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RestaurantsSanta Cruz
April 19-26, 2006

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Cafe Limelight

Photograph by Stephen Laufer
Table for Two: Cafe Limelight's classy, cozy interior creates a warm and welcoming atmosphere.

Basking in the Limelight

The simple pleasures of Cafe Limelight brighten up downtown

By Selene Latigo

One thing that makes me a bit apprehensive upon entering a restaurant is when the menu is several pages long. With too many options and variables, something is bound to get mixed up, either in the kitchen or with the service. I'm also wary of places trying to cover a lot of cuisine genres at once, such as chow mein at a Mexican restaurant, French fries at a sushi place, or burritos at a pizza parlor. Sometimes, less is more when it comes to showcasing just a few well-crafted dishes as opposed to a wide array of mish-mash. The simple menu at Cafe Limelight features panini--pure and simple--with just enough extra offerings in the form of soup, salad and cheese to accompany the true center of attention. With mosaic tables, draping curtains and a plush couch corner, the cafe's classy, cozy interior also creates a welcoming atmosphere that's perfect for a nighttime snack.

On a recent Saturday when we were lucky enough to get a whole day of sunshine, my brother and his girlfriend joined us for a leisurely downtown stroll. We soon found ourselves drawn to the Limelight's patio seating and uncomplicated fare.

In addition to the panini, I was happy to see a page-long cheese list, all eloquently described and offered alone or as a threesome with fruit and crackers. Italian sodas, espresso drinks, teas, beers and a few comparatively overpriced local wines ($6.50-$12.50 per glass) are featured as well.

We started with Farouk's hummus plate ($6.95), a large portion of concentrated and thick tahini-heavy hummus, liberally drizzled with paprika and olive oil. Cucumber spears, red bell pepper, baby carrots and olives were splayed around the dip with warm and chewy pita triangles as well. Although the menu features imported Greek Kalamatas as a side order, the olives on our appetizer were more the canned, pitted black variety.

Next came our sandwiches, a broad sampling of the more than one dozen offered. Dave opted for the weekend-only special Lobster roll ($12.50), this version served on Kelly's franchese. The finely minced lobster salad was flavorful with tiny bits of celery and green onion, and not at all soggy with mayo. His choice of salad or chips delivered some standard Ruffles that paired well with his pint of Fat Tire ($4).

Zeb chose the roast turkey, brie and pesto panini on rosemary focaccia ($7.95). This beautifully grill-marked sandwich was fat with ultra-thin turkey slices, thick slabs of melted brie and a bright slather of pesto. He was definitely not complaining about the abundance of cheese, but felt that the musky flavor overpowered the delicate turkey. The bread selection on this panini offered the best texture out of all of ours, crisp yet light and soft at the same time.

My grilled cheese with red onion and cumin on sourdough ($7.95) was ideally golden brown with lacy cheddar crisps on every edge. The flavor-enhancing cumin added a deeper level to this classic along with the almost-caramelized slivers of red onion. I also tried a vanilla Italian soda ($2.50), the "real thing with real cream" that was spritzy, frothy and not too sweet.

Holly ordered the Italian salami, red pepper pesto and mozzarella panini on franchese ($7.95). Although packed with layers of salami and cheese, the mozzarella wasn't melted through despite the overly grilled bread. She found it lacking a bit in flavor and added some smears of leftover hummus to add another dimension. The three of us all selected salad as our accompaniment, a fresh pile of tender greens, chunks of cucumber, red pepper and carrot in a balanced and rich balsamic vinaigrette.

We skipped an indulgent midday dessert, but not at all due to a lack of options, including a Snickers panini, root beer float and ice cream lattes. Stopping in at Cafe Limelight was a relaxing and satisfying pause in our busy day, presenting an easy-to-navigate menu with simple yet creative sandwiches and accoutrements to liven things up a little. It's good to know that there is yet another destination spot for reasonably priced food with a feel-good ambiance downtown.

Cafe Limelight

Address: 1016 Cedar St., Santa Cruz

Phone: 831.425.7873

Hours: Tuesday-Friday, 11:30am-3pm and 5pm-10pm; Saturday, 12pm-10pm; Sunday, 12pm-5pm

Price Range: $4-$13.

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