Welcome to Lily Belli on Food, a weekly food-focused newsletter from Lookout’s food and drink correspondent, Lily Belli. Keep reading for the latest local food news for Santa Cruz County — plus a few fun odds and ends from my own life and around the web. And do join us as a member, if you haven’t yet.

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… Cheers to Westside Santa Cruz distillery Venus Spirits on winning double gold in Sunset magazine’s International Spirits Competition. The competition is hosted by the Western lifestyle publication in collaboration with Wine Competitions Management and Production and is open to commercial distillers of all sizes. Venus’ El Ladrón Yolo, made with roasted California-grown agave, won Best Other Agave Spirits in the All Other Agave Spirits category, Best of Class and Double Gold.

Venus Spirits will release El Ladrón Yolo, an agave spirit made from agave grown in Yolo County, California.
Venus Spirits will release El Ladrón Yolo, an agave spirit made from agave grown in Yolo County, California. Credit: Via Jacob Boynton

This agave spirit has quite the origin story. To make it, distiller Sean Venus collaborated with farmer Craig Reynolds of California Agave Ventures to grow the agave in Yolo County. Venus Spirits is one of the first distillers in California to use only California-grown agave and the very first to release a spirit using traditional roasting methods, Venus told Lookout in March 2022 when the spirit was first released. He uses agave juice imported from Mexico for his other agave spirits, but says having access to local raw materials gives him the ability to produce the spirit in a more traditional manner and control the flavor. “The process of roasting in a pit gives it a unique character and flavor that’s hard to replicate,” Venus told me.

El Ladrón Yolo is available at Venus Spirits’ Westside tasting room and online at venusspirits.com for $90 per 750-milliliter bottle.

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… Every other week, I wait excitedly for new columns from Lookout’s wine writer, Laurie Love, like they’re episodes of my favorite show, and last week we got a two-parter. In Part 1 of Laurie Love on Wine, Love takes a deep dive into the spectacular French and Santa Cruz Mountains wines at new Scotts Valley wine bar Saison — you can read our feature on the notable new business here. She also recaps a successful second annual Uncork Corralitos and collects upcoming wine events.

Merlot being punched down by hand at Bottle Jack Winery.
Merlot being punched down by hand at Bottle Jack Winery. Credit: Laurie Love / Lookout Santa Cruz

In Part 2, Love shares her wine of the week — a local pinot noir that has “a lovely expression of pinot noir fruit with beautiful floral and fruit aromas (rose, cherry, raspberry) and firm yet fine grain tannins on the palate with a fresh acidity on the finish.” And, since harvest is wrapping up and the grapes are being safely tucked away, Love gives a lesson on fermentation and the wine-making technique of “punch downs.”

Love’s column comes out every other Wednesday and is available to Lookout members. Don’t miss it — become a member today.

… The seasons have shifted and so have the hours for some of Santa Cruz County’s farmers markets. The Felton farmers market on Tuesdays is now closed until May and the Scotts Valley farmers market’s last day for the season is Saturday, Nov. 18. The farmers market in downtown Santa Cruz closes an hour earlier during the winter; it’s currently open on Wednesdays from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.

No changes to the farmers markets on Santa Cruz’s Westside or in Live Oak, Aptos, Corralitos or Watsonville — those markets are open all year rain or shine, although they will close if the weather becomes dangerous.

One holiday closure to note: The Sunday Live Oak market will be closed on Dec. 24 and Dec. 31 for the holidays.

All the information you need to make the most of your farmers market experience is in Lookout’s farmers market guide.

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… The Chili Cook-Off took place at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk on Saturday, Oct. 28. For more than 40 years, amateur and professional cooks have competed for votes from attendees and judges. This year, Pleasure Point restaurant East Side Eatery’s Death Wish Chili won in the People’s Choice Professional category. The Boardwalk’s Cocoanut Grove and Jack O’Neill Restaurant & Lounge in Santa Cruz won first and second place, respectively, for Best Professional Con Carne, while Best Professional Vegetarian Red went to Santa Cruz’s Far West Fungi. See the full results at beachboardwalk.com.


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Pizza Bones owner Jacob Wilkens.
Credit: Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz

“In my family, ‘pizza bones’ was the name for the crust pieces that are leftover if the crust is too dry, or you want to plow through as much pizza as possible so you leave the crust.” — Jacob Wilkens, owner of Pizza Bones, a new pop-up partnership with chef Desmond Schneider. Its Instagram handle, @nopizzabones, is a message to followers that its pizzas are good to the end. Here’s how they do it.


Two talented local chefs are teaming up for the first time. Latin American chef Diego Felix of Colectivo Felix is collaborating with chef Alex Suniga of Filipino pop-up Masarap for a feast at Equinox Winery in Santa Cruz on Saturday, Nov. 18. The event is the November edition of Felix’s monthly Dinner in the Courtyard dinner series, and will feature a unique menu inspired by the cuisines of Argentina and the Philippines paired with Equinox methode champenoise sparkling wines. Tickets are $100 per person with an additional $48 for wine pairing at colectivofelix.com.

Top 10 ways to volunteer and help fight hunger this November in Santa Cruz County PC roadblock


I have a rather laissez-faire attitude when it comes to dinner, but, since I’m married to an Italian, occasionally I come up against strong opinions about how certain Italian dishes are made. Last weekend, my husband, Mike, was craving bolognese so we got started sauteeing the vegetables and browning the meat. Here’s where we split on the process — I usually deglaze with a cup or so of red wine, then, instead of canned or fresh tomatoes, I add tomato paste for a more intense flavor and then splash it with water or pasta water to loosen things up as it cooks. He looked at me like I had suddenly grown a second head. “My Nonna never did that,” he said, like the discussion was over.

A couple of friends were on their way so we put it to them. Both of them are Italian, and both are sales reps for a local distribution company specializing in imported Italian ingredients — so we considered them experts. We asked, do you ever add tomato paste instead of tomatoes to a bolognese? From the looks they gave, I really need to see a doctor about getting this extra head removed. So, I stand corrected. Canned tomatoes it is from now on.

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➤ Prominent Palestinian American chefs are calling for a cease-fire in Gaza and organizing space to share Palestinian culture. The Hospitality for Humanity Pledge already has 800 signatures, including those of notable chefs Samin Nosrat and Sohla El-Waylly. In this Q&A, organizer and Oakland-based chef Reem Assil discusses how and why food gets political. (Eater)

➤ A Michelin-starred restaurant in Ireland closed because it’s too expensive for both the restaurant owner and customers. In the wake of closures of fine-dining restaurants like Noma and Los Gatos’ Manresa, is the era of white-table clothes and extravagant prix fixe menus coming to an end? (CNN)

Until next week …

~ Lily

Lily Belli is the food and drink correspondent at Lookout Santa Cruz. Over the past 15 years since she made Santa Cruz her home, Lily has fallen deeply in love with its rich food culture, vibrant agriculture...