Pastafarian's Delight - Kristin Brownstone, Press Banner
What would parents do at mealtime if pasta had never been invented? I know in our household, if noodles are part of the answer to “What's for Dinner?”, I'm a hero for the night. If not, I'm a callous ogre living in a delusional world of vitriolic vegetables and suspicious proteins.
So when I mentioned that we were going to a “pasta factory” for dinner – specifically, the Santa Cruz Pasta Factory in Scotts Valley – I was elevated to rock star status (albeit very briefly). Open since August '07 and serving lunch, dinner and takeout, the place was hopping the Friday evening we arrived.
The menu is extensive and takes some time to peruse the first time around. All items are touted as “absolute fresh”, no preservatives. There is a robust selection of signature hot or cold sandwiches (featuring Boar's Head meats) and salads such as cracked pepper rigatoni with balsamic basil dressing or lemon fusilli with tomato, arugula and feta – available in entree or side-plate sizes. Wine is available by the bottle or glass with local wines featured.
Then, there is a dizzying choice of pasta (such as buckwheat, cayenne, roasted red pepper, lime and cilantro to name a few), followed by an equally copious listing of sauces to pair them with – bolognese, arrabbiata, pesto, tomato basil cream, and more. Check the board for daily listings and changes. Raviolis get separate billing with varieties such as sausage and apple, butternut squash, pear and pecorino, artichoke hearts and feta. You can see the challenge in deciding.
The kids decided quickly. The oldest ordered rigatoni with marinara ($3.50) which arrived in a good-sized bowl that he couldn't finish. The younger one, noodle nut that he is, opted for a ham and cheese sandwich ($2.50). Go figure. Sandwiches and pastas (both vegetarian and meat) comprise the kids menu and nothing is over $4.00.
The adults settled on appetizers of cheesy garlic bread ($3.95) and the anti pasta platter ($6.95), a small caesar salad ($3.75, $6.25 for large), Pasta Factory Meat Lasagne ($8.50) and the pear and pecorino ravioli with the tomato basil cream sauce ($8.65). Yes, we were hungry. Orders are placed at the counter and diners help themselves to napkins, utensils and water while awaiting delivery of their food.
The cheesy bread appetizer is two large halves of a white baguette/french roll with melted mozzarella – basic, kid-friendly fare by itself, but the tangy marinara dipping sauce livens it up. The antipasta platter is a selection of cold cut Italian meats such as salami and proscuitto with buffalo mozzarella, an olive selection, and a tasty little item that we guessed was a hard cheese such as pecorino romano, wrapped in proscuitto and stuffed into what tasted like a pepperoncini. All good.
These were followed by the salad. You can tell a lot about a dining establishment by its caesar salad. A bowl of romaine lettuce tossed with packaged croutons and bottled vinaigrette with a smattering of parmesan, does not a caesar make. SCPF's caesar is something I'll go back for time and again. The housemade dressing is not for the faint of heart. It packs a punch with garlic and dijon, but there's no doubt you're eating a real caesar salad. The small portion is generous and sports crisp romaine, house-roasted herbed croutons, and a “high-quality parmesan reggianno”. Ask for the dressing light if you're watching calories, but do have it tossed. Even though I'm a standard “on the side” gal, this salad just wouldn't be right without the uniform mixing of flavors. I expect it's quite good with the chicken option as well.
The entrees arrived next. I started off with the lasagna – a subtly-flavored layering of ground beef and artisan sausage, extremely smooth New York-style ricotta cheese, and fresh pasta. It took a few bites to transition from the zing of the salad to the more delicate flavors of the lasagne, but they soon came alive, spelling “comfort food” with every bite. Accompanying the pasta entrees was a francese-type bread with a zippy owner-developed cheddar cheese spread.
The pear and pecorino raviolis offered a unique savory sweetness not often found in a ravioli. And the smooth tomato basil cream sauce was good enough to eat like a soup. However, they don't go together very well. That was our fault – the result of indecisiveness and an attempt to be overly creative I suppose. In hindsight, I would've tried something like the alfredo sauce with that ravioli (a recommendation of the owner) and pair the sauce with a meat-filled ravioli or other pasta. And you don't have to dine in to mix and match until you have the perfect pair. Nearly all the sauces and pastas are available for take-out.
For dessert, the cannoli is not to be missed. My husband and I were skeptical, having just returned from a week in New York where we frequented Little Italy for cannoli and gelato. This cannoli is equal or better to what we had in the Big Apple. The housemade marscapone and ricotta cheeses are combined with crushed chocolate and generously stuffed into a crispy, pre-made shell. It's decadent and delicious and is available for a very fair price of only $2.95.
So the only question left is, why call it the “Santa Cruz Pasta Factory” if it's based in Scotts Valley? According to co-owner Steve Simonovich, it was a marketing choice. The restaurant is selling its items through farmers markets over the hill and he and his wife Cathie figured Santa Cruz was a better-known name. Over the next five years, the couple envisions selling only a portion of its products locally with the majority marketed throughout the Bay Area at farmers markets and over the Internet. From the looks of things, they're on the right track.
At A Glance
What: Santa Cruz Pasta Factory
Where: 5340 Scotts Valley Drive, Scotts Valley, CA
When: Mon-Fri 10am-7pm; Sat-Sun 10am-5pm. (Note: evening hours are limited due to zoning restrictions, however weeknight hours will be extended within the month)
Info: 831-461-9900; www.santacruzpastafactory.com
Weekly “Dinner In The Bag” for $29.50 offering a complete meal that feeds 4-6. Ready to heat and serve. $5 from each ordered meal will be donated to a specific school. Orders must be received by 5pm the day before pickup as all meals are prepared fresh in the morning. Order and pay online via PayPal.