Santa Cruz Good Times

Dec 01st
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Soup's On!

dining_ristorantiItalianoChilly temperatures send the stock pots to simmering all around town

On weary winter weekends the lunch table would feature hot soup from familiar red and white cans. Tomato was my favorite (made with water, not milk) with crisp, salty crackers crumbled on top.

Even better however was soup after the holidays when Mom would toss a ham bone into a pot of dry, soaked lima beans. Unaware of the frugality of the meal, I held my face over the bowl, relishing the smoky-smelling steam, and then whistled onto large spoonfuls until the flat beans and thick broth were cool enough to eat.

My kids fortunately liked split pea soup. No need to soak the peas, just add them to boiling water with grated carrot, onions, and diced lean ham or Canadian bacon and it practically cooks itself within an hour. Sometimes I'd add whole grain barley.

Soup is the current star on many a restaurant menu. At Ristorante Italiano, I stir grated Parmesan into the hearty minestrone with pieces of sweet Italian sausage and plenty of vegetables, beans and pasta. Ristorante usually has a soup of the day as well. At lunch a cup ($6.95) or large bowl ($8.95) of soup is served with a reasonably sized salad. In their seafood chowder, chunks of soft potato and plenty of pieces of bacon and shellfish were suspended in thick cream.

I also stopped in to take out a pint of Zucchini-Almond Soup ($6.95). The luscious green purée included micro-thin slices of almonds which added meaty and nutty flavors. It was packed with four slices of fresh Italian bread and pats of cold butter which were warmed by the soup to a smooth, spreadable consistency.

Ristorante Italiano, 555 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz, 458-2321.

Joe's Pizza and Subs also serves bowls of delicious clam chowder ($3.50), made colorful with celery, carrots and chives. But what really lifts me up is a bowl of Joe's vegetarian Lentil Soup ($3). The aroma, perfumed with cumin and other Mediterranean spices drifts up from the thick, pale yellow combination of soft legumes and grains.

Joe's Pizza & Subs, 841 North Branciforte Ave., Santa Cruz, 426-5955; 1207 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz, 713-5650; and on the campus of UC Santa Cruz, 459-3066. Visit

My personal favorite cure for the common cold includes Tom Yum Gai, the spicy hot and sour Thai chicken soup. During lunch at Sawsadee Thai in Soquel, they add rice noodles to the bowl ($6.99); a serving so large I brought half of it home. Sour, chili-flecked broth flavored with kaffir lime harbored chunks of chicken breast, bean sprouts, lemongrass, sweet chewy pieces of roasted garlic, fresh cilinto, green onions and bok choy with thin ribbons of translucent noodles. My sinuses were finally clear.dining_soup

Sawasdee Thai Cuisine, 5050 Soquel Drive, Soquel, 462-5051. Visit

When strolling down Pacific Avenue on a chilly morning, I'd choose a cup of soup over latte any day. Zoccoli's serves vegetarian minestrone ($3.95) and chili con carne ($4.25) daily, as well as soups of the day on weekdays. On Fridays you'll find red and white chowders ($4.25). On a Tuesday I ordered a pint of Bean and Ham ($3.95) to go. Such a deal! Opening the container, the smoky scent of ham caught my attention. The broth was packed with cannellini-like beans, stewed tomatoes, minced carrots and herbs.

Zoccoli's Italian Delicatessen, 1534 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz, 423-1711. Visit


The Santa Cruz Fungus Fair returns to Loudon Nelson Center this weekend Jan. 7-9 featuring mushroom displays, cooking demonstrations, and educational speakers.

The Friday lecture features mushrooms of the world with a cooking demonstration by Oswald's Chef Damani Thomas.

Saturday's and Sunday's educational sessions include discussions on poisonous species, herbal uses, and a two-part series on "The Wheel of Fungi" from David Arora, mycologist and author, who founded the Fungus Fair in 1975. Topics are likely to include ecology, usage, cuisine and foraging.

The kids' room will feature craft projects and face painting, while a habitat area will hold hundreds of bay area mushroom species.

Santa Cruz Fungus Fair, 4-7 p.m, Friday, Jan. 7 ($5), Loudon Nelson Community Center, 301 Center St., Santa Cruz. 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Jan. 8-9 ($7),  For more information visit
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