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Dessert for Dinner

Kelly's French Bakery makes evening dining a treat

By Selene Latigo

Over the last couple of years, I have watched with delight as the Swift Street Courtyard expanded. It is easy to spend a whole day there, beginning with a leisurely brunch or lunch at Kelly's French Bakery, then meandering through the boutiques, stopping in to get a lavender hand bath at the soap shop, then on to a free tasting at Pelican Ranch Winery or Santa Cruz Mountains Brewing Co., or both if you're in the mood. In addition, on Friday afternoon we are now blessed with our very own West Side farmers market in the parking lot, perfect for last-minute weekend dinner planning. And now, to extend our enjoyment even more, Kelly's is offering dinner.

Apparently, word hasn't spread much because when we arrived on Sunday evening we almost thought the place was closed. Only two tables were occupied, but after sampling the new menu items, I'm confident that we will be seeing crowds in the near future. The casual counter service is an easy process, although filled with temptations as you slowly pass by the bakery case on the way to the register. The regular breakfast and lunch menu is clearly posted in big writing along the back wall, and there are now easily accessible dinner menus and wine lists to grab and peruse before ordering. There are four entrees to choose from: pasta, fish, chicken or steak, each around $10. Soup of the day, salads, sandwiches, a couple of pizzas and sides are offered as well, reasonably priced from $4 to $8.

Surprising ourselves, we chose quickly and proceeded to order from the friendly counterperson who was having a bit of trouble with the new dinner system. After a few clarifications and menu distinctions, we left the tab open for dessert and went to sit down.

Dave's Santa Cruz Mountains Organic IPA ($7 for 22 ounces) arrived after a first attempt was sent back, but my light, strawberry-infused Brouilly Beaujolais ($7) was a petit pour of well-chosen wine, perfect with the food to come. We also immediately received three hot and crusty rolls, served in a fluted cake pan. We gazed at the dessert case some more, trying to premeditate our final indulgence, until our salads were served.

My baked goat's cheese salad ($7.95) was a heap of fresh mixed greens, well dressed in sprightly vinaigrette. Two lightly breaded, herbed and golden buttons of grassy goat cheese sat atop the lettuce, all sprinkled with green and black olives. This salad, a nod to the legendary one at Chez Panisse, could easily be a meal in itself. I imagine that it will stay on my personal list for destination salads.

Dave ordered a small Caesar ($4.95), which was almost as large as my salad. This creamy-style Caesar was balanced with salty cheese, anchovy and garlic and topped with crisp croutons. A squirt more lemon would have been the key to reach ultimate perfection.

Practically one bite into our salads and our entrees arrived. We would have preferred a slower pace, especially considering our tiny table, but couldn't complain once we tasted them. The side of winter vegetable gratin ($4.95) was a rich and caramelized concoction of sweet potato, parsnips and leeks, with sweet earthy flavor. Although concentrated, the texture was almost as light as a soufflé at times, held down with the cheese and chewy edges.

The half roasted chicken ($10.25), golden brown with flecks of herbs on crisp, savory skin, was served with a pile of light and fresh french fries. The side of aioli begged for dipping whatever was at hand. Dave was even able to save half of the tender chicken for lunch the next day and very happy with the portion-to-value ratio.

Dessert time finally arrived, a must when dining in a bakery, and we chose well. The deep mini chocolate truffle cake ($3) was a snowball mound of pure decadence and amazing paired with my last few sips of wine. The pecan tartlet was packed with nuts, and the buttery crust offered balance to the sweet caramel-flavored filling.

We look forward to return visits, so glad to have a neighborhood outdoor seating option to enjoy wine and excellent food at fair prices in the casual yet classy atmosphere we have come to rely upon at Kelly's and the Swift Street Courtyard.

Kelly's French Bakery
Address: 402 Ingalls St., Santa Cruz
Phone: 831.423.9059
Hours: dinner 5-9pm Wed-Sun
Price: $4-$11

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From the January 11-18, 2006 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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