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Up Front and Personal

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Robert Scheer

Front and Center: Kitchen manager Richard Ramirez and bartendress Julie Garst toast Santa Cruz Brewing Company & Front Street Pub's fresh, quality food and very good brews.

SC's original brewpub keeps the lighthouse glowing with fine beer and seaside pub grub to match

By Christina Waters

No, you don't have to be an attractive, outdoorsy individual with a ruggedly adventurous sports wardrobe to hang out at the Front Street Pub, but it doesn't hurt. Actually, this friendly landscape of blond wood bar and booths has been filled with an eclectic mix of patrons since day one. Families, couples, entire college dormitories--everyone comes here with anticipatory joie de vivre and leaves in a hell of a good mood.

The fine beer brewed freshly just behind the exhibition windows is part of the attraction, especially the Lighthouse Amber, one of the smoothest moves on the Central Coast. But as a recent lunch amply demonstrated, the Santa Cruz Brewing Company and Front Street Pub (whew!) also excels in the darker side of beermaking--e.g., stout and porter. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

The California sun-and-surf beer hall ambiance is definitely part of the charm here, more than matched by a menu that wanders that micro-niche known as "pub grub," from the fried to the raw and back again. We've long been fond--well, okay, unnaturally fond--of Front St. Pub's signature turkey speidies, very tasty marinated chunks of turkey slathered with an herby vinaigrette, grilled on skewers and then delivered on a slab of sourdough bread with all the major trimmings ($5.95/$2.50 single skewer).

And when we don't want guilt to be a factor in our pub crawl, we switch to the Shrimp Boil ($7.95), a fat-free platter of poached shrimp served in their shells (many calories are burned just peeling these suckers) along with lots of fresh vegetables, pickles and cocktail sauce. Yes, it also comes with butter, but strong-willed women, such as myself, are capable of resisting the forbidden yellow cow juice.

Remembering that it is possible to get a good drink in this place that doesn't contain alcohol, one of my companions ordered a tall tumbler of the housemade root beer ($1.50), which tasted exactly like my father always told me his grandmother's tasted--earthy, bittersweet and somehow mysterious. On the other hand, my other companion and I took the opportunity to indulge in a few samplers of amber plus the excellent molassesey porter and the rich, creamy, yet uncluttered stout ($1.25 for a small sampler glass, $3.25 for a sensibly sized pint). And yes, it is difficult to have a bad time when you're sipping fine suds..

I ordered a single skewer of the speidies, knowing--as I was quickly proven right--that it would be humongous anyway, while one companion went gonzo on us and asked for a grilled tomato and pepper jack sandwich on sourdough ($3.95), and the other went predictable with a tofu-veggie burger ($4.95), a selection packed with charbroiled Wildwood tofu all gooey with Swiss and cheddar cheeses and topped à la Santa Cruz, with a thicket of newborn alfalfa sprouts. Both of these oversized, freshly made sandwiches were tasty and hungry girl-friendly. Nothing designer going on, just great flavors and generous portions..

A confession is in order. French fries. The large, crisp, gleaming-with-a-kiss-of-oil kind that the Front Street Pub is known for. We ordered them. We ordered a very large order of them ($2.50). Then we devoured them. All..

Lest you worry that this pub, like so many others, is merely a repository of high-cal, let-it-all-hang-out fatty food, worry no more. Every dish was comforting and attractively garnished--always served with a smile, too. There also are terrific salads, with a choice of tangy, non-boring dressings. We fought over one that had lots of fresh lettuces, tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, purple cabbage--a riot of fresh, fresh, fresh. .

Front Street Pub started out good about 10 short years ago, and stayed good. While it still resounds with youthful exuberance, it looks like it's become a local institution. .

Lucky us.

Santa Cruz Brewing Company & Front Street Pub
Address: 516 Front St., Santa Cruz.
Phone: 429-8838.
Hours: Daily 11:30am-midnight, sometimes later on weekends.
Cuisine: Pub grub, plain and simple.
Ambiance: Mellow, lighthearted.
Service: Sweet and savvy.
Price: Inexpensive, entrees $5.50-$7.95.
Overall: *** It does what it does very nicely.

****Great, ***Excellent, **Good, *Okay

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From the April 18-24, 1996 issue of Metro Santa Cruz

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