Owners of summit-top Drive-Inn restaurant have the right attitude
The picturesque view of forested Santa Cruz Mountains is stunning from the summit-top family-style restaurant now called the Drive-Inn. For years, the property has been unable to retain a tenant but owner-Chef Ben Kralj and his fiancée Lamia Mghari have all the ingredients to raise a healthy following.
Kralj has developed a good supply of local contacts and satisfied customers. He received his culinary education at Cabrillo College, was a line cook at Shadowbrook, opened Seascape Catering nine years ago, and worked for a decade as chef and Food Service Director at Kennolyn Camps.
At the new restaurant, open for just four months, a sign propped up in the parking lot alongside Highway 17 offers coffee and a bagel for $4 for customers on the go, but most of their other items are more substantial. Mghari enthusiastically welcomed me. I chose a table overlooking the valley and warmed by the sun through immense windows.
Cyanotype photograms of lacy lingerie, like old-school ammonia-exposed blueprints, are hung on the wall from clotheslines. For sale by artist Carmina Eliason, they match the restaurant’s upholstered booths. Outside, a wood deck features an idyllic pond where a pair of fountains baffle the noise from passing traffic.
The menu itself has a ton of attitude. Breakfast is served all day, and the Big-Ass Breakfast Platter ($8.25) holds two eggs, hash browns, a couple of pieces of toast and two slices of bacon or sausage links, while the Mini-Brekky Platter ($5) is half the size.
Sandwiches, served with chips and a pickle spear, range from the 1/3 pound Angus Drive-Inn Burger ($9.25) with either spicy barbecue or teriyaki sauce, to a Corralitos Market quarter-pound hot link ($8.75) and a Big Kid’s Quesadilla. Mini-Meals ($5), perfect for the younger set, come with either string cheese or fruit.
Drive-Inn offers a couple of salads as well. The Seasonal Farmers’ Market ($7.25 includes shredded cheese and house-made ranch or balsamic dressing, and you can even add a scoop of tuna or egg salad ($3.50) The Avocado Salad ($7.25) includes bacon and blue cheese.
I felt a bit sheepish after ordering iced tea with artificial sweetener, and finding the Big-Ass Chocolate Milkshake ($6) on the menu. Made with Marianne’s ice cream, the tall glass of cold sweetness was topped with a tower of whipped cream, drizzled with chocolate syrup, and dotted with chocolate sprinkles. Even the extra-wide straw was no match for its thickness. A stainless steel mixing cup held a bit extra.
Also sweet are the root beer floats ($6), and the Drive-Inn Sundae ($10) with two scoops of chocolate, strawberry or vanilla ice cream with strawberries, whipped cream and sprinkles.
A thick Belgian-style waffle ($7.25) with deep, syrup-holding wells was crisp and chewy, and served with two slices of thick, salty bacon. Chef Kralj even stopped by to introduce himself.
Karlj’s Homemade Chili ($4.50/$7) is just killer— chunks of ground meat, black and red beans, bell peppers, stewed tomatoes with rich ground chili-flavored broth. It waas served in a huge coffee cup with sides of griddled Texas toast, red onions, grated cheese and sour cream. Hot sauce choices included Tabasco, Sriracha, and The Pepper Plant. Add an Octopus Hot Dog ($3), so named because of the numerous vertical cuts that form “legs.”
For travelers, simple snacks include coffee, tea, hot cocoa, bottled water, soda, and juices ($2 to $3) or string cheese, hard-boiled eggs, popcorn, candy and gum ($1 to $3).
The Drive-Inn, 23123 Santa Cruz Highway 17, Los Gatos, 353-2600. Open from 9 a.m. until 8 p.m.
And the Song Goes On
The new owners of 99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall have remodeled the restrooms and kitchen, developed a new logo, and expanded the beer menu including adding a rolling selection of local brews. They are now ready to roll out their new menu items at a grand opening celebration this weekend, March 1- 3, including a KPIG live remote broadcast on Saturday, March 2 from 4 to 6 p.m.
99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall, 110 Walnut Ave., Santa Cruz, 459-9999. Visit 99bottles.com.
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