An apple is more than an apple for Larkin Valley growers Freddy Menge and Ellen Baker of Epicenter Orchard.
It’s a dance with history, an exclamation of flavor and a meeting place between farmer and eater.
“A really good apple is a discovery—’What am I tasting,’ ‘Where am I?’ ‘What time is it?’ ”Menge says with an easy chuckle.
Menge and Baker are enthusiastic members of the Monterey Bay chapter of the California Rare Fruit Growers.They also tend avocados, and sell at the Santa Cruz Westside Farmers’ Market on Saturdays.
For November they’ll bring Allen’s Everlasting apples and Brushy Mountain Limbertwig apples, Calville Blancs and Crabby Ladies, and then Pink Parfaits and fleeting red Rubaiyats later in the month. Dana’s Hovey pears, too, and curated tasting boxes (while supplies last).
Many of those old-school apples, including varieties hundreds of years old, will also appear at underrated Jack O’Neill Restaurant all month.
That’s where an apple—or more accurately, hundreds of apples—transform into a lot more in the hands of Exec Chef Gus Trejo, Chef de Cuisine Greg Karjala, pastry chef Cece Bauer and their team.
The apples will leap to life in miso apple butter on fresh-catch lingcod, on top of grilled quail with brioche, celery root and chili sumac, and roasted in rugosa squash ravioli with pomegranate and a brown butter sauce.
Every month Trejo likes to spotlight an abundant and top-tasting produce crop (last month was Mariquita Farms pumpkin).
“The goal is to educate and practice,” he says. “I get excited about this! I’m hoping I can get to the point where I’m not having to leave my community to ‘gather’ foods.”
Trejo loves the spark the monthly custom brings to his kitchen with taste tests, recipe play and information (“It gets the team going,” he says, ““There are 2,500 varieties of apples!”), the verve of his suppliers (“They’re super passionate about what they’re doing!”) and the perspective it provides, in more ways than one.
“It gives people a different way to look at apples, and Freddy has some unique apples you wouldn’t think are apples,” he says. “I want people to come in and try an apple in a way they haven’t before.”
Davenport Roadhouse likes to remind locals it awaits “just two songs north of Santa Cruz.” That doesn’t stop the saloon-restaurant-inn from simmering other reasons to head up the coast (beyond burgers, fried pickles and giddyup garlic bread)—namely Taco Tuesday, Trivia Wednesday and Thirsty Thursday, which all stack $5 deals (for things like two tacos, margaritas, draft beers, street pizza and well drinks, depending on the day).
Then there’s live music on weekends too; this week the sequence is Slow Coast (Friday), Joe Jester (Saturday) and the Breaux Show (Sunday). davenportroadhouse.com
KEEP IT COMING
Turbo news nibbles: Speaking of apples, Live Earth Farm hosts Apple-palooza Nov. 11 with cider tutorials, applesauce canning, take-home treats and more, liveearthfarm.net; also Nov. 11, Capitola Sip & Stroll flows with wine and beer tastings and 28 participating wineries for $45, capitolavillage.com; Café Gratitude (aka Café GSC) in downtown Santa Cruz has closed for good; at last month’s Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk Chili Cook-Off, two local faves shined: East Side Eatery won people’s choice and Far West Fungi earned the nod for best vegetarian.