Photograph by Stephen Laufer
Beach Street Cafe: Life's a beach and then you dine.
Hats Off to Beach Street
A venerable cafe enlivens an industrial stretch of the Watsonville thoroughfare
By Selene Latigo
My friend Emily grew up with a barnful of Volkswagens, a handful always in driving rotation. Her dad, like most longtime VW owners and collectors, is an accomplished mechanic and could take care of any and all car ailments or roadside disasters. When Emily moved out of the house, she had to get used to the reality of frequent shop visits. Like any good friend, I've assisted her on some of these automotive emergencies by offering rides to a multitude of garages in various towns. One such occasion recently brought us to Watsonville and the discovery of the little cafe called Beach Street, proof that hidden gems exist in unlikely places.
The shotgun-style diner is full of kitschy artifacts and home-style details, making the space feel like Anytown USA with a welcome accessibility and crowded with every age, style and size of person. Since 1979, they have been serving classic breakfasts and lunches in this industrial pocket on West Beach Street, the walls becoming progressively fuller with a hat collection in every color imaginable.
On this Saturday morning visit, Emily and I returned, sans Volkswagen, with our significant others instead. We were greeted wholeheartedly and slid into one of the only available tables along the dark wooden bench, lacquered and smooth from decades of use. From our position, we had a perfect view of owner, Paul, in the kitchen and the three whiteboards with the daily specials as well as a scrawled posting for San Jose Sharks tickets. In the near corner above the long counter perched a black and white TV and a speaker providing the barely audible sounds of Guns n' Roses as our breakfast background music.
We tucked into our menus, deciding between five different benedicts, as well as omelettes, pancakes, waffles and dozens of meat options ranging from chorizo to kobasica to Louisiana hot links. There was some talk of lunch, even at 10am, after seeing the variety of burgers, salads and sandwiches like the teriyaki skirt steak or the quarter pound chili dog with Paul's special chili recipe.
Dennis was the first to decide, immediately going for one of the specials, the crab, avocado and cheese omelette ($8.95), along with an a la carte biscuit and gravy ($2.50). His omelette was chock-full of tender, fresh, seasonally appropriate crab and chunks of ripe avocado, wrapped in a thin blanket of egg. Some unexciting yet peppery home fries were alongside, with no garnish--no wasteful orange slice or bitter curly-leafed parsley sprig, just the food ordered, pure and simple. His biscuit was flaky, but the somewhat bland sausage gravy needed a spike of salt to wake it up.
Dave opted for the basic eggs category, over medium, with pork chop ($7.95). The eggs were over easy, a little bit runny for his taste, with the same standard potatoes and a boneless chop, juicy but on the small side for his appetite.
Emily and I went with my favorite breakfast time activity, the "sweet, savory split." I usually try to rope someone into partaking in this, explaining the benefits of sampling the best of both worlds. Emily is one of my best teammates and is generally always game. We decided on the Spanish omelette ($7.95) with an addition of avocado ($1.50) and an item off the specials board, the macadamia nut waffle ($7.95). Just like Dennis', our omelette was stuffed with ingredients inside a thin, crepelike egg cover. This dish had two kinds of cheese, Ortega chile strips and lots of avocado, with a homemade chunky and saucy ranchero-style salsa along with the same side of home fries. Another plate was heaped with all of our toast choices, set in the center of the table on the quilted place mat next to our condiments. The waffle was golden brown, pooled with hot butter and full of rich chunks of macadamia nuts. The batter was kind of "like a pancake in a waffle shape," noted Emily. Drizzled with syrup, its salty, sweet and crunchy elements fulfilled this essential half of our split effectively.
In our time at Beach Street, regulars came in and out, the young servers chatted, counter singles watched the game and old folks read the paper. For over 25 years this has been a destination for consistent, simple food, friendly service and a warm respite in the midst of industrial gray.
Beach Street Cafe
Address 435 W. Beach St., Watsonville
Hours 6am to "after lunch" Wed-Sun
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