From ocean views to fish primarily sourced from the docks right below, Johnny’s Harborside delivers a comprehensive coastal dining experience at the Santa Cruz harbor. Even executive chef Nichole Robbins, who has been with Johnny’s for four years, considers herself a product of the harbor. Robbins has worked in food service since the age of 15; she was also a behavioral therapist for 20 years. The seafood-centric California cuisine boasts Latin and Asian influences that are accessible to all. Menu favorites include spicy cioppino, mojo-style fish dishes and grilled fish tacos. Hours are Wednesday-Sunday from 3:30-8:30pm. GT asked Robbins about her love of seafood and whether there are similarities between cooking and behavioral therapy.
Where does your passion for seafood come from?
NICHOLE ROBBINS: It started by going out fishing at 3am with my dad as a child, right out of the Santa Cruz Harbor. I lived close to the harbor too, so I basically grew up there. When I went to college in Boston, I worked at a prominent farmers market that sold every kind of seafood on the East Coast. I also spent time in New Orleans and Southern California and I’ve always loved coastal towns. It’s intuitive for me. Now being at Johnny’s, it feels like a full-circle moment, being able to work at and look at the harbor that I love and call home every day. My goal is to evoke that sense of feeling comforted and being at home through the flavors of the dishes that I serve.
How do cooking and behavioral therapy parallel?
There is this common thread of uniqueness that happens each time you’re having an interaction with someone you’re providing therapy to or the components of a dish. In therapy and cooking, when you’re looking for a specific result, you’re honing in on one important part of the whole, and once you’ve identified what works, you can really build on it. They both require not only great multitasking skills but also micro-focus on small details. Once the little things come together, you can really see the whole person or dish come to life, and it’s a cool thing to step back and watch.
493 Lake Avenue, Santa Cruz, 831-479-3430; johnnysharborside.com.