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Soup's on: Soups, stews and comfort foods like mac and cheese make an appearance on autumn menus.

Daylight Craving Time

Even chefs need comfort food when the temperature drops

By Molly Zapp

Claire Hintze

Owner, Linda's Seabreeze Cafe
542 Seabright Ave., Santa Cruz. 831.427.9713

I crave carbs," says Claire Hintze, owner of Linda's Seabreeze Cafe, when asked how cold weather affects her. "I like to make potatoes with Dijon mustard and rosemary and roast those in the oven with garlic. Any rice dish is good, too."But the autumn offerings from the cafe's menu go beyond simple carbohydrates. Hinzte says she incorporates fresh veggies from Dirty Girl Produce into Seabreeze's fare and in her home kitchen. Daily homemade soups and stews provide simple ways to use fresh produce and take into account the changing weather: butternut squash soup, beef stew, potato leek with fennel and Greek lemon soup have all recently filled the bowls of hungry customers.

Fresh sweet potatoes are baked into warm muffins for breakfast. Seabreeze breakfast entrees are served with a choice of either a muffin or toast, and while many customers gleefully devour the seasonal baked goods, Hintze reports that, incredibly, a few customers do actually choose the plainer option instead.

"Some people do, in fact, choose toast over the muffin," Hintze says. "They may prefer the taste of toast, and if they're having eggs over easy, it soaks up the yolk."

Fresh-baked muffin forgoers aside, other customers enjoy the cafe's pumpkin pancakes, which are available year-round but are ordered more often this time of year. "Once it starts to get a little cold, people start to feel Thanksgiving around the corner, start to feel like pumpkin and crave all the traditional types of food," Hintze says.

Whitney Parker

Executive chef, Tyrolean Inn
9600 Hwy. 9, Ben Lomond. 831.336.5188

Tyrolean Inn executive chef Whitney Parker has serious game: venison, rabbit, boar, duck and pheasant are all incorporated into the German restaurant's fall menu. Venison (that's "deer meat" to city slickers) is served as a medium-rare tenderloin with a green peppercorn sauce and as venison Baden-Baden, a stew that originates from the region of Germany of the same name. Parker makes the hearty stew with cranberry and orange juices, beef stock and a touch of tomato paste. "Every bite you just die for," she says.

Parker says she's trying to incorporate meats and vegetables that people may not often eat otherwise: boar leg roasted with potatoes and turnips, traditional German and Austrian organ foods and kale and chard. She says customers are open and excited to expand their palates. "People definitely enjoy trying new things," says Parker. "A lot of people that aren't familiar with German food can't believe what they've been missing their whole lives."

Starting in November, Parker's customers usually start requesting the Inn's fall comfort drink: hot mulled wine. The burgundy-hued beverage's exact flavorings change from day to day. "Cinnamon, orange, cloves, nutmeg--it kind of depends on our mood," Parker says.

Sean Baker

Executive chef, Gabriella Cafe
910 Cedar St., Santa Cruz. 831.457.1677

Wildly inventive executive chef Sean Baker says the seasonal overlap this time of year provides the widest array of produce from which he can create memorable meals. "This is my favorite season, when I have late summer dry-farmed tomatoes, both summer and winter squashes and all those mushrooms," Baker says. He serves big plates of porcini mushrooms, fresh cannellini beans and deboned pork head with a side of wild arugula or wild baby artichokes.

Gabriella Cafe buys produce from a half-dozen or so area farms and also has a partnership with a 1-acre "featured farm" in Ben Lomond called Lindencroft Farm. After a summer of extensive varieties of heirloom tomatoes, Parker says he's now incorporating unique European heirloom squashes and pumpkins grown on the family-run organic property.

Of particular delight to the cafe's European tourists is the variety of offal--liver, kidneys and heart--that Parker and his kitchen staff prepare. Lamb osso buco, homemade sausage and a rotating antipasti plate are other comforting foods offered this autumn.

At home, Baker says, he cooks "very rustic." To him that means "homemade habaņero sausage with braised frappini from Full Belly farms with fried farm egg, high-quality pecorino cheese and local olive oil." Guess everything really is relative.

Bernie Shapiro

Owner, Dharma's
4250 Capitola Road, Capitola. 831.462.1717

In the beginning of fall, people want comfort," says Bernie Shapiro, owner of Dharma's. "They want ground-up food, something that's warming."

With stick-to-your ribs staples like mac and cheese available daily at the vegetarian restaurant, Shapiro says his restaurant rotates a selection of curries for its daily specials. His cooks also use a variety of winter squashes and pumpkins. Dharma's serves baked kabocha squash with millet wild rice stuffing smothered in veggie gravy with a side of cranberry-orange sauce. As at other area restaurants, baked squash is pureed into a creamy soups as well.

"Right now, we have the end-of-season organic eggplants," Shapiro says. "We'll put it in the Afghani special, or serve eggplant Parmesan."

Shapiro says he himself never cooks; his wife, Radha, or "whoever's home" does the cooking at his house. "We'll do curried veggies," he says of his out-of-restaurant eating patterns. "Actually, when the fall foods come, we'll just take them home. In the beginning of the fall, we don't have to cook."

Giving props to a fellow local foods cafe, Shapiro says he likes to go to Carried Away in Aptos for the organic and seasonal veggies when he wants comfort food outside of Dharmaland.

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