Lily Belli on Food: Masks staying on at Gayle’s, Rosie McCann’s to reopen, and Marco’s seltzer addiction

… California is lifting its universal mask mandate tomorrow, but not all restaurants are ready to say goodbye to face coverings. The current mandate was put in place on Dec. 15 in response to the surging Omicron variant, and was originally set to expire in January before being extended another month. Now that cases have dropped and hospitalizations have sharply decreased, the state confirmed it won’t renew the mandate, with Santa Cruz County following suit. But at least one local business has decided to ask its customers to continue to wear masks. Gayle Ortiz, owner of Gayle’s Bakery and Rosticceria in Capitola, told me she feels strongly about the safety of her hard-working staff, who “come to work with fingers crossed every day.” In her 44 years of being open, she said she has never seen such a difficult working environment in regards to stress: “I will do anything I can to relieve that stress on them.” Since she posted the notice to social media, she has received an overwhelming response, with dozens of positive reviews and just three dissenting voices. “I’ve never gotten anywhere near this amount of responses,” she said, “which shows me folks are not ready to take off their masks.” She says she’s unsure when it will feel safe enough for her to drop the mask rule. Local business owners, will you keep a mask rule in place? Or are you relieved to see it go? Let me know your thoughts at lily@lookoutlocal.com

Lily Belli, Lookout’s Food & Drink Correspondent

… To those of us who proudly flaunt their Irish heritage every mid-March, I bring you good tidings: Beloved Irish restaurant and pub Rosie McCann’s is reopening just in time for St. Patrick’s Day. Owner Mina Shamsaei announced yesterday that Rosie McCann’s will on March 1. The restaurant has been a staple in downtown Santa Cruz for 25 years reopening but has remained closed for the entire pandemic. Shamsaei explains that Rosie’s was unable to adapt to the constantly changing regulations in large part because — located on the second story of a building on Pacific Avenue — it doesn’t have any outdoor seating. Plus, Shamsei adds, the business model is difficult to sustain on takeout only. Happily, the pub will reopen two weeks from today, in time to celebrate its 25th anniversary on March 11 and then be ready for and St. Patrick’s Day on March 17. Manager Heather Boyd, who has been with the restaurant for more than 20 years, got the call last week that it was reopening. Many of the restaurant’s longtime staff members, including Cervando Maya, the executive chef for 25 years, are returning. Boyd says guests can expect to see the same Rosie’s they remember from early 2020 and a very similar menu, but with tables spaced a little farther apart and other COVID regulations in place. They plan to party like it’s 2019 for their anniversary and St. Patrick’s Day, with a live DJ, giveaways and plenty of Guinness and good Irish fare …

… Will pinot noir remain the dominant grape of the Santa Cruz Mountains? You might remember that a few weeks ago I visited viticulturist Ken Swegles and his wife, Abbey Crystal, At their home at Ascona Vineyard on Skyline Drive, and we talked about how climate change is affecting grape growth in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Ken and Abbey told me that as it gets warmer, our region will be less conducive to growing the delicate pinot noir that’s currently grown widely here. Instead, they say, winegrowers should embrace new varietals that are more resilient to fluctuating growing conditions. Au contaire, said an email from Judy and Jim Schultze of Windy Oaks Estate. They’ve been growing award-winning pinot noir in the Santa Cruz Mountains outside of Corralitos for more than 25 years and disagree about the future of local pinot. They invited me up to their winery to tour their vines, which I was only too happy to do. During an unseasonably warm February afternoon, the Schultzes explained their pinot optimism. Their crop will still be protected from heat spikes because of its proximity to cool coastal air, which flows in from nearby Monterey Bay. Climatologists they’ve consulted to tell them that the rest of the Santa Cruz Mountains winegrowing region facing the ocean is similarly protected — and will be for the next 25 to 50 years. The Schultzes also cite their practices: early pruning to control early bud break, trellising in a Bordeaux style to increase the canopy leaf area above the vine and improving air circulation around the grapes. And so, the conversation about local pinot’s future continues.

Vines at Windy Oaks

This week I’m visiting Pajaro Pastures, a small ecological ranch outside of Corralitos. Farmer Ryan Abelson raises 400 chickens for eggs and 40 to 50 heritage hogs, plus a few goats and sheep, for meat on 12 acres. He’s the only commercial butcher raising his own meat in Santa Cruz County. While he has been in business for only about a year, Abelson has 10 years of farming experience under his belt and was once an intern for Caleb Barron of Fogline Farm, who raises pasture-raised chickens for meat and eggs outside of Ano Nuevo State Park. At Pajaro Pastures, Abelson focuses on raising human animals using sustainable farming practices that benefit the land, like working with local breweries and vegetable farms to feed his animals — which diverts half a million pounds of food waste from the landfill each year — and using mobile chicken coops to incorporate their manure into crop fields. I can’t wait to visit his farm to find out more for an upcoming feature. Look for it in the coming weeks. Text me any questions you have on his operation here.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

If you like beer, there are still plenty of opportunities to celebrate San Francisco Beer Week. The 10-day celebration of craft beer throughout the Bay Area started last Friday and runs through the weekend. Check out my calendar of events for local tap takeovers, special releases and beer-centric parties, including a Sante Adairius Rustic Ales and Private Press tap takeover at Lúpulo and a celebration of sours at Fruition Brewing.

Did you know… 70% of readers view Lookout on their phone? Heck, you’re probably one of them. Not only can you read this newsletter in the palm of your hand, but you can now also text me directly on your iPhone or Android device by subscribing to my Subtext channel. By signing up for my texts, you’ll get first notice of each Tuesday edition of this newsletter. The setup is simple: Enter your contact info in the form, and you’ll receive a bite-sized message from me shortly thereafter.

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THE NUMBER

2 — Number of Starbucks in Santa Cruz that are voting to unionize, out of three in the state of California. Read more from my colleague Max Chun on why Santa Cruz has become the West Coast epicenter of a national wave of Starbucks unionization.

THE QUOTE

“I feel like we’ve gotten to the point now where we’re able to adapt to, within reason, whatever Mother Nature throws at us.” — Jim Schultzeowner, winemaker and grower at Windy Oaks Estate, on the changing landscape of growing pinot noir in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

A QUICK ASK

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LIFE WITH THE BELLIS

When it came time for my son, Marco, to start eating solid foods, I experienced a range of emotions. There was excitement that I would have a front-row seat to his exploration of eating, an activity I love deeply, mixed with some trepidation — what if he was a picky eater, as I was for most of my young life? Thankfully, at 9 months old, so far he’s been enthusiastic about new foods, and even has some favorites (scrambled eggs, bananas and oatmeal are all big hits). But one thing neither Mike or I expected was the intense, passionate love he has developed for sparkling water. We are a big seltzer household (Spindrift and Topo Chico are our preferred brands), and Mike especially can drink several cans in an evening. At first, Marco seemed so innocently curious, so we poured a small splash into his mouth, thinking he would dislike the bubbles. But it had the opposite effect. Something was triggered. Now, Mike can hardly enter the room with a can without Marco dropping whatever he is doing to crawl as quickly as he can toward his one true love. Knowing how much soda water we drink, my mom gave us a SodaStream for Christmas, and we thought Marco’s obsession would end once the colorful cans were no longer part of the picture. But no. My mild-mannered baby will climb with all his might and determination to taste the sweet, sweet ambrosia of carbonated water, and cry if we take it away. We’ve taken to drinking it secretly in the kitchen, and I worry about the effect it will have on his teeth. I knew that, as a new parent, there would be challenges, but I was unprepared for this.

THIS WEEK, I’M READING …

… a first-edition copy of “No Reservations: Around the World on an Empty Stomach,” by Anthony Bourdain. The late, great Bourdain was hugely influential to me as a writer, eater, traveler and human being, and I’m attempting to bring first-edition copies of all his books into my personal library. I found this one at Bad Animal in downtown Santa Cruz last week, and am enjoying thumbing through the pictures and recollections of his early days of filming his show “No Reservations,” which aired on the Travel Channel for nine seasons from 2005 to 2012.

THIS WEEK, I’M WATCHING …

“Big Night,” a 1996 film written, directed and starring Stanley Tucci. Now that I’ve finished his food-centric memoir, “My Life Through Food,” I aim to watch or rewatch as many Stanley Tucci movies and I can get my husband to sit through, starting with this lesser-known title. I had never seen it before, but I understand now why it’s considered one of the best food films of all time. If you enjoy methodic, European-style films with layered characters, open endings and incredible food, give it a shot.

FOOD NEWS WORTH READING

‘You don’t build on a corpse’: César closing to make way for Chez Panisse expansion roils Berkeley (San Francisco Chronicle)
Young people are buying less wine, but the industry keeps marketing to aging boomers (SF Gate via The Washington Post)
Forget Chocolate Bars: Baking With Chips Is Often Better (The New York Times)

Thanks for reading! Have a great week.

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