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Photograph by Jenn Ireland
The Classics: Clockwise from front: The turkey chutney panini, a soup and salad combo and the hot pastrami and roasted apple sandwich at the Capitola Book Cafe

Alphabet Soup

Christina Waters revisits Capitola Book Cafe and finds appealing new culinary offerings.

By Christina Waters

Not as world-shaking as changes in the White House, perhaps, but nonetheless changes are happening at Capitola Book Café. Don't worry--the coziness and the intimate scale of literary ambience haven't changed. I'm talking about the cafe's culinary expansion. Managed by Phil Nasr, who brings over 16 years with Palo Alto's Harmony Bakery to the job, the new cafe menu is vibrant with fresh flavors, wines by the glass and full-bodied panini to add to its all-star roster of sensuous espresso drinks and pastries.

With some of the heavy culinary lifting accomplished by Aunt Nettie's catering, the cafe's menu and long hours will please bookworms who live by more than caffeine alone. Lasagne and freshly conceived polenta torta with tomato sauce and mascarpone can go a long way toward keeping the body going while the mind peruses Madame Bovary or the latest Joan Rivers tell-all. Fresh pies and imaginative panini--including a seductive curry chicken version--already line the cafe's menu. And Nasr tells me that pastrami is just around the corner.

Billie Holliday was crooning in the background last week when I stopped for carry-out panini and a generous wedge of outrageous poppyseed cake. I inquired about the day's fresh soup. Sweet pea, I was told. Sign me up, I replied. This hearty lunch for two set me back a mere $20. I cruised the travel book section while my panini were purring away on the grill and in a few minutes was on my way home.

The Book Café lunch was a big hit, especially the turkey panini with its accompanying spinach, cranberry chutney, avocado and cheddar. But the soup was also memorable--a thick, pea-green (yes, it's true) purée of peas in which danced tiny diced bits of ham and carrots. A delicious and lavish portion for a mere $3.50.

Did I mention that the Book Café offers, in addition to a half-dozen microbrewed beers, a nifty little wines-by-the-glass listing, including a Guenoc Cabernet Sauvignon, a Lolonis Chardonnay and a De Tierra Merlot from Monterey, all priced between $6 and $8.25? Sipping wine while you work on your novel at one of those cozy corner tables in the back of the counter area is practically like a visit to the Left Bank. Simone de Beauvoir started out like this, one suspects. Sans laptop, of course.

Next day, determined to explore more of the new lunch menu, I settled into the blond wooden counter with a cup of creamy chicken soup loaded with bits of spinach and celery. It was served in a little cup and joined by a stack of wheat crackers. An entire lunch, actually. But I was also getting one of the megacreations called the Deluxe Salad ($7.95 to feed a village). Out it came on a dinner plate, mounded with tender baby lettuces tossed with capers, slices of sun-dried tomato, bits of feta cheese and julienned carrots. Into the nicely dressed mix of greens were added plump artichoke hearts, and the dish was topped with a half sliced avocado. On the sides were sliced oranges and apples, and toasted walnuts (I was offered my choice) topped everything. Definitely terrific, if way too large for one person who doesn't play professional basketball. But I'm not complaining.

I took my slab--I use the term advisedly--of Hungarian coffeecake, laced with cinnamon and walnuts, back to my office and consumed it with something bordering on lust, along with my to-go cup of Book Café coffee.

It would be hard to choose between the coffee cake and the moist, buttery poppyseed cake of the day before. So I won't. But I'm told that the cafe makes its own croissants, so maybe that's next for me. Or perhaps the three-cheese panini. Or perhaps a slab (there I go again) of the berry pie-of-the-day. Point is, there's a flavor-intensive, custom-prepared dish on this menu to please every taste. Nasr has plans to move the cafe seating out into the front of the bookshop soon, so tables will cozy up to the front windows.

Big-flavored specialties are now served all day long, until 10pm Monday through Saturday and until 8pm on Sunday. Now you don't have to stop reading just because you're hungry.

Capitola Book Cafe

Address: 1475 41st Ave., Capitola

Phone: 831.462.4415

Hours: Open 8am-10pm Mon-Sat, 8am-8pm Sun

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