It starts early with the coffee meetings. Energized by pit stops at Cat & Cloud, the outside tables fill up with writers, laptops, and group meetings all fueled by bracing espressos and huge pastries from Companion Bakeshop. From 8am-3pm, the caffeine works its magic as the Abbott Square Market concessions start with prep. Pizza dough is kneaded at Pizzeria La Bufala, oven gleaming in wraparound white tiles. Sauces are restocked, buns delivered over at Belly Goat Burger, home of mile-high burgers with astounding toppings. Cheeses glitter like fat creamy gems in the cases of Central Coast Creamery, where sheep’s milk ice cream and gelato wait for the lunch crowd. Gorgeous artisanal cheeses made in Paso Robles are showcased here, even toasted cheese sandwiches with cornichons for lunch. The glittering back bar is being tweaked along the far wall of Front & Cooper, where craft cocktails will quench happy hour thirsts later in the day. At Flashbird, the first hot chicken sandwiches of the day are answering the breakfast needs of protein craving patrons. Grilled chicken, fried chicken, spicy chicken with your choice of sauces. The Italian meatball sliders tempt me over at Belly Goat Burger—it’s only five minutes until the 11am opening. Not long after, I’m trying to grasp the hugeness of the “Ranch Hand” special, a monument to brisket, two cheeses, rosemary garlic aioli, and mixed greens—all layered on a beef patty towering atop a toasted brioche bun.
Lunchtime adds another layer of patrons to the endless coffee drinkers, and early evening will fill up with beer and Neopolitan pizza lovers. And for the market fresh crowd, there’s Veg on the Edge and its creative menu of everything without meat. Beautiful plates of grains, veggies, herbs and pepper stew invite the adventurous vegan.
Next door, in the historic Octagon building, sushi is being created at Daisuki, next door to the Cajun excitement of Roux Dat. And on weekend evenings, starting at 6pm there’s live music making yet another offer that downtown Santa Cruz—and summer visitors—cannot refuse. Abbott Square Market, Front and Cooper streets.
It’s like deja vu all over again. And it’s impressive to see some of our favorite places being able to reopen after a long winter/spring of carryout only. In the case of the new shiny salon cafe in the downtown, Bad Animal, the lamp was lit continuously for books. But only this week has the literary depot opened for full service. As co-owner Andrew Sivak told me, “the bookshop’s opens at noon, the bar at 2, the restaurant at 5, and closing is at 9.” Wednesday through Sunday. A refreshed menu awaits: think olives, popcorn, voluptuous bread and butter, plus cheeses and charcuterie from 2 to 5, at which point the menu expands to include brilliant salads, grilled cheese and the wildly popular schnitzel with potato salad. And the avant-garde selection of wines by the glass remains excitingly far flung, and includes two orange wines by the glass, from Chile and from Greece.
Burger of the Week
Gabriella continues to deliver big flavors in beautiful packages, indoors and outside. I managed to consume half of my bigger-than-a-Tesla burger ($17) at lunch last week, served on a delicious brioche bun and topped with gooey cheese, caramelized onions, more bacon than you can handle, pickles, plus a side of fragrant Little Gems salad. Mmmmm. Gabriella lunch Tu-Fri 11:30am; dinner Tu-Sat 5:30pm; brunch Sat & Sun 10am.gabriellacafe.com.