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Scene and Be Seen

Chef Doug Gruen

Eyes on the Fries: Longtime Seabright Brewery and Pub chef Doug Gruen has been with the Eastside hangout for eight years and continues to keep watch over his famous fries.

More than just a cool spot to hang out in the sunshine, Seabright Brewery specializes in fresh food to match its ace microbrews

By Christina Waters

No doubt about it, Seabright Brewery is a scene. Especially on warm afternoons, the brewpub's exuberant sprawl of patio hosts a nonstop open-air party for fans and neighbors of this East Side microbrew micro-niche. Surfers and CEOs, students and politicos, all seem drawn to the salt-air salon and fine brews made just a few feet inside. Yes, there is an inside to the brewpub, though few ever make it past the outdoor recreation area.

Many have made Seabright their home away from home, feasting on mammoth juicy burgers with addictive fries, and hoisting endless pints of amber and lager without ever realizing that actual entrees are available, as testified by the specials board.

I tasted my first local salmon of the season on the Seabright Brewery patio last week in the company of my volatile and loquacious friend Ben. The salmon was superb--yes, I'm talking brewpub here, and the salmon was as sensitively handled as at any upscale bistro. Ben, who also requires sensitive handling, kept his decibels down to a moderate roar. Actually, he's the perfect companion for this place on Friday afternoon, when natives have already caught the scent of the emerging weekend. It can get loud, even if you're sipping al fresco.

There was an unfortunate brand of surf-a-billy C&W being perpetrated in the main dining room as we began our soup and salad course. So excellent were these appetizers, however, that the din inside was quickly forgotten. Ben--whose personal menu of drinking topics includes modernist architecture, rotisserie baseball and Restoration court intrigue--was beginning to bang his fist against the table. Was he protesting the demise of the skyscraper as a phallocentric icon?

No, he was acting out his approval of what turned out to be a splendid cup of clam chowder ($1.50). Lightly creamy, filled with plump clams, bay leaves and cubes of red new potatoes, it was a delicate, uncluttered, nicely herbed rendition that might have come straight from my mother's own kitchen.

Furthermore, the generous green salad ($2.50) was equally up to our picky standards. Great combo of lettuces, crunchy purple cabbage, long julienne shreds of carrot--but it was that honey mustard vinaigrette that really made an impact.

But enough about the healthy stuff--let's talk french fries. Like all self-respecting brewpubs, Seabright boasts better-than-average potato stylings. The french fries ($2.75) here are a variation on the cottage fry. Long greaseless wedges have been fried with respect and served so hot they practically slap you in the face. They're delicious. Ben and I responded with a few moments of silence (a rare phenomenon when it comes to the Benster). We couldn't speak--we were too busy eating. It was as if someone aimed the remote at us and pushed the fast forward button. When the spell finally broke, all the potatoes were gone. Thank God we had plenty of Seabright Brewery's fine amber ($3/pint) to help all those spuds reach their destination.

The place was packed by the time our main dishes came around. Ben's was a favorite order of francese bread mounded with grilled eggplant, roasted red bell pepper and melted mozzarella. A sassy dollop of pesto topped each open-faced half--a serious lot of eating for $6.95, and perfect brew food to boot, though a bit dry for my taste.

My nightly special of grilled salmon had been served, as ordered, medium rare. It was so moist, it resembled a seafood custard. I sneered at the entire concept of farm-raised salmon as I toasted this locally caught beauty. A light teriyaki sauce glazed my substantial filet of salmon, and on the side came a tasty border of rice pilaf and steamed fresh veggies--the tender snow peas were especially appealing.

I was consuming some of the finest seafood on the planet, expertly cooked (priced at a ridiculously low $8.95) and served outdoors with freshly brewed handmade beer on a golden May afternoon on the California coast.

This is why I live here, I proclaimed. And Ben, who likes to spend time ranting and raving about how cool New York is, had to agree.

Seabright Brewery Pub & Restaurant

Address: 519 Seabright Ave. Santa Cruz
Phone: 426-2739
Hours: 11:30am-11:30pm daily
Cuisine: Coastal brewpub
Chef: Doug Gruen
Brewmaster: Will Turner
Ambiance: As relaxed and lively as it gets
Service: Friendly, hard-working
Price: Cheap or incredibly reasonable
Overall: *** Food and brew--both beyond gnarly
****Great, ***Excellent, **Good, *Okay

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From the May 30-June 5, 1996 issue of Metro Santa Cruz

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