Food Friday: Greek Festival

This week’s Food Friday post is a bit different. Instead of chatting about one of my favorite local restaurants, I’m posting about the an annual food festival!

Last weekend, the hubs and I made our way to the Santa Cruz Greek Festival (it was a long trek – about a 5 minute walk from our house, ha!) We had been a year and a half ago, but it was in May and that is apparently a much smaller event.

All photos in this post from Greek Festival's FB page

All photos in this post from Greek Festival’s FB page

The festival is held on Church street and has many Greek food vendors to choose from: gyros, vegetarian, pastries, BBQ, etc. The hubs picked up a gyro, I had stuffed eggplant, and we shared a salad. There is live music and beer and wine – we each had a nice cold beer on a warm afternoon. The food is really good and has options that are not usually at your typical Greek restaurant. They also don’t have what we might consider the traditional fare of falafels and pita bread.

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After hanging out with the music, we passed some of the vendors and the rock climbing wall  (so much to offer here) and tried some loukoumades. Yum! Loukoumades are basically like a donut (but not shaped like one) but with honey and walnuts. We brought these home to eat while watching the Niners beat the Cowboys.

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Food Friday: Pono

Before the hubs and I bought our house, we lived on the east side of Santa Cruz near Aloha Island Grille. It was super dangerous because it was a few minutes away (walking) and we could smell the food cooking all day. Whenever we didn’t feel like cooking, we ate Aloha. The menu was limited, but the mahi mahi was always good and it was the only place that had macaroni salad I liked. We were sad to leave it behind when we moved… but then we found we were just as close to another delicious Hawaiian spot in Santa Cruz: Pono Hawaiian Grill.

Photo cred: Pono Website

Photo cred: Pono Website

I first head about Pono when I was teaching at the Scotts Valley campus. I mentioned that I liked Aloha our administrator and she said I had to try Pono. She also told me that it was owned by the same awesome people who run Aloha! And when we finally checked out Pono – same delicious mac salad and a WAY bigger selection. When I went to Aloha I usually ate mahi mahi with rice and mac. But at Pono I had that option, plus fresh poke bowls, and so much more! The food is always tasty and fast. The prices are reasonable (although Poke varies based on the availability of fish) and there is something for the hubs and me.

So much goodness! Photo cred: Pono FB

So much goodness! Photo cred: Pono FB

Have you had Poke before? It’s a typically a raw salad served as an appetizer in Hawaii. It’s commonly made with sushi grade ahi tuna. But at Pono, you can get it in a bowl with rice and chose from whatever fish is fresh. I usually a salmon poke bowl with avocado – so good! But recently I had scallops with spicy sauce. It was a nice little kick to my favorite. And of course, I have to order a side of mac salad (with a lot of siracha!).

Poke deliciousness! Photo cred: Pono FB

Poke deliciousness! Photo cred: Pono FB

The restaurant is very low key and casual. It’s the type of restaurant where you walk up to order and they bring you your food. But they almost always have live music – a variety of bands and musicians play. They also share the space with Reef Bar, so you can get your drink on while you’re there too. But most of the time, the hubs and I just get our food to go. Plus where else can you get some good Guava juice… or even better (but really worse for you) POG from Hawaiian Sun? 😉

So if you’re the only Santa Cruzian who hasn’t tried Pono, better get on it! Aloha!

Food Friday: Assembly

It’s fitting that I’m not posting my Food Friday entry nearly 11am (PST) as that is brunch time and that’s the meal I last had at this week’s choice: Assembly (located right in the middle of downtown Santa Cruz). It’s no surprise that Assembly is popping up on the blog, especially since I’ve been there four times in the past couple weeks… seriously, I’ve been a lot. But this is a caveat to this recommendation, the food is delicious but the service is…well… an experience.

From Assembly FB

From Assembly FB

Assembly is the newest addition to a list of delicious spots started by The Penny Ice Creamery and followed by The Picnic Basket. And my love for the Penny is unrivaled. All of the these spots all follow in the farm-to-table movement, supporting l local farms and serving what is in season. And let’s be real, they are all a little pricey. But all serve Penny ice cream! (Anytime I have a friend come to visit me in Santa Cruz, I try really hard to make sure they get to taste a yummy Penny creation!)

Enjoyed this with corn chowder with the hubs: Seared Padrón peppers with heirloom tomatoes, avocado crème fraîche, pickled corn and cotija cheese. (photo from Assembly FB)

Had this salad with corn chowder for dinner with the hubs last week: Seared Padrón peppers with heirloom tomatoes, avocado crème fraîche, pickled corn and cotija cheese. Yum! (photo from Assembly FB)

I’ve been to Assembly several times for dinner, once for lunch, and once for brunch. Each time the food has been delicious and they always have options for me (I only eat fish when it comes to meat). I know they will also make accommodations for dairy and gluten intolerant diners. (Although they seem to be limited in those options, but still good to know that you can ask). My favorite experience at Assembly was at lunch. A friend from over the hill (Santa Cruz speak for anyone who has to drive over Highway 17 to come into town) joined me, we sat on the patio, and the service was quick and friendly. I enjoyed a chickpea bowl (a meal I’ve had twice, once with the egg and once without… both delicious!). Brunch was good, but the mimosas are expensive and I really just want hashbrowns at breakfast. I suppose they are too lowbrow for farm-to-table folks. 😉 And the food I’ve had at dinner has always been delicious (if they have salmon on the menu, order it! So good!).

Girls night out at Assembly

Girls night out at Assembly

But as I mentioned at the beginning of this post, the service at Assembly does not equate its delicious food. Unfortunately, I’ve often had the experience of mediocre service in Santa Cruz. We Central Coast citizens need to demand better service! Especially when we are paying the prices at places such as Assembly. Don’t get me wrong, I think the quality of the food merits its cost, but I expect when paying a bit more to have prompt and friendly service. Thus far, I have never experienced any rudeness or lack of friendliness (although I know some have) but it does seem that quick and attentive service is not a priority. Assembly has only been around for a few months, so I am hopeful that it will improve. I think having an additional server on staff each night would help a great deal as they always seem stretched a bit thin. But if you order a glass of wine or beer, it makes the wait that much more pleasant.

Love the ambiance of Assembly (from their FB)

Love the ambiance of Assembly (from their FB)

Have you been to Assembly yet? What are your thoughts?

Food Friday: 2 Blocks Up

Alright, last Food Friday post from my traveling way back at the end of June and beginning of July. I am ending with a family spot in Bremerton, Washington: Two Blocks Up. The cute little restaurant is co-owned by the hubs’ aunt and cousin. It’s a fun little stop just a short walk up from the ferry in Bremerton.

Catering Goodness

Catering Goodness

We always hit up the cafe when are in Washington and not just because it family owned (although that definitely encourages all of us to get together there!). But the food is really good! On Thursdays they have taco specials and they alternate other specials throughout the week. When we were there last, the hubs had their pulled pork sandwich special and he said it was really good! (I don’t eat pork so I had a yummy chopped salad instead.) They also make espresso drinks and Italian sodas, as well as serve beer and wine. Usually they are open until mid-late afternoon but for special events in town they are also open. They update their Facebook page with special menu items and events.

Love the interior!

Love the interior!

The vibe of Two Blocks Up is simple but personalized. They even have some old family items around the dining area… if you go, you’ll have to see if you can find them!

Patio dining

Patio dining

When the hubs and I were engaged, we had a wedding shower at the restaurant and it was great. It is the perfect sized space and they make special appetizers and desserts for events like this. We even had  little cakes with our wedding colors and personalized options. So it’s great not just for a drop in meal but also to plan a special event.

And now, I’ve wrapped up the travel series of Food Friday – at least for now! Next week it will be back to my favorite spots in Santa Cruz (and I’ve been eating at some of them this week!). Look for me to throw in some breweries/tap houses and wineries into the mix too! And if you have a favorite restaurant in the Central Coast area, share it with me so I can check it out too (post in the comments or my Facebook page).

Food Friday: Santiagos

I can’t believe it’s Friday already! But here we are and I’m continuing highlighting some of my favorite spots from traveling during the last week of June and first week of July. My last two posts focused on restaurants in Southern California and today I’m shifting gears to Washington. We went up to visit my husband’s family as well as see our nephew play in a tournament for his summer team. While we were mostly in western Washington, we went to Yakima, central Washington, for the baseball tournament. (Spoiler: the nephew’s team totally won the tournament and he did some amazing pitching!!) So my first of two Washington restaurants is in Yakima. (Fun fact: Yakima claims to be the Palm Springs of Washington, I feel like they might want to aim a little higher!)

Outside porch of Santiago's (photo cred their FB page)

Outside porch of Santiago’s (photo cred their FB page)

Santiago’s is in downtown Yakima (very cute stretch of town) and claims to have the largest tequila selection north of the border (I assume they mean the Oregon/Washington border as there are a LOT of California spots with tons of tequila options). I was a little weary of eating Mexican food in Washington as I have found the further I get from Mexico, the less good Mexican food is. However, I was pleasantly surprised. This was not the same type of Mexican food I might enjoy in So Cal but it was still very good. However, be warned, their portions are HUGE! I can eat a lot, but there was no way I could even come close to finishing my enchiladas. Everyone got something different to eat and not one complaint. (And yes, I tried some tequila! And not just in the margaritas that the hubs and I had with dinner.)

Enchiladas!

Enchiladas!

One of the really great things we discovered in Washington, and Santiago’s was no exception, is that they provide really excellent service. Not only were servers attentive(but did not hover) and followed through with our requests, they even checked in with the kids’ mom when they ordered more soda. I have never seen this happen in California.

Live music (photo cred: Santiago's FB page)

Live music (photo cred: Santiago’s FB page)

Another great aspect of Santiago’s is that they have live music. We really enjoyed the band playing but it was not too loud, so you could still enjoy conversation. I saw on their Facebook page that they post the bands who will be playing there. Seems like a great way to plan out a trip to Yakima (which if you are not going for a baseball tournament is a great place for wineries too).

Have you been to Yakima? What was your favorite dining spot there?