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Thursday, September 9, 2021

Santa Cruz Weekend

Santa Cruz Weekend

Spent a fun weekend in Santa Cruz and experienced several excellent meals along the way. After yet another major disaster at work, we managed to escape the Peninsula by about 2 in the afternoon. We had reservations for two nights at Chaminade, a nice resort in the foothills behind Aptos. We’d been there many years ago when one of my wife’s “duties” was to scope out locales for the following year’s executive retreat. Tough job, which gave us the opportunity to stay free at not only Chaminade, but the likes of Meadowood, Silverado, Carmel Valley Ranch, and Highlands Inn. All were wonderful in their own unique way. Meadowood and Carmel Valley Ranch are both simply elegant … upscale resorts that would please virtually anyone. Silverado was nice, but geared more to the golfing crowd, and we’re not golfers. Highlands Inn had the unique feature of a full-size hot tub in the middle of the living room. I’ve talked about this with other people who’ve stayed there and was relieved to learn that we weren’t the only nut cases who dumped bubble bath into the tub and turned on the jets. Hey … leave it next to the tub and we’re going to use it!


Chaminade’s not as upscale as the other resorts above, but it’s a very nice place, and the restaurants are both very good. We went to the buffet last time, so we opted for Linwood’s Bar and Grill for dinner on Friday night. I started with a Tanqueray 10 martini (up with a twist, thank you) while my better half ordered a frou-frou drink … a Pina Colada. Dinner consisted of a double size pork chop cooked to perfection, topped with a mango chutney, served over mashed potatoes, accompanied with mixed vegetables. My wife ordered a sea bass with a fruit-based salsa topping, and potatoes and veggies. Everything was great, but I was amazed at how good the single baby carrot tasted. I asked our server about it, and she said the bartender grows organic fruits and vegetables, and this was a sample. You’d never think a single carrot could make such an impression, but this one did. Good stuff.


Saturday lunch was at the Crow’s Nest, which overlooks the beautiful entrance to the Santa Cruz Yacht Harbor on East Cliff Drive. The view of the boats, big and small, stand-up paddle boards, and the ever-present pelicans, was gorgeous on this 90+ degree late summer day. I opted for the fish tacos and a side of their incredible Boston Clam Chowder. The tilapia tacos were done to perfection, wrapped in two tortillas like the authentic ones are done in Mexico. Topped with a cabbage slaw, garnishes of a light salsa and tartar sauce, they were excellent. And the soup’s always great, which is why I always get it when I come here. I used to frequent Boston and Cape Ann quite regularly and was always on a quest for the best clam chowder. That title goes to The Barnacle in Marblehead Mass, but the Crow’s Nest comes close to Legal Seafood’s chowder, which I mean as a compliment. Risa had a pear, pecan and gorgonzola salad with sliced skirt steak that had a vinegar-based marinade that was excellent. The Crow’s Nest is always a fun spot, both for people-watching, and scanning the harbor for sights and critters. Seals, seagulls, and the afore-mentioned giant pelicans are always hanging around and add to the restaurant’s ambience. Amazingly, I’ve never been here for dinner or even sat in the formal downstairs area. Upstairs, outside is where you want to be here. Highly recommended.


Saturday night’s dinner was at the world-famous Shadowbrook Restaurant in Capitola. Glad I thought to make reservations via Open Table, as I overheard people being quoted “hours” for a table. Plan ahead. Nice place, but I prefer not to wait “hours” anywhere for a meal. We took the famous tram down the beautifully landscaped hill, from the upper to the lower part of the property.


Shadowbrook is in a phenomenal location, a half block from the beach, overlooking the tiny Soquel Creek, just prior to it emptying into the Pacific at Capitola. The tram reminded me of a smaller version of the Duquesne Incline, which my wife and I rode a few years ago on a visit to her native Pittsburgh, PA.


Capitola has a special place in my heart as a long time California surfer. It’s the first place I ever got “locked in” to a wave. This is a rare situation where you turn at the right time, and the wave is breaking just behind you, propelling you along at a perfect clip, breaking just behind your head. My old surfing buddy Rick Washford and I were driven down for the day (thanks to his mom), and we caught some singularly spectacular waves. I was 14, Rick was 13. Several years ago …


Shadowbrook is more than a pretty face of a restaurant … great food compliments the gorgeous d├ęcor, and this night was no exception. First decision was wine, adult beverage, or both. Since our excellent server Brandy said “yes” to my request for Tanqueray 10, that sealed the deal. Risa had a lemon drop. We opted for entrees and uncharacteristically, no salads or soup. Still semi-full of the great lunch at the Crow’s Nest. We both chose the specials, which was swordfish for her, steak for me. Both were excellent, as was the Argentine Malbec, which was under thirty dollars, and perfect for the dishes.


So, donning my critic’s hat for the weekend’s restaurants, I’d be hard-pressed to be unkind to any of these three spots. Chaminade’s Bar and Grill was great and featured the best single carrot I’ve ever tasted. The Crow’s Nest is always great, and the hot, clear end-of-summer day just added to the ambience. And Shadowbrook was its traditional excellent. Service was superb in all three spots … quick, not overbearing, friendly, perfect.


For the ride home, I wanted to cruise the spots where I grew up … Felton, Ben Lomond, Boulder Creek, maybe an up-and-over the hill through Bonnie Doon. The road out of Santa Cruz over Graham Hill, brought back some fun memories. Up Zayante Road is where Marty’s grandparents lived. We’d occasionally be treated to a day at the Trout Farm, where several big pools awaited us. There’s a corral area off to the west where Christie and Nancy Murray used to board and train their horses. These were the next-door neighbors to my grandparents, who I spent summers with between ages 5 and 13. We learned to swim together, bugged Mr. Farley to take us out on the San Lorenzo River on his rowboat and broached the notion of coming of age at the weekly dances in Ben Lomond. Fun, innocent times.


It had become that nebulously debatable time between breakfast and lunch … around 11:30, when we found ourselves about a mile outside of Felton on Highway 9. We spotted McCay’s Cottage, and it looked interesting and inviting, so we stopped. Uh-oh … the sign greeted us with “cash or checks only … no credit cards.” I rarely have more than a few bucks in my pocket, but amazingly, we had enough cash to cover breakfast … which apparently was what we were going to order. I’d pretty much settled on a bacon and cheese omelette when the server stopped to tell us about the specials. 


We’re doing a “Joe’s Scramble,” … stop the presses … you mean like a “Joe’s Special? Yes … scrambled eggs, spinach, ground beef, mushrooms, and cheese. Done. Thank you very much. Risa had the signature French Toast, and we both were happy campers. Great French Roast Coffee, everything on the menu was obviously very fresh, prices were reasonable, service was first-rate … McCay’s Cottage was a hit. Highly recommended. But bring cash.


I love weekends like this one and need more of them. We don’t get a lot of formal vacation time currently, as work seems to be eating up the bulk of our lives. But these little jaunts to places both new and old, can rejuvenate your spirits and remind you that life is indeed a wonderful thing.


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