Walking into the Eastside’s compact Cat & Cloud, the energy hits immediately. Fronting Portola Drive, its back door facing the ocean, the coffeehouse exudes the sort of buzz that comes not just from caffeine but from big-shouldered hospitality, as well. The brainchild of former Verve pioneers Jared Truby and Chris Baca, Cat & Cloud holds down its Pleasure Point territory with easy charm and killer coffee. I was welcomed the minute I walked in, surveyed the landscape of Companion Bakeshop pastries, and ordered the house medium roast ($2.75), served up in a huge logo mug. From my seat at the laminated faux surfboard counter I could watch Truby finesse breakfast toasts, some slathered with avocado, others with cream cheese and infant sprouts.
“I do it all,” he jokes. “Morning to evening.” But of course he is exaggerating, since his partners were also working the espresso machines without stopping. The atmosphere is physical, the appearance of this clean well-lighted space is filled with air and sunshine. A steady stream of neighbors arrive as I watched the action. It’s hard to resist the outrageous flavor (butter and caramelized sugar) and texture (chewy interior topped with a featherlight embrace of paper-thin, crispness) of the mighty Companion Bakeshop Kouign Amann ($4.50). I, for one, do not resist it, but cave every time I’m within reach of this dense pastry gem.
As the population in Santa Cruz has thickened, so has the traffic—thus creating little neighborhood mini-towns, from the Westside to the Eastside. And each of these little regions keeps its residents well stocked in coffee shops, cafes and cocktails. The resourceful Cat & Cloud amplifies its clientele by partnering its excellent fresh-roasted coffees with the signature pastries from Companion Bakeshop (this alliance also powers C&C’s downtown station in the Abbott Square Market). As Verve multiplied its appeal by stocking Manresa’s outstanding scones, cakes and croissants, so Cat & Cloud offers the addictive morning treats from a top bakery. A value-added inspiration! Music is spot-on, bouncy pop-rock that pleases without getting in the way. The vibe was perfect, neither too hipster-hip, nor too understated. A bright, clean space seemingly free of “attitude” (i.e., no one feels excluded or not hip enough to enter). Even though the parking situation is a bit of a challenge—there’s a small lot tucked behind the store, otherwise you’re on your own on the locals-only beach community backstreets—I was assured that the parking issue is “being worked on.”
How was the coffee? In a word, full-bodied and delicious. Robust with a bittersweet center of Earth and a caramel finish, thanks for asking. Cat & Cloud’s close neighbors include other Pleasure Point coffee emporia that are busy redefining the surfing quartier—Verve, Chill Out, Coffeetopia, for example. But there are enough coffee lovers to go around, and clearly this vivacious pitstop for coffee and pastries has found its clientele. Open 6 a.m.-6 p.m. daily. 3600 Portola Drive, Santa Cruz.
Appetizer of the Week
The brilliant little Pork Belly “Snack” ($8) at Bantam, in which a feisty square of pork belly (imagine a piece of meaty bacon expanded in four dimensions!) is joined by a small pillow of pureed sweet potato and a colorful side of pickled carrots, cauliflower and other crunchy items. No, seriously, this fork-tender flavor delivery system held up throughout one of the house designer martinis ($9)! Get there early—like when it opens at 5 p.m.—while bar seating is available and the noise level not excessive.
Open 5-9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and until 9:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Bantam 1010 Fair Ave., Santa Cruz.