Outdoor Dining at Jack’s Patio in Santa Cruz
Story and Photos By Jondi Gumz
Wow! That is how I’d describe my meal by Chef Gus at the Jack’s Patio, the new COVID-safe dining spot outside the Santa Cruz Dream Inn.
Kudos to executive chef Gustavo Trejo, who has been commuting for work from Monterey since October. He gets his produce, meat and fish from locals — thank you, Dick Swank’s organic farm in Hollister and Colleen Logan of Savor the Local ━ and puts these fresh and seasonal ingredients together in a most delightful way.
Chef Gus grew up in San Diego but he spent time with relatives in Portugal — Portuguese was his first language — and had sponsorship to cook in Spain. He was sous chef for four years at Nick’s Fish Market Maui, then executive sous chef eight years at Carmel Valley Ranch and two years executive chef at Esteban Restaurant at Casa Munras Garden Hotel & Spa.
When the honchos at Carmel Valley’s Bernardus Lodge & Spa, owned by Ensemble Hotel Partners since 2013, told him of the opening at the sister restaurant in Santa Cruz, he was ready for a new challenge.
I’ll tell you what I ate but first, I must point out that my husband agreed to accompany me even though nothing on the menu piqued his interest. He’s hard to please when it comes to food.
Chef Gus offered us a tasting menu, and we said, sure.
First came the creamy and yummy clam chowder, with Yellow Finn potatoes, a hint of bacon, and hearty recognizable clams. My husband pronounced it very good and ate it slowly because he wanted to savor it.
Next came a pair of Dungeness crab cakes, a special treat given that the season was delayed until Dec. 23 and then crabbers went on strike for higher price until mid-January. This crab, surrounded by crunchiness, was juicy, topped by Daikon radish, adding more crunch, and a clever crab claw garnish, with a zesty remoulade sauce on the side. Again, my husband pronounced it very good, even though seafood has never been his favorite.
A salad of baby lettuce ━ including frisee, arugula and rarely seen Mizuna ━ topped with a delicate citrus and olive oil vinaigrette, grilled asparagus and tiny pieces of orange and blood orange ━ when have you seen this in a salad? ━ glistening like jewels. It came with fresh country bread, warm and toasted, perfect for mopping up vinaigrette. Again, very tasty. My husband, who normally does not request asparagus, ate every morsel.
For the entrée, we had rib-eye — a Goldilocks steak, not overdone, not underdone, just right, so tender with each bite a delicious mouthful. Joining it on the plate: Creamy polenta with tender but crunchy grilled asparagus. Needless to say, we ate every bite.
I wish we would have had room for the fresh Pacific catch but based on what had been served up, we were curious about dessert.
Happy surprises again! Lemon meringue with a zingy berry sauce — strawberry and pomegranate, a combination I hadn’t expected — and “midnight chocolate cake,” which tasted like a rich dark chocolate mousse. Yes, we cleaned our plates!
My question for the chef: Does he offer cooking lessons?
Starters range from $5-18, soups and salads $5-15, and entrees $18-40. Kids’ dinner, choose one of four entrees, with drink, $12.
My only suggestion would be to add to the descriptions on the menu ━ a mere sheet of paper right now ━ to give potential diners a clearer idea of what will be served.
Chef Gus is looking forward to when he can expand the menu and serve people inside, instead at picnic tables with outside heaters to keep you warm.
Why wait? If you can get a meal this satisfying right now, why wait?
Jack’s Patio, 175 W. Cliff Drive, Santa Cruz. Serves breakfast Friday-Sunday 9 a.m.-1 p.m. (curbside pickup Wednesday-Sunday) and dinner Thursday-Sunday 4:30-9 p.m. (curbside pickup Wednesday-Sunday). Phone: 831-460-5013 or book online at www.jackoneillrestaurant.com