Recap of delicious Santa Cruz restaurant Dishcrawl debut: next one is Feb. 26

Meatballs and homemade pasta at Cafe Mare during Dishcrawl Santa Cruz’s debut dinner

I had the great fortune to attend Dishcrawl’s debut in Santa Cruz last week (read preview article). I really loved it, and can’t wait to attend more in the near future – whether it’s the next one in downtown Santa Cruz in late February (see end of article for discount tickets), or maybe I’ll travel over the hill for something different — there are many South Bay Dishcrawl events.

I must admit that I had my doubts as to whether it would be a fun night – especially hearing that 1) I would probably be dining with a group of 25 or more people (it was 40!), and 2) we wouldn’t know what three of the four restaurants would be, and would find out the first one just 48 hours ahead of time. But it was a delightful mix of interesting people, delicious food, and new tastes and experiences.

The debut event on January 23, like the Dishcrawl slated for Feb. 26, featured restaurants within walking distance of each other in downtown Santa Cruz. We started at Pono Hawaiian Grill at 7pm. Although there weren’t quite enough tables for everyone, this forced my dining companion and I to actually talk to new people right away (a very nice foursome welcomed us to share their table – after I started engaging in interesting conversation, it didn’t bother me at all that I didn’t have a chair). This isn’t usually the case; most of the time at Dishcrawl there are pre-set tables for the attendees – and I found out later in the evening that when an older group of attendees didn’t have a table, a younger group graciously offered theirs up. The food at Pono was plentiful and wonderful. We had large tofu spring rolls that were fresh and flavor-packed, with herbs including cilantro and a macadamia nut dipping sauce. We also ate chicken katsu and pork kalua sliders, all fantastic. That was my first time eating at Pono and I’ll definitely return. Note: vegetarians can be accommodated if they let Dishcrawl know ahead of time.

After about 40 minutes, we left Pono (Dishcrawlers typically spend 30-40 minutes at each stop). Walking outside, we were told to follow the leader as we walked to the next stop – still not knowing where we were going. I was excited about this “restaurant mystery journey.” We reached Café Mare a few minutes later, and the restaurant was ready for us, with plenty of tables and a personal welcome by the owner. The food there was tasty and also visually appealing. We sampled a mini-Bruschetta that included eggplant, a couple homemade meatballs, and a homemade pasta dish. Again, it was my first visit to Mare and I look forward to dining there in the future.

One of the attendees that I got to know over the course of the evening is Dannettee Shoemaker, who came with her husband; they both enjoyed Dishcrawl as much as I did. “Bob and I love downtown Santa Cruz and the Dishcrawl event gave us an opportunity to share some of our local restaurants with a variety of really nice people we may have never had an opportunity to meet,” shared Dannettee. “The tastings format provided new menu choices for future visits. We will definitely participate in more Dishcrawls!”

Our next stop was Rosie McCann’s. I was already full, but I managed to eat and enjoy the food here as well! The presentation was great; we got mini-versions of three signature dishes: fish and chips, corned beef and cabbage, and a grass-fed burger. Even though there was a blackout on the entire block about 30 minutes into our visit, everyone just stayed in their seats and finished their food or drinks…no one complained; it was wonderful. People were in really good moods, and I think it was the Dishcrawl that did it.

Our last stop was Mission Hill Creamery, and it did not disappoint. Owner Dave Kumec gave a fabulous speech, thanking Dishcrawl for including his shop and thanking all of us for participating. He talked a little about Mission Hill’s ice cream, explaining that all the dairy he uses is from organic Straus (you can taste the difference!). He announced we could choose a scoop of any of his 16 flavors for our dessert, including his top-selling Salted Caramel, in a cup or homemade waffle cone. He explained it might take a little while to serve all of us since it was just him and one employee scooping, but again, no one seemed to mind! I saw lots of happy expressions as people tasted Maple Candied Bacon, Dark Chocolate, and of course Salted Caramel.

It was neat to see the foodie community embracing this new event so enthusiastically.

Another perk: at each restaurant a manager or owner came out to talk to our group, and this happens at every Dishcrawl. One thing to note: the amount of food can vary depending on the venue, but typically each restaurant presents a “trio of items.” Of course, there are exceptions including Mission Hill’s one-item dessert (which was plenty).

For $5 off your ticket to the Feb. 26 event, order online and enter the word “santacruzfoodie” after finding and checking the box “I have a promotion code.” See you there!