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Photograph by George Sakkestad

Loafing Along: Ike Courtier shows off a basket of fresh baked bread at Noah's.

Keeping Spore

Mushroom hunters score in the rain; bagels aren't the only treat at Noah's

By Janet Blaser

THE CHEF WAS TAKING a five-minute break, sitting down with a friend who had come for dinner. When the phone call came, he looked uninterested--at first. The waiter asked if he wanted to take it. He sighed and asked, "Who is it?" When the waiter turned back and said, "Freddie the Mushroom Man," that chef's face lit up, and he was out of that chair faster than you could blink. "Yes. What've you got? Bring 'em now; sure, I'll be here waiting."

And that's the way it is around here when the rains come and the mushrooms start showing up. For it's not just the mushrooms that pop up out of nowhere--so do the mushroom hunters, those dedicated souls who brave the elements, no- trespassing signs and flu season to go in search of their favorite fungi. This is the time of year to keep an eye out for mushroom specials on menus all over town. Recently at Pearl Alley Bistro, a seemingly innocent order of the fettucini pasta with porcini mushrooms revealed swollen, succulent mouthfuls of fresh porcinis, bursting out of the hand-rolled noodles amidst big red chunks of barely seared ahi. Was it heavenly? You bet. Was it my entree? No. Did he share? Yes, but only after much begging, pleading and cajoling. (Note: remember, paybacks are tough.) Chefs love to use fresh-picked mushrooms--the texture, the flavor, the very feel of them are so wonderfully different than anything grown in a greenhouse. So if you go out to eat, and it has rained in the last few days, ask if the mushrooms are fresh. You just might just be pleasantly surprised.

Pearl Alley is not just open for dinner--you can also enjoy brunch from 11am to 2-ish on Sundays, when owner/chef Marc Westburg takes the day off (maybe) and gives the kitchen key to chef Rich Huber. Sometime-rugby player Steve Ball is set loose from behind the bar and in fine form as your Sunday waiter, making the experience even more enjoyable as he adds his own--how shall we say it?--flavor to Pearl Alley table service ... and what's to eat? Well, suffice it to say everything from chicken-fried steak to a mushroom terrine.

Just Say Noah's

Being the creature of habit that I am, even going to a coffee shop off my beaten path can be cause for discovery. So, strolling into Noah's New York Bagels on Pacific Avenue the other day, I found a plethora of new-to-me offerings on the menu. Not just for bagels anymore, Noah's now offers sandwiches that transcend their namesake and instead are based on fresh-baked breads like marble rye and cornmeal rye. Fillings include salads (chicken, albacore and smoked whitefish, $4.25), as well as oven-roasted turkey, roast beef, corned beef and pastrami ($5.95). All are served with a pickle and side salad of your choice. Also within the last year or so, "bagel dogs"--Coney Island hot dogs wrapped in bagel doughs and baked--have popped up, at least in the downtown Santa Cruz location, which doesn't keep a kosher kitchen like the Capitola store.

If you're craving something sweet, check out the gooey pull-apart cinnamon rolls and cinnamon sugar bagels, which, when toasted and spread with butter, certainly qualify as comfort food in my book. There are also half a dozen Egg Mits, scrambled egg combos that read like an omelet list (spinach, mushrooms and Swiss; turkey sausage and cheddar; artichoke hearts, tomatoes and mozzarella). And let's not forget the more than 15 varieties of bagels to be found weekdays from 6:30am to 6pm, and 7am to 5pm weekends. You can find it all at 1411 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz.

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From the March 1-8, 2000 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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