In the back patio of a vintage neighborhood we discovered a delicious pocket of Italian cooking. In addition to its authentically Italian menu, Sugo Italian Pasta Bar has another secret attraction—its intimate back deck. How could this little wine garden even exist? We were charmed by lunch under a tented awning strung with lights behind the original Lillian’s. The menu reflects the tastes and origins of Sugo’s Italian proprietors, and we sipped one of those incredibly thirst-quenching San Pellegrino Limonata drinks ($2.50) while choosing. (The menu offers a range of craft beers as well as appealing Italian wines. But we were there for lunch.) There are deep Italian roots in this sector of the galaxy. I can recall hearing the butchers in Shopper’s Corner a few blocks down the street, all gesturing and joking in Italian to each other back in the day.
Sugo’s menu offers classics of contemporary Italian cuisine—not Italian-American, nor simply Italian-style cooking. We soon found out the Italian insistence on beautiful plates is alive and well in this hideaway dining spot (to access the dozen outdoor tables out back, you go around the side of the building and through a little wooden gate.) Sugo’s pasta bar concept is easy as pizza pie. You choose the sauce you want from a long list of classics like aglio e olio, pesto, puttanesca, alfredo, etc. And then you can select your favorite pasta to go with. Ditto with the pizzas. But we aimed deeper into the menu and went for the salmon ravioli special with a dreamy tomato sauce, inflected with diced fresh tomatoes and a dash of cream ($21) and an order of Pollo Marsala ($19), which involved a huge plate of chicken scallops smothered in fresh mushrooms. Filling the rest of the generous plate were incredible roast potato slices, browned and crisp along the edges with bits of rosemary. And a little hill of al dente market veggies—long ribbons of brilliant orange carrots, crimson peppers, atop a nest of baby spinach. Marsala and olive oil perfumed everything. The ravioli were as good as any I’ve ever tasted. The sauce was sensuous and addictive. My companion swore every bite of his marsala delivered him straight back to Italy. The word “fantastic” came out of his mouth more than once. We might have liked a bit more salt in the chicken dish— dishes are prepared with an obvious minimum of salting. We enjoyed our takeaway portions the next day for a memorable lunch at our house. Next time we’ll come for dinner, order wine with the meal and finish it with some house tiramisu. Sugo is a neighborhood treasure.
1116 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz. Daily 11:30am-2pm; 4:30-9pm. Closed Monday. sugoitalianpastabar.com.
All About Gin
Venus Spirits Kitchen manager Lindsay Eshleman is launching a series of cocktail classes. Her first installment sold out in a matter of days. But you can sign up for the second class, All About Gin, scheduled for June 22 at 5:30pm. Included is a distillery tour, a guided tasting and cocktail tutorial. Get your ticket fast! $60.
Held at the Venus Spirits Distillery, 200 High Road, Santa Cruz. my-site-102720.square.site.
Be Good To Yourself
If you haven’t been to your favorite restaurant in a while, what are you waiting for? Remember the words of culinary nomad Anthony Bourdain. “Order the steak rare. Eat an oyster. Have a negroni. Have two. Be open to a world where you may not understand or agree with the person next to you, but have a drink with them anyways. Eat slowly. Tip your server. Check in on your friends. Check in on yourself. Enjoy the ride.”