.Lunch at Buttercup Cakes and Pintos and Pinots in Watsonville

With its checkered tile floor and dreamlike display of otherworldly confections, Buttercup Cakes and Farmhouse Frosting is one of those special places to take your friends and family when they come to town, as well as a saving grace for anyone in charge of bringing the dessert. Which is why I was pleasantly surprised to find myself there last week, eating a salad, of all things, on my lunch break. The Salad Medley ($8) on Buttercup’s recently installed lunch menu is a heap of fresh greens and thinly sliced fennel and cabbage, and a seasonal menagerie of toppings that included, on this particular day: slices of ripe, sweet strawberries, candied almonds, Gorgonzola, and pickled beets. Buttercup’s salads are boxed—with the toppings and a light apple cider vinaigrette packed separately to avoid mushiness—and ready to go to the park, beach, or (hopefully not) back to the office.

Its “Toast of the Town” offerings are made with Kelly’s French Bakery sourdough bread, and include a vegan beet hummus ($8) or cured salmon and herbed cream cheese ($9) option.

But back to Buttercup’s main attraction. A thrilling discovery: the 50-percent-off “Misfits” bakery case. Seriously, there was nothing aesthetically wrong with the large ginger cupcake crowned with Buttercup’s signature voluptuous dollop of handcrafted chocolate frosting and candied ginger ($2.25), but if there had been, it would be forgotten at first bite. Brunch available from 10 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Friday-Sunday and lunch 10 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Monday-Thursday. farmhousefrosting.com.

South County Highlights

After hiking in the serene Byrne Milliron forest on the outskirts of Corralitos, a friend and I stopped at Windy Oaks Winery on the idyllic Hazel Dell Road. We tasted several acclaimed Pinots, and found the 2014 Estate Wood Tank ($58), fermented in French Oak, to be our favorite. The dry and refreshing 2015 Bastide La Combe Rosé ($19)—made from 100-percent Grenache grapes grown in the Cedar Lane vineyard in Arroyo Seco was also a highlight on that hot day. I recommend the hike, the wine stop, and continuing into Watsonville on Casserly Road, which turns into East Lake Avenue. Stay in the right lane and keep an eye out for the towering Santa Fe Market sign, then throw on your blinker, grab your shopping bag, and save on a vast selection of inexpensively priced produce (five avocados for $5) and traditional Mexican ingredients, like a 4-pound bag of dried beans for 99 cents, dried chiles, spices, and Jamaica for iced tea. Prepared hot foods satisfy more immediately: a hot, double-corn tortilla taco of carnitas will set you back $1.69, and is a filling flavor bomb of cilantro, spicy salsa, and lime wedges. Or, take home a pint of creamy refried beans, and definitely do not miss the selection of more than a dozen salsas—the pico de gallo and salsa de guacamole took my lunches to the next level all week.

If you’re hungry now and have time to spare, stop at Taqueria Tecoman, on the left just past Santa Fe Market. Here, an order of sopes ($8) will fill you up for hours with two hand-shaped rounds of thick masa layered with refried beans, tomato, crema, Cotija cheese and your choice of meat (shredded chicken goes well.)

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Dessert of the Week

On the spectrum of flan—which seems to travel from light and egg-centric to floury cake-like slabs—the one made in-house at Jaguar on Soquel Avenue falls in the heavenly balance. A medium-bodied custard served in a sublime pool of orange glaze and accented with citrus twists. It’s not the only reason to visit the cozy hole in the wall formerly occupied by Lillian’s, but it’s an unforgettable highlight.


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