Todd Parker has a new gig at the Sante Adairius Rustic Ales Tasting Room at 1315 Water Street. Parker had worked in the kitchen at Bad Animal, turning out mouth-watering southern comfort food and intricate salads. Now that the permits are in place and construction is underway, Parker’s popup pan pizzas and other tasty specials have transformed the midtown ale tasting room into an operation with a larger food presence. The kitchen expansion will soon allow Parker to churn out new menus with complete meals to his loyal fanbase. Meanwhile, it’s always a good time to try some of Chef Parker’s popup ideas, accompanied by some frothy Sante Adairius craft beer. The Rustic Ales Kitchen is open Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday, noon-8pm; noon-9pm Friday and Saturday. rusticales.com.
Pizzeria Avanti Indoors
Finally, this Westside treasure is back open for indoor dining—and it’s never been better, as that first bite of fettuccine pesto confirmed. It had been a year and a half since the three of us sat at our favorite Pizzeria Avanti table and toasted with glasses of Rioja ($10). Everything felt as it should. Couples seated at the bar, holding hands, and several families shared pizzas in the larger room. In the kitchen, Hugo Martinez slid pizzas into the huge oven. From his smile, it was clear that the co-owner was happy to see his regulars. The new staff were friendly and on point; we felt comfortable as we waited for our orders.
Sitting across from old friends, laughing and talking, face to face, sharing a beautiful Brussels Sprouts Salad ($12) with an abundance of frisée, shell beans, pumpkin seeds, tiny bits of pancetta, and, of course, those roasted Brussels sprouts. This is how dinner should be. The guys each went for the Lamb Burger ($14). The plump burger, topped with melted manchego and sauteed mushrooms, came with fat slabs of roast fries. This dish is bulletproof, always a luscious balance of juicy lamb, cheese and a frosting of caramelized onions. I snuck a roast potato just as my pasta dish arrived. Instead of my usual special salad with the addition of wild prawns, I went for one of the signature house pastas. A massive bowl of noodles came bathed in pesto, glowing with fresh garlic ($16). But the secret to this pasta that I could not stop eating was the infusion of sauteed kale, chard, mushrooms and shredded cabbage. The fabulous combination of greens—the cabbage added a welcome crunchiness—seamlessly fused with the mushrooms’ earthy flavor. There wasn’t a false note in this dish, and I ate my fill. There was enough for me to take home for dinner the next day. Wow.
We all shared a dish of house vanilla gelato, a kiss of sweet creaminess after high-key savory flavors, especially the garlicky pesto pasta. The conversation, the wine, the food, the joy of dining inside our most comfortable neighborhood place—it was a memorable dinner at Pizzeria Avanti. Welcome back! 1711 Mission St., Santa Cruz. Open nightly 5-9pm. pizzeriaavanti.net.
Tastings and Music
Options at Birichino now include a quartet of lightly effervescent, highly refreshing, wild-at-heart new wines bearing the Pétulant Naturel label emblazoned with gorgeous litho prints of carnivorous plants. Distinctive and aromatic, these wines—especially the pink Grenache Rosé—must be tasted! 204 Church St., Santa Cruz. Open Thursday-Sunday, 1-6pm. birichino.com. At Gabriella Cafe, just up the block, check out sidewalk music Thursday nights, thanks to the remarkable Irene Herrmann and her equally remarkable daughter Kaethe Hostetter.