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Photograph by Stephen Laufer

Will Work for Cash: Bruce and Marcia McDougal run the historic Davenport eatery.

Smart Money

The century-old Davenport Cash Store has a colorful history and a menu to match

By Ann Parker

The Davenport Cash Store is a complicated place. It's an artistic B&B, an eclectic gift store--and a very good restaurant.

And although that restaurant draws loyal fans from all over the Bay Area, and even other continents, it's something of an oddly kept secret among Santa Cruz diners. Ask locals what they know about the Cash Store and they may answer, "Great cinnamon rolls."

Wake up, Santa Cruz. A gorgeous 10-minute drive up coastal Highway 1 earns delicious rewards, from house-smoked duck and savory soups to signature desserts.

And they're all served with a dollop of history. In 1906, the original Davenport Cash Store was just that: a not-so-general store featuring ammunition and tools, as well as clothing, feed for stock and foodstuffs for folks. A 1953 fire reduced the emporium to a burned-out shell that stood over 20 years.

Enter Bruce and Marcia McDougal, two local artisans running a live-in pottery school, Big Creek Pottery, off nearby Swanton Road. In 1977, they had the ambitious idea of starting a production pottery studio and retail space for their graduate students in the space where the former Cash Store had been. The two scoured the Gold Country for ideas and designed the resulting building themselves in Old California style, with an aged redwood and brick exterior, high ceilings and exposed beams. Appropriately, they named their new pottery studio the New Davenport Cash Store and opened it in February of 1978.

That same week, there was a fire at Davenport's only restaurant, Jackie's Steak House. The pottery students needed to eat, so Marcia started serving coffee and donuts, then added the soon-to-be-legendary cinnamon rolls. Soon people started dropping in looking for meals as well as pricing pottery, and as Bruce McDougal says, "By default we became the town restaurant."

That early fare was basic, including homemade soups and sandwiches made with fresh-baked bread. All the plates, cups and bowls were--what else?--handmade pottery.

The modest restaurant operated in conjunction with the retail pottery studio for 10 years. In honor of the original emporium, Marcia devised a variety store displaying not only pottery but also ethnic and exotic food items, African imports, local crafts and art gathered during the McDougal's frequent visits to Mexico and Guatemala. "It was the eve of the great ethnic era," remembers Marcia, who still oversees the present store.

As demand for restaurant service grew, the McDougals shut down the pottery studio and expanded the kitchen, adding a dinner menu in 1982 and developing a B&B upstairs at the same time to attract and accommodate new customers.

Cinnamon buns are still on the breakfast menu. But along with breakfast served until 2pm daily and homemade soups, there's now a full bar with leather-clad stools, a wine list specializing in area wines and a seasonal menu with items guaranteed to tickle your imagination and palate.

Cash Crop

Over the years, the Cash Store kitchen has been run by a number of talented cooks, including a former White House chef. None, however, has had a more appropriate sense of cuisine or style than current executive chef Jim Renke.

Renke combines an impressive background of culinary training with a splash of Hollywood spark and a dab of humor. A 1987 graduate of New York's prestigious Culinary Institute of America, he has worked at such esteemed restaurants as the Ritz Carlton in New York, San Francisco's Bix and Campton Place, and Catahoula in Calistoga. And did I mention stints at K-Paul's in New Orleans?

Seeking "new challenges," Renke also spent a year as an on-location movie caterer. His most recent Santa Cruz restaurant positions include two years as chef de cuisine with Sanderlings at Seascape Resort and a year as opening chef at the heralded but ill-fated Azur restaurant before coming to the Cash Store in April of last year.

"The Cash Store is full of personality, soul and fun," says Renke, who lives on his boat in the Yacht Harbor and has an appreciation for those qualities that's reflected in his fresh seasonal dishes and his philosophy of "whenever possible, make it yourself."

The spectacular Cash Store paella, for instance, is a Spanish/Italian blend of cultures featuring house-made lamb sausage, fresh fish and shellfish, saffron risotto and a house lobster broth. One of Renke's favorites, pan roasted halibut with homemade focaccia and minestrone broth, is adapted from a classic Tuscan bread soup.

"Nothing's new in the food world, just different," Renke comments, "So I like to create by taking things apart, combining elements and cultures so that it transforms again as you enjoy it."

Sort of like the whole Cash Store experience.

Phil's Fish Market
Address: 7600 Sandholdt Road, Moss Landing (on the island)
Phone: 831.633.2152
Hours: 10am-8pm daily, till 9pm Fri-Sat, no reservations; fish market hours daily 8;30am-7:30pm
Ambience: *** Part Nantucket, part Genoa, all large-scale crab shack, Phil's is a coastal landmark.
Cuisine: **1/2 Gusto and spice plus top ingredients make for fine eating.
Overall: Moss Landing's second biggest reason for existing

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From the February 19-26, 2003 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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