Photograph by Carlie Statsky
Building a better bar: E3 Playhouse offers healthier alternatives to typical greasy bar food.
Not Your Average Playhouse
Cheap food and good fun at Santa Cruz's newest downtown venue
By Selene Latigo
I'm not much of a performer. Too many years have passed since my days of ballet and piano recitals. However, I still appreciate the courage it takes to get up on a stage and do your thing. One of my co-ballerinas and childhood friends, Ginny, came to visit recently and we decided to check out the Monday open-mic night at the E3 Playhouse. E3 is alive and well on this dreaded day of the week, featuring both food and live entertainment.
The large menu board is the first thing you see upon entering, with a selection of healthier-than-typical bar food. The standard deep fried offerings have been replaced instead with salads, sandwiches and pizzas.
We were still looking things over, milling about somewhat awkwardly in the crowded entrance area, when the bartender called out directions to order from her. Once decided, we walked over to the full bar, yelling out our food and drink choices above the singer/songwriter's strumming. Pints of Fat Tire and Sierra Nevada ($4) for Ginny and Dave were speedily tapped while I went with something a little zippier, the "Asom Rita" ($8.50), 16 ounces of Asom Broso platinum tequila, Cointreau, lemon, lime and orange juices.
The bartender, apparently acting as server and bus person as well, brought out our order. We were disappointed to see the use of all disposable plastic utensils, plates and bowls, not only because of the excessive waste but also because it's just more satisfying to eat off real plates. Everything except my drink arrived, which finally materialized several minutes after Ginny and Dave had finished theirs. The timing issue didn't bother me that much because I had our crab cakes ($6.75) to snack on as an appetizer. Three big, pan-fried disks were colorfully presented with dollops of deep roasted red pepper sauce along with a side of fresh and bright, but a little undersalted, mango cilantro salsa. The crab cakes were somewhat muddled and spongy, but the sauces and bed of tender greens underneath enhanced this starter.
Ginny ordered a classic Santa Cruz item, the veggie burger ($6.50), which she proclaimed to be definitely not homemade, but piled on a chewy and fresh francese bun along with tomato, red onion, spinach and aioli, it was a hearty and satisfying sandwich, nonetheless.
Dave went with the mimosa chicken sandwich ($7.95) and a cup of the organic soup of the day, potato bacon ($1 with entree). The creamy soup was full of baked potato flavor and just a hint of smokiness. His sandwich, also on a nicely grilled francese bun, featured a well-cooked chicken breast, smoked cheddar, spinach, tomato and aioli. The mimosa marinade offered a touch of champagne sweetness.
Finally, my pizza ($5.95) arrived, steaming hot and heavily topped with caramelized onion and bigger than necessary chunks of fresh tomato. Usually I opt for a less is more philosophy when it comes to pizza, but the thick and toothsome crust with a browned and crisp underside stood up to the weight of the savory accoutrements.
By the end of the meal, the open-mic period had segued into the world beat sounds of Solcircle, a five-piece band that magnetized many patrons out onto the dance floor. The E3 Playhouse is a venue for lively and diverse entertainment and an educational forum, with good food at cheap prices.
Address: 435 Front St., Santa Cruz
Hours: 5pm-close Mon, 11am-close Tue-Sun
Price Range: $2-$8.
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