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Thursday, February 17, 2011

Beyond the Beach: A Santa Cruz Food Adventure

A new feature on The Flirty Blog is a monthly culinary excursion with my foodie pal Carl Mindling. In January we went on a San Francisco Street Food Adventure...
This month we decided to go for a taste of Santa Cruz. Carl has many favorite places that he's told me about but I'd never been to any of them so the other day he took me on a food tour of the best places to eat all around Surf City.

If you're like me, when you think about Santa Cruz you probably envision The Santa Cruz Beach Boarkwalk...



Sea Lions...

And beautiful sunsets... But I'd never really thought about the food...

Our day began at one of his favorite breakfast spots, the Seabreeze Cafe, for his favorite cinnamon rolls.

Oh! That Almond Apricot Muffins sounded good too!

The cinnamon roll ($2) was nice and warm and it smelled so good! We took turns taking photos for our respective blogs. First I photographed the cinnamon roll...

Then the Apricot Almond Muffin ($2). When we were done taking pictures we split them and I could taste why we were there. The cinnamon roll was excellent, with just the right amount of ooey gooey inside and finely chopped nuts that meant you had a taste of nuts in each bite. And the muffin really tasted like apricot. Not just a hint, but like real apricot! There were pieces of fruit mixed straight into the batter. Yum!

The cafe is cozy and intimate with a fair amount of indoor seating. Carl said sometimes the wait for a table is long enough that you can take a short stroll down to the end of Seabright Avenue to look at the ocean while you're waiting for your table. It must be nice to get some fresh air and an ocean view while waiting for a table instead of the more typical mall or parking lot views I'm accustomed to over in San Jose :P

Because we were taking pictures of our food this gorgeous, ginormous, freshly baked, peach cobbler wandered on by for a close up! LOL that's Carl on the other side taking his shots.

Um, yeah! I know what I'll be ordering the next time I go to the Seabreeze Cafe! Their breakfast menu includes traditional meat, vegetarian and vegan choices with classic menu items like 2 eggs with meat, omelettes, scrambles, waffles, French toast, homemade granola and oatmeal.

Our next stop was Charlie Hong Kong on Soquel Avenue. Featuring fusion styled, Southeast Asian food, Carl had raved and raved about how everyone he's taken to Charlie Hong Kong falls in love with the food. Would I be the next to fall?

The interior of the restaurant itself is small, almost like a drive in, where you walk up and order your food. There are just a few seats along the window bar to dine at. But not to worry there's more seating outside.

The menu is fairly large offering vegan based dishes to which meat and protein toppings can be added. So with toppings like Szchuan Mushroom Medley, Spicy Ginger Beef, Hoisin Pork, Sweet Garlic Tofu, Chicken and Salmon Teriyaki, Green Curry Chicken and Tiger Prawns, there's really something for everyone. Carl insisted we order a "Salad Wrap" roll ($2.95) and I chose the Green Curry Noodles with vegetables ($6.25).

After ordering you can grab a seat in the tented area beneath a bright green awning just off to the side from the counter area. The seating area has both tables and a bar facing the street where you can sit and eat as you watch the world go by.

The Salad Wraps were as good as Carl said. The transparent rice paper is filled with rice vermicelli noodles and organic veggies like daikon radish, avocado, marinated carrots, fresh cilantro and mint served with a tangy Hoison dipping sauce. FANTASTIC! I used to love to order similar wraps at a restaurant in San Jose but it closed last year so it had been quite a while since I'd had them.

The Green Curry Noodles were a wonderful surprise! I thought I didn't like curry but I'd been wanting to try more ever since I discovered, a few months ago, that I do like curry after sampling some Indian food from New Delhi restaurant at an event I attended at the Westin St. Francis in Downtown San Francisco.

The portion was large! Carl and I split the order because we had so much more food to eat at our next stops. At the end of the day I told him I really wanted to drive back to Charlie Hong Kong's to get another order of Green Curry Noodles to take home with me. LOL

The dish consists of Chow Mein Noodles and organic vegetables like swiss chard, cabbage and broccoli, stir-fried in Charlie Hong Kong's exotic coconut green curry. Two thoughts about this dish: I'm going to have to learn to make it and I'm going to have to ask Carl to bring it to me from Charlie Hong Kong's from time to time when he drives over the hill to San Jose.

It was green and healthy and yes, it was that good.

Another thing I loved about the restaurant? Eco-friendly plastic chopsticks. I really hate using the disposable wooden ones so I keep a travel, plastic pair of chopsticks in my purse at all times. It was really nice to not have to dig them out!

Well, Carl was right. I am now head-over-heels in love with Charlie Hong Kong. With hours from 11:00 AM to 11:00 PM they're almost always open so be sure to drop by and try them out. This restaurant is a testament to how fast food can be healthy food and healthy food can be absolutely delicious and affordable. I think you'll love them as much as I do :)

Next stop was Betty Burgers, a small, retro styled, busy burger joint on Seabright Avenue. Which coincidentally is on the same street as the Seabreeze Cafe.

The menu is very extensive offering 1/3 and 1/2 pound (hormone and antibiotic-free) beef burgers, a "Gobbler" turkey burger, a "Slammin Salmon" burger, a grilled "Chick A Dee" breast sandwich, a home made vegetable patty, chili, salads, fries, sweet potato fries, onion rings, shakes and malts.

We split a "Tracks in the Grass" veggie burger ($4.95) with a basket of fries ($2.49). The burger was predominately fresh veggies with a thin, tasty veggie patty and Betty's "Secret Lube" a yummy sauce similar to Thousand Island Dressing. The fries were very thin and crisp. The thin factor dilutes their potato flavor but they were nice, light and very tasty in the same way potato chips are so tasty you can't eat just one.

A burger close up from top to bottom: Secret Lube sauce, iceberg lettuce, several slices of tomato, pickles and the veggie patty. Yes, I will order this again.

To add to the restaurant's charm and ambiance, Betty's story is hand written on the wall right beside the kitchen and counter. Carl told me that a cool thing about Betty Burgers is that it looks like it's been there for decades but it was actually a taqueria not that long ago. One day the owner decided to try something new and reinvented the space into a burger spot so popular that a second Betty Burgers opened last year in nearby Capitola.

And then it was time for dessert. We headed over to The Buttery bakery for a really scrumptious peanut butter cookie ($1.75).

The Buttery offers comfort desserts like classic cookies and pastries...

And very elegant desserts like a chocolate ganache frosted cake, egg shaped, white chocolate cups filled with mouse and a multi-layered entremet which is the technique I learned how to make in The Daring Baker's Challenge.

*Drool* With whole peanuts embedded all the way around the edge, the cookie was thick, soft, peannuty tasting and oh so good.

And our final stop was The Penny Ice Creamery a place I'd been wanting to visit for months. A true artisan ice cream shop, all of their ice creams and sorbets are made from scratch on the premises. Some feature sustainable ingredients that are both organic and locally grown. That day there were plum blossoms from "Tiny Acres," mint from "Route 1 Farms," Olive Oil from "Belle Farms" and honey from the "Bee in Harmony" apiary.

Through large glass windows we watched co-owner Kendra Baker pulling a batch of ice cream straight out of a giant ice cream machine as we waited to place our order. Then she came by and chatted with us. It was a pleasure to meet her and I'm sure she'll be seeing me again, and again as the year progresses.

The day's flavors are seasonal and listed on a glass window writing board just outside the front door and directly on the ice cream case. Inside you'll find the flavors for scoops and many other treats like ice cream sandwiches, popsicles, bon bons, affogato, sundaes, shakes and floats. And if you're a coffee drinker they offer: espresso, americano, cappuccino, latte and mochas. I'll have to bring my hubby because I love ice cream and he loves ice cream and mochas. We can both be happy here.

And I'm not kidding, this may have been my favorite moment of realization all day long. At The Penny Ice Creamery they don't use plastic tasting spoons! Carl noticed it first when he heard a "clank" as someone dropped their tiny tasting spoon down the hole in the counter that said "Used Tasting Spoons." It is such a COOL and eco-friendly idea I hope more ice cream shops adopt this policy if they see it here!

We placed our orders...

Carl ordered a Pineapple Guava Popsicle ($3) and I had a single scoop ($3.50) of the Olive Oil + Sea Salt + Chocolate ice cream in a waffle cone. It was really good. It tasted light and bright like fresh iced milk. It was just enough chocolate to taste without over powering the olive oil flavor and seemed healthier than other ultra rich ice creams because it wasn't super heavy.

I could really taste the olive oil and the flavor lingered as I drove home. It reminded me of the way the olive oil tasted the time I tried the Buratta Cheese at A16 restaurant in San Francisco... Hmmm olive oil and cheese ice cream... Sounds good to me! I wonder if you can freeze buratta cheese? Hmmmm a Buratta Cheese + Olive Oil + Sea Salt ice cream... Would that equal awesomeness or ick? I may have to suggest a recipe or two. I saw a sign inside on the counter that said "Penny for Your Thoughts." If you suggest a recipe and they make it, The Penny Ice Creamery will give you a free pint of your flavor :)

Special thanks to The Geeky Guy for letting me use his Santa Cruz photos in this post. He's really becoming quite the great photographer!

As for Carl and I, we're already thinking up our next food excursion... Where will we go? What will we eat? Stay tuned to find out :D

If you enjoyed this post you'll probably enjoy these too:

A Pescadero Food Tour: Where and What to Eat Off HWY 1

A Bay Area Cheap Eats and Secret Menu Food Adventure

• A Palo Alto, Epicurean Food Tour

• Our May, East Bay, Berkeley and Oakland Food Adventure

• Meet the Kids on The Harley Farms Goat Dairy Tour

• Beyond Sushi: A South Bay Japanese Food Adventure

• Beyond the Beach: A Santa Cruz Food Adventure

A Northern California Cheese Adventure

Gourmet Meat Street Food & Vegetarian Food Truck Favorites


  1. The only problem with that little excursion is trying to follow it with anything edible today. :-( After all, these were my favorite bites so we tasted Carl's Greatest Hits. But I am completely psyched for our next trip as I know we will make it to more marvelous munchies in March.

  2. I know what you mean Carl. Everything was so good! Have been thinking about our next excursion. We'll have to brainstorm a bit to come up with something fabulous!

  3. There is only one thing better than shopping in Hong Kong, and that's eating. From small noodle joints to upscale French restaurant, you will locate all sorts of restaurant, eating hall and snack stall on earth in Hong Kong. I found small amount of Hong-Kong-styled snacks online. This is definitely a good choice before I have $ for another trip.


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