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Step Up to the Plate: Emily Bell hoists one of Gabriella's prime turkey sandwiches.

Downtown Changes

Gabriella Wine Shoppe adds evening menu; Lulu's expands its kitchen

By Janet Blaser

CHANGE IS GOOD, so they say. And despite all the grumblings about the big new buildings, lack of parking and sky-high rents, the bright side of the growth in downtown Santa Cruz is a marked expansion of the what and where of going out to eat. Almost back-to-back in location, two of my favorite places--Gabriella Wine Shoppe and Lulu Carpenter's--have recently changed not only their menu offerings but also the very face of their business identities.

The Wine Shoppe, which quickly became one of downtown's busiest lunch spots upon opening two years ago, hatched its new plans about three weeks ago. Under the able culinary management of Jonah Oakden, formerly of San Francisco's Postrio, the Wine Shoppe now stays open later and offers an evening menu. Besides the regular lunch menu of hot grilled sandwiches, mostly made on Gabriella's popular focaccia, Jonah has added plate dinners of American comfort food like pot roast with mashed potatoes for $8. There's a different dinner plate every night, as well as a vegetarian offering, like grilled portobellos, polenta and sautéed greens. Soups and salads change daily, too; the only thing that hasn't made its appearance yet is dessert, but I'm assured that's just around the corner.

Now, the Wine Shoppe isn't named that for nothing--owner Paul Cocking has stocked the place with an excellent selection of local and imported wines, and there's beer as well. During dinner, local duo the How plays quietly, and when you add white tablecloths and soft candlelight, the bustling cafe is transformed into a much mellower bistro. Dinner is served from 5:30 to 8:30pm weekdays, and the entire cafe (patio included) can be reserved for private parties. Gabriella Wine Shoppe is at 1016 Cedar St., Santa Cruz.

Lulu's project--an initiative of manager Pablo Ruiz Fernandez, the gentle Spaniard who's made espresso drinks for the past two and a half years--has finally come to life after years in the making. You can now find a full line of ready-made sandwiches (as is or grilled to order), a bigger salad selection tossed on the spot with your choice of dressing (no more cup-o'-greens), and scones, muffins and other pastries baked fresh daily in the new downstairs kitchen. And that's what's behind all this: a full kitchen in the basement that is as big as the space upstairs. If you're in love with that back courtyard, as I am, then you've undoubtedly seen the staircase and railing emerge, leading up from or down to said kitchen. Why? Well, let's just say that brunch is in the works, it's a great space for private parties, and a beer and wine license is not far behind either.

In the evenings, little candles flicker on the courtyard tables, the heat lamp keeps you toasty warm, and hearty, grilled panini, with soup or salad, make for a yummy and affordable dinner. Owner Manthri Srinath and Pablo agree on Lulu's new direction. "We want to provide people with something new," Pablo says. "All the coffeehouses offer the same menu. We want to offer a high-end product, bistro-style, without a wait." Hmmm, high standards, but doable nonetheless.

So far, it all looks good. The seven sandwiches ($4.75-$5.50) come on a variety of locally baked breads with made-from-scratch ingredients like sun-dried tomato pesto, romesco sauce, aioli and lemon-herb cream cheese. The chicken and roast beef are roasted in-house, too; you can thank cooks Scott Couse and Sara Rubio for the attention to detail. Maybe the best part about all this is that Espresso Roy ... I mean, Lulu's is open from 6:30am to midnight, 365 days a year, and everything is available all the time. The address is 1545 Pacific Ave.

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From the May 3-10, 2000 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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