoors and prices range from $375 to $525 per person. Tickets go on sale on Monday, March 20, at outstandinginthefield.com.
Markegard Family Grass-Fed, Half Moon Bay: Saturday, May 13, at 4 p.m. ($375)
The Markegard family ranch overlooks the blue Pacific and glows green from the wealth of winter rains. A herd of belted Galloway cattle, better known as Oreo cows thanks to their distinctive black and white striping, will roam the backdrop as host farmer Doniga, ranch hand Sue and the family’s children show off both horsemanship and their own fabulous ranch fashions. The Markegard ranch is dedicated to improving land stewardship practices through education, outreach and action. This event gives ticket holders the chance to enjoy the cooking of founder and guest chef Jim Denevan. Guest winemakers Kim Ilsley Prince and Rea Prince of Prinsley Wines are driven to combat climate change through sustainable and eco-friendly farming practices while creating high-end boutique wines. More info.
Tira Nanza, Carmel Valley: Sunday, May 14, at 4 p.m. ($375)
This event kicks off in a wine cave that has been built into a hillside overlooking sprawling acres of organic vineyards. The dining table this evening will be set along the ridgeline, with bird’s-eye views across Carmel Valley. Tira Nanza means “pull forward,” and winemakers Greg Hill and Sydney Sharek have embraced that philosophy in their winemaking, presenting a 2021 vintage of viognier, introduced by the Romans, and malbec rosé, an Old World varietal. Also known for her modern approach, guest chef Jessica Yarr brings traditional Eastern European recipes handed down from her grandmother to new heights with the finest local ingredients. More info.
Secret sea cove, Pescadero: Saturday, May 20, at 3 p.m. ($425)
The wealth of sea and sand you will take in from a seat at the dinner table is so remarkable that this location plays host to five dinners on five different evenings — two in May, one in October and two in November, and set on a sheltered beach where access is rarely granted by the Muzzi family, who has carefully farmed and protected this fertile land for generations. Chef Brad Briske of Home restaurant in Soquel will deliver an Italian-inspired, locally sourced feast that highlights Pacific seafood and nearby produce. More info.
Secret sea cove, Pescadero: Sunday, May 21, at 3 p.m. ($425)
For the second evening on this secluded stretch of sand, host fisherman Hans Haveman will act as guide to the local wildlife, which could include sightings of dolphins or humpback whales, and kelp, fresh-foraged from nearby tidewaters. His fresh seafood will anchor the menu by Greg Kuzia-Carmel from casual wine-and-coffee bar Canteen and new neighborhood restaurant Camper. More info.
Santa Cruz Community Table: Wednesday, June 14, at 4 pm. ($375)
This is one of the few dinners offered in a town, rather than a rural, setting, as a nod to where it all started — at Gabriella Cafe on Cedar Street in downtown Santa Cruz, where Outstanding in the Field chief Jim Denevan spent a decade as head chef, and hired current chef Gema Cruz. Jim and Gema are reuniting to celebrate their shared past and the future of Outstanding in the Field with Paul Cocking, Gabriella’s owner and host. After dinner, guests will be treated to a nearby screening of the documentary “Man in the Field: The Life and Art of Jim Denevan.” More info.
Everett Family Farm in Soquel: Saturday, June 17, at 4 p.m. ($375)
Rich and Laura Everett host the loveliest of farm-to-table dinners at their family homestead in Soquel, and are long-term partners of Outstanding in the Field. Laura grows heirloom apples and makes delicious hard ciders in addition to running the farm, while Rich invests his prodigious energies in mentoring young farmers. They teach agricultural techniques and farm business and management to emerging farmers, while raising organic fruits, vegetables and flowers. Dinner will be held at a long table set adjacent to the rushing waters of Soquel Creek and feature guest winemaker Claire Hill, as well as Everett’s own farm-raised hard ciders. More info.
Big Sur secret location: Saturday, Oct. 28, at noon ($525)
This location is all about the view from a ridgeline above the clouds. The drive up regularly makes guests question their choice of this particular dinner, but everyone leaves talking about a once-in-a-lifetime evening. This remote cattle ranch plays host for three successive nights, with Brian Redzikowski, known for French-Asian fusion twist at Kettner Exchange in San Diego, teeing up the first menu. With Le Cirque, Nobu, Joel Robuchon, and two dinners at the James Beard House in New York on his résumé, Redzikowski is well suited to create a menu to match this location. More info.
Big Sur secret location: Sunday, Oct. 29, at noon ($525)
On the second night at this grass-fed cattle ranch with panoramic views, Jacob Burrell from Niner Wine Estates will look no farther than the Central Coast for a wealth of inspiration. His roots are here in Big Sur, as a veteran of Post Ranch Inn and the Big Sur Bakery. Winemaker Matthew Rorick of Forlorn Hope Wines is … a character, and one you want to meet. Need proof? Here is a line from his bio: “His current efforts, including producing organically farmed estate wines and reconnecting with California’s pre-Prohibition viticultural traditions, are largely inspired by conversations at his grandfather’s table.” More info.
Big Sur secret location: Monday, Oct. 30, at noon ($525)
For the final event in the mountains above Big Sur, Brad Briske returns for his second dinner of the season. At his Soquel restaurant, Home, he celebrates the best local, seasonal produce and hand-butchered meats with a focus on nose-to-tail cuisine. More info.
Secret sea cove, Pescadero: Saturday, Nov. 4, at 2 p.m. ($425)
This secret beach is a triumvirate of what we look for in locations: access to a historic farm, bluffs overlooking the ocean and a sandy cove as the setting for a long, welcoming table. Adam Dulye of the Brewers Association is coming back to head up a menu showcasing a fresh haul from Hans Haveman of H&H Fresh Fish. Nicole Walsh is the winemaker at Ser, an artisanal winery specializing in varietal, vineyard designate and Old World-style wines. More info.
Secret sea cove, Pescadero: Sunday, Nov. 5, at 1 p.m. ($425)
In the warm California fall sun at a table set in a hidden beach cove protected from ocean breezes, chef Santos Majano, veteran of Soif in Santa Cruz and the Kitchen at Discretion in Soquel, will team up with fisherman Hans Haveman of H&H Fresh Fish to produce an exceptional seafood focused menu. Megan Bell crafts low-intervention wines using grapes from under-represented regions, vineyards and varietals, and is based in Corralitos. More info.
Pie Ranch, Pescadero: Sunday, Nov. 19, at 1 p.m. $395
The last stop on the summer tour season is a foraging dinner with the king of mushrooms, Todd Spanier. Guests will join him on a walk through the surrounding woods, looking for mushrooms as hosts Nancy Veil, Jared Lawson and Karen Heisler work magic with their own heirloom wheat and organic produce. More info.
Taste of Terroir
Tickets are now on sale for the Taste of Terroir wine dinner series, put on by Wines of the Santa Cruz Mountains. The organization will host seven dinners from March through November at wineries and tasting rooms throughout the Santa Cruz area. These events showcase the Santa Cruz Mountains Agriculture Viticulture Area’s subregions, iconic wineries and grape varieties with special celebrations with winemakers and chefs.
Here’s what’s coming in 2023:
Friday, March 31: Elevated Wines of the Santa Cruz Mountains
Explore wines from wineries located near the Summit, including Muns Vineyard, Burrell School Vineyards and Roberts Ranch Vineyards during a tasting reception at Regale Winery, followed by a four-course wine dinner of contemporary Italian cuisine prepared by pop-up By Brutta. Tickets: $175.
Wednesday, May 17: Wines of Montebello Road
Experience the exceptional wines from wineries along famed Montebello Road, including Ridge Vineyards, Naumann Vineyards and Mount Eden Vineyards during a tasting reception at Ridge Vineyards in Saratoga. Afterward, chef Brad Briske from Home restaurant in Soquel will prepare a five-course wine dinner paired with Ridge wines. Tickets: $225 / $55 reception only.
Sunday, June 25: Distinct Pinot Noirs of the Santa Cruz Mountains
Discover the different characteristics of pinot noirs grown throughout the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA from notable wineries like Sante Arcangeli Family Wines, Storrs Winery and Windy Oaks Estate at Regan Vineyards Winery in Corralitos. Pinot pairings will be poured alongside Briske’s cuisine. Tickets: $175.
Friday, July 14: Midsummer Night’s Dinner
Enjoy a summer dining experience at Silver Mountain Vineyards showcasing the vineyards nestled in the heart of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Wines from Aptos Vineyard, Cooper-Garrod Estate Winery, Muns Vineyard and more will be paired alongside the seasonal cuisine of chef Ross Hanson of Los Gatos’ Oak & Rye. Tickets: $175.
Saturday, Aug. 19: Mountain to Sea
Celebrate the bounty of the earth and sea at Madson Wines on Santa Cruz’s Westside. At this wine dinner, experience Santa Cruz Mountains wines from wineries like Big Basin Vineyards, Beauregard Vineyards and Sandar & Hem with contemporary Italian cuisine prepared by pop-up By Brutta. Tickets: $175.
Friday, Sept. 8: Into the Fog
Oceanic influence and complex mountain topography are two factors that have the greatest impact on Santa Cruz Mountain wines. At this tasting salon and dinner at Thomas Fogarty Winery, learn about how these elements contribute to the distinct character of local wines while enjoying a dinner prepared by chef Scott Cooper of San Jose’s Le Papillon. Tickets: $185.
Friday, Nov. 10: Premier Cruz
An exclusive tasting of cabernet sauvignon from the Santa Cruz Mountains, featuring 16 local producers, followed by a wine pairing dinner, chef TBD. Tickets: $195 / tasting only: $65. Tickets are not yet available for this event.
— Lily Belli