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Photograph by George Sakkestad

AM Appetite: Owner Paul Begley serves up a raspberry waffle at Beach Street.

A Better Beach

Forget Leo's 'Beach'--the real goods are served at Beach Street in Watsonville

By Janet Blaser

I'LL BE THE FIRST to admit I felt out of my element, to say the least, when I drove up to Beach Street (no cafe, restaurant or bistro--just plain and simple Beach Street) in Watsonville. Truth be told (and because waitress Connie Hoskins saw me do it), I drove up, took a look and drove away to gather my wits about me. Give me a stuck-up maitre d' and I'm fine, but plant me firmly in the company of real, down-to-earth folks next door, and I need to take a minute.

Be that as it may for me, there's no need for anyone not to want to walk through the doors of Beach Street. You won't find pretense in any way, and you will find good food (and lots of it) served in a comfortable, homey atmosphere. Owners Paul and Kathy Begley have been right here doing the same thing for 20 years. Anyone who can stay in business that long deserves a pat on the back--and to be a restaurateur all that time? Well, that person deserves a full-body massage.

Beach Street could perhaps best be called a neighborhood diner, even though its setting--in the midst of the sprawl of low gray warehouses at the freeway end of Beach Street--hardly qualifies as a neighborhood. But the ambiance and the attention the Begleys bring to their work, coupled with the loyalty of the truckers, local workers and business people who come like clockwork for breakfast and lunch, have created a warm family that's as tangible as the multitude of caps adorning the walls or the shiny wood counter running the length of the dining room.

Make no mistake about it, fellow Pacific Avenue coffee-shop rats: this is not the Oz-land of espresso drinks and foccacia panini. Beach Street serves real stick-to-your-ribs food from the heartland, only in this case that means the ample fields in Watsonville, which has added strawberries and apples, fresh meats from Freedom Lockers and (yum) real made-from-scratch goodies like peach cobbler and apple pie from the hands of baker Carleen Bauer. You'll find a big menu that offers breakfast and lunch all day, 6am-1:30pm, seven days a week.

Paul paid some dues at the Harbor Cafe and Seabreeze Cafe in the Seabright area of Santa Cruz, working with both former and current Seabreeze owners Tex Hintze and Linda Hopper. Relocating to south county and opening his own place has made Paul an even happier camper, though, and it shows in the enthusiasm, dedication and general good humor he so freely throws around.

The menu reveals a myriad of options to satisfy a hearty appetite, and two "additions" boards behind the counter propose even more. Paul's favorites, the "Bennies," are five kinds of eggs Benedict, from the traditional with Canadian bacon ($6.95; leaner than the regular kind, he says), to a shrimp and avocado version with "our shrimp concoction" ($7.95). Real-time descriptions abound on the Beach Street menu; I'd advise trusting these as true. If it says Paul's own recipe (the chili, for instance), it is and will certainly be worth your while to try. Breakfast also includes Paul's famous gigantic pancakes and his most-delicious apple pancakes.

Beach Street is a place where you can get whatever you want at 6am, or any time, for that matter. Paul tells a story of an elderly woman waiting outside one morning for them to open because she was craving a BLT. Six or so burger choices, about a dozen classic sandwiches, soups and salads round out the menu. "All orders are prepared individually as ordered, so be patient," declares the menu. Read the paper while you wait, sip your bottomless cup of coffee, chat with your waitress or Paul; in other words, relax and enjoy. Because that's what Beach Street is about.

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From the February 16-23, 2000 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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