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Retail Renewal

Black China Bakery celebrates 25 years by opening the colorful Black China Cafe

By Selene Latigo

A Santa Cruz institution for 25 years, Black China Bakery has offered luscious desserts, both vegan and nonvegan, to a wide array of local stores and restaurants. Anywhere you go, you'll likely see one of their classic treats, such as the cranberry scones, ornate chocolate cupcakes or vegan brownies. I'd been hearing whispers about the development of an actual retail space, and then one day not too long ago as I was driving down Soquel Avenue, I spied a small "Black China Cafe" sign in front of the Ironwood store with the magic word, "Open."

There are two ways to discover this hidden gem. The first is to meander through the diverse collection of unique and exciting housewares that Ironwood holds, browsing your way back into the tiny little corridor that opens up into Black China's colorful cafe. The second option, which will allow an earlier entrance, is to walk around the building to the back alley where bright banners guide you down some steps into a peaceful and serene sculpture garden. Once there, you'll find a scattering of simple outdoor seating, inspired landscaping with vertical and expansive composition, and rich velvety colors of burnt oranges and ruby reds painted over the urban brick interior. With the larger dining area outside, this is a great place to enjoy a sunny morning or afternoon.

Visiting the Black China Cafe on a Saturday noon hour, we were, of course, treated with a heavy dose of summer fog, but the outdoor seating was still comfortable and spacious regardless of the lack of sunshine.

We chose to enter through the front of Ironwood, tempting our eyes with fun objects, while we headed to the back. Passing a tall and narrow glass case showcasing Black China's most delectably decorated items, we came upon the front counter, laden with more baked goods. Our server cheerfully jumped into the task of creating our double short lattes ($3.25 each) and heating our cranberry scone ($2.50, vegan or non) to nibble on as we looked over the all-vegetarian and organic menu. His extra touches of star-shaped foam designs on our drinks and the little side of lemon curd with our tender scone (one of the best in town, by the way) made this starting snack all the better.

Unfortunately, the one and only breakfast special of two steamed eggs with chives on toasted franchese with Brie and tomato ($6.95) ended at 11am. Dave and I both agreed that this cafe would be a nice addition to the Santa Cruz breakfast scene, although it may not have the capacity for the crowds that would follow.

Instead, we ordered a bowl of soup ($6.50) from the two choices offered, gazpacho, or beet and caramelized apple. The latter arrived hot with two pieces of franchese toast drizzled with peppery olive oil. The soup was sweet and subtle, with the simple flavors of golden beet and apple briefly puréed for a smooth yet chunky texture. The warm bread was a welcome addition.

Next came our sandwiches, which we split in order to sample both varieties, each with a small side of mixed greens in a light and lemony vinaigrette with blue cheese and cherry tomatoes. The russet potato and cheddar sandwich ($8.75) was a simple combination of potato gratin with onion, herbs and sharp cheddar tucked between expertly grilled slices of sourdough bread with garlic aioli. The double starch decadence of this was reminiscent of heavy wintertime meals, but along with the fresh greens and the balanced portions, was just right.

The pan bagna ($8.50), available hot or cold, was a seasonally fitting blend of colors and flavors. Thin slices of juicy tomato, yellow pepper and Kalamata olives, with capers, basil, mint and garlic, mingled together on grilled franchese with provolone cheese and a drizzling of olive oil and balsamic. The often-overpowering quality of fresh mint was used with an even hand and we savored every summery bite.

I'd probably have to write a whole other article on Black China's selection of cakes and desserts to do them justice. Satisfied with our perfect scone, we left without ordering an ending sweet, happy to just gaze at the goodies on our way out. I'll definitely be back, gratified by the friendly service, the fresh and simple menu that emphasizes our local and organic treasures, and those amazing desserts.

The Black China Cafe is located at 1121 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz; open 7-11am Mon, 7am-5pm Tue-Fri, 8am-4pm Sat-Sun; 831.460.1600.

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From the July 13-20, 2005 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

Copyright © 2005 Metro Publishing Inc. Maintained by Boulevards New Media.

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