Artichokes never looked more attractive than they do right now.
OK, maybe they did way back in 1948. That was the year Castroville crowned its first Artichoke Queen, Norma Jean, aka Marilyn Monroe.
Now 75 years later, almost to the week, a new anniversary provides some timely inspiration to celebrate artichoke sex appeal: On the 160th birthday of Castroville, the Monterey County Convention and Visitors Bureau is launching the Artichoke Trail. (That comes ahead of the spring harvest and the annual Artichoke Festival June 10-11, amid a 2023 that’s hit growers hard.)
That makes me happy and hungry. I’m on the record as a longtime fan. My two favorite ways to respond when people ask where I’m from are 1) The original capital of Alta California; and 2) The world capital for artichokes, bonus nugget on Marilyn optional.
A decade back, when then-Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom held a contest for Golden State’s unofficial food, I had artichoke on my ballot, ahead of heavy hitters—and personal fetishes—Dungeness crab, sourdough bread and avocado. (Artichoke was named the state vegetable, and California produces all of the U.S.’s supply, with 80 percent of that coming from Castroville.)
That world capital now has an official map. It pops with 40 spots: farmers markets, restaurants, tours, attractions and farm stands, like my favorite, Pezzini Farms, where the house artichoke seasoning is an incredible—and incredibly versatile—spice blend.
The restaurants and bars stretch from Big Sur to Moss Landing but stick to Monterey County, so I’ll tab three standout spots on this side of the bay to turn the saliva ducts on.
The Crow’s Nest goes high-quality classic with a simple steamed artichoke, chilled-and-shrimp-stuffed and a crab-and-artichoke dip.
Santa Cruz stalwart Upper Crust Pizza & Pasta brings on several pizzas with fresh local artichoke, like the pizza bianca and the al fresco.
Meanwhile, Chocolate does hand-rolled pasta in an artichoke cream sauce and offers a “sizzling” pot of artichoke hearts, melted Asiago and ricotta cheeses and a splash of white wine with an Adorable French Bakery baguette.
The downtown destination even crafts its own traditional Italian-style artichoke liqueur with the fresh harvest from Rodoni Farms, which proves timely itself because a ’choke cheers is in order.
SERIES GETS SERIOUS
Last month Good Times swung by The Pizza Series, tucked in the former Tony & Alba’s in Scotts Valley. While overhauling the interior and exterior of the place, pizza master Matt Driscoll is prepping 60 Detroit-style pizzas for takeout Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays (order via thepizzaseries.com), drawing eaters from as far afield as Watsonville and the South Bay. Along with his fiancée/co-owner, Maddy Quesada, he’s eager to introduce indoor dining by the end of the month, starring supporting acts like pastas, desserts and small plates. “I seriously can’t wait to be fully open!” he writes via text.