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Photograph by George Sakkestad

Soquel Stalwarts: Etan and Greta Hamm.

Dining Theo-ology

For 25 years, Theo's in Soquel has created a gestalt of fine dining

By Janet Blaser

ETAN AND GRETA HAMM have graciously and busily run Theo's Restaurant in Soquel for 20 years. That's a long time--I mean, think about it: two decades; 7,300 days (more or less); 1,040 weeks. Phew. In celebration, Theo's will host a free open house on April 1 from 2 to 4pm with complimentary champagne, hors d'oeuvres and birthday cake, and a special six-course dinner the night before, March 31, featuring an exceptional menu designed by head chef Peter Dressen.

What keeps a restaurant going for that long? Well, aside from the obvious hard work and dedication, Etan tells me, Theo's is special for a number of reasons. Being a restaurateur, he says, is not about being in the food industry--it's the hospitality field. That understanding has helped make Theo's memorable for generations of discriminating diners who appreciate the attentive service and care they receive at the restaurant.

"It's not just the food," Etan explains. "It's that you've entered a home, and you know you'll be taken care of. People remember everything about us, down to the color of the wall by their table. Theo's is the epitome, the pinnacle of what they teach in the restaurant business. If you permit it, you'll grow with your patronage. They share their lives with you, and the reason they do it is because the time you are most unguarded is when you are eating. Couples either fight or fall in love. .. ."

So, let's hope this gorgeous weather holds up for the open house--the garden behind Theo's is a totally charming place to have a party and, in fact, is available for private events like wedding banquets. Reservations are required for the anniversary dinner; cost is $100 per person, including wines and gratuity. A portion of the proceeds benefits the Cabrillo Foundation Culinary Arts Scholarship Fund. Theo's is located at 3101 N. Main St., Soquel. You can check out the full menu online (www.theos.net). The number to call for reservations is 462.3657.

Remodels and a Tofu Breakthrough

The taco bar at El Palomar--high on, if not at the top, of the best lunch places in downtown Santa Cruz--has just undergone a face-lift with more seating and a pleasing and coordinated decor. Thankfully, the menu is still the same; it offers made-on-the-spot tacos, burritos and quesadillas for $5 or less. But now, what was the biggest drawback--lack of seating--has been thoroughly solved, with high tables and more tall stools at the rebuilt taco bar ... and just through the glass doors, the neighboring Santa Cruz Roasting Company has done a bit of remodeling, too. High-backed wooden booths now surround all the tables, providing more privacy from fellow javaholics and passersby.

There's also an expanded menu of lunch items and yet more delectable pastries and baked goods. The Roasting Company still has live music on weekends, too, with jazz duos and trios performing on the cute little raised stage near the Pacific Avenue entrance ... and, of note to vegetarians, parents and those who just care about progress: The USDA has finally accepted the use of soy as a protein for school lunches. For more than a decade, various groups have lobbied for this cause. Only the state of Hawaii had been granted special permission to use soy-based products, citing "ethnic considerations." Locally, the Santa Cruz City Schools food services had tried for a long time not only to be able to serve tofu burgers and the like, but also to reduce the amount of cheese and dairy products it was required to use in its vegetarian meal offerings. This is a significant move on the part of the administration; and, as far as I can see, another indication of the Age of Aquarius (change) being upon us.

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From the March 22-29, 2000 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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