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Photograph by Curtis Cartier
GROUP DYNAMIC: Left to right: Taryn Roselli, cafe co-owner Evan Borthwick, Alice Lee of Lindencroft Farm, Autumn Borthwick, co-owner Paul Eliason and chef Brad Briske are making hyperlocal culinary magic at Main Street Garden Café.

Main Street's Star Attraction

Three culinary entrepreneurs orchestrate organic opulence

By Christina Waters

JUST TO PROVE that lightning can strike twice, Brad Briske is busy reinventing his reputation as one of the handful of inspired innovators in New California cuisine. Only this time he's doing it over at the Main Street Garden Café, one of the local dining sweet spots best known from its incarnation as Theo's.

On our recent visit entrepreneur and co-owner Paul Eliason gave us a tour of the property, where after months of intensive makeover the garden is flourishing as an organic showpiece. Borage, rhubarb, plums, lemons and basil explode from raised beds. Further down the slope a forest of tomato plants promises salad, sauce and wood-fired pizza salvation a bit later in the season. The garden is expertly tended by co-owner Evan Borthwick (entrepreneur of the all-organic Redwood Pizzeria in Felton) and Alice Lee of Lindencroft Farm and Dirty Girl Produce.

One look at the menu and it's easy to see why the garden is the spiritual heart of the restaurant's new culinary attitude. "If it's not in our garden, or from Lindencroft or one of my other favorite local producers, it's not on the menu," says Briske, who admits he's completely dedicated to "Santa Cruz seasonality."

Briske's menu is studded with his signature artisanal cured meats, herb-scented aiolis and hand-filled pastas. Everything's made from scratch. "We're buying whole animals," explains Briske, "and our menu works backwards from there." Pigs and rabbits might become appetizers, salads and entrees one week, while ducks and all-local seafood are featured across the entire menu the following week. "The salame closet is already getting full," Briske beams as he produces a platter of house-made charcuterie, experimental coppacolas and prosciuttos, each spiced with herbs, fruit and liqueurs and served on a platter crowned by creamy burrata cheese and a crimson ooze of fresh plum mostardo.

Paul Eliason, whose family has been in restaurants on both coasts, attended UCSC before deciding to pursue his "actual passion, which is great food." Along with Borthwick, who prides himself on finding the best employees and "then giving them the freedom and confidence to work their magic," Eliason and his chef share a vision for a unique menu of locally sourced ingredients and wines. Armed with experience at Gabriella in Santa Cruz and Millenium in San Francisco, Briske is deeply committed to using only regional seafoods, a commitment he finds both limiting and creatively exciting. We sampled an appetizer of supple, just-caught albacore crudo, enhanced by cucumber aioli, slices of Armenian cucumber, pungent basil and San Remo olives. This stunning juxtaposition of ingredients was surpassed only by another example of the chef's marine magic. Tissue-thin squid ink tortelloni the color of midnight were filled with Monterey Bay salt cod and strewn with Dungeness crab, capers and Calabrian chili broth. Gorgeous orange cherry tomatoes and the crunch of white corn studded each bite. Sensuous, complex, yet completely intelligible—somehow Briske can micro-design a dish and never allow the flavors to grow muddy.

A final dish reinforced the seductive mission of Main Street Garden Café. Our palates surrendered completely to the evening's semifreddo, topped with market peaches sautéed in butter, white wine and the surprise of fresh thyme. Sprinkled with toasted pistachios, the savory/sweet creation was the handiwork of pastry chef Jessica Yarr, who admits that this is one of her favorite summertime desserts. Now it's one of mine too.

Summer itself seems to ripen on Briske's current menu, and with prices ranging from $15 organic pizzas entrees in the $18-$23 range, Main Street Garden Café is already becoming more than an inquiring diner's playground—it's about to become a serious habit.

Main Street Garden Café

3101 N. Main St., Soquel


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