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Vegging Out at the Wharf

In which things get fishy for our veggie columnist

By Elisa Camahort

A few months back, I took a tour of local steakhouses and was surprised that I didn't suffer through soggy steamed vegetables or bland pasta marinara. This month, I decided on an even more dangerous mission: a tour of seafood restaurants. Why more dangerous? Because many people consider seafood to be vegetarian-friendly already. My preconception was that seafood restaurants would actually be worse at providing for vegetarians than steakhouses.

I decided to use the Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf as my theater of operation. When I was in high school and college we used to hang out at the wharf fairly often. We'd head over, check out the sea lions for a while and, when the brisk breezes got to us, we'd plop ourselves down at Stagnaro Brothers and have bowls of steaming clam chowder. Since graduating, moving to New York, becoming vegetarian and moving back, I haven't been to the wharf much.

I just thought of it as a place where people were fishing off the wharf (boo) and where you went to eat seafood (yuk).

To my surprise, wharf restaurants, while not exactly offering haute cuisine, are a lot more welcoming to vegetarian clientele than the fancier seafood places over in the valley, like Scott's Seafood and the Fish Market.

It's not unusual to go to a pricy seafood place and find not one appetizer or entree on the menu without seafood. I have had many a meal of salad and baked potato in such restaurants, and consider it a lucky day when one of their pasta dishes can be made sans prawns, for example. (It's not so lucky when they still charge me the full seafood-laden price though.)

Almost every restaurant on the wharf has specific seafood-free items on its menu. Starting with Andy's at the end of the wharf, which offers quesadillas and garden burgers, and continuing on toward the gate, there were garden burgers on almost every menu, there were artichokes, there were grilled cheese sandwiches, there were pastas--seafood-free without having to ask for it.

My first stop had to be Stagnaro Brothers. We ordered some deep-fried artichoke hearts ($7.95) to start. The batter was crisp and not too greasy, but the artichokes inside were a little too soft. I had an economical and reasonable salad and plate of linguini (total: $7.50). My companion had an amply portioned seafood Louie salad ($14.95), which she pronounced to be excellent.

My second stop was Miramar. I was drawn in by the fact that they offered a baked brie and roasted garlic appetizer and multiple vegetarian pasta entrees, the usual Alfredo and marinara, but also one with sun-dried tomatoes and Kalamata olives. I was drawn in and almost immediately equally put off by the tank with live lobsters in the entryway. Thank goodness it wasn't visible from the dining room.

The roasted garlic/baked Brie appetizer ($12.95) was an ample serving of fresh fruit, sourdough bread, an individual round of Brie and roasted garlic cloves. The garlic needed a bit more roasting to be more spreadable, but this appetizer was definitely the highlight of the Miramar meal. I recommend a lovely afternoon with a glass of wine, the ocean view and baked Brie on apple slices or bread whenever you need a brief respite.

The rest of the meal wasn't as satisfying. I ordered my sun-dried tomato linguini ($9.95), and while the flavors were good, the pasta was just too far past al dente, approaching mushy. My companion did order clam chowder ($4.95) and was extremely disappointed. While the chunks of clam were tasty, the actual soup had a consistency she likened to paste. She tasted enough to give me a reliable opinion for the column, but left most of it sitting right there. It was definitely a "you win some, you lose some" kind of meal.

We continued back toward the gate to the wharf, checking every menu and noting that each offered me a meal that didn't have to be cobbled together from side dishes.

The appeal of the wharf remains the same: it is laid-back, friendly, unpretentious--and I'd take a casual meal with that view and welcoming attitude over paying $20 for a seafood pasta without the seafood in a fancier place any day of the week.

Stagnaro Bros. Municipal Wharf, Santa Cruz, 831.423.2180; www.stagnarobros.com; Miramar Fish Grotto, Municipal Wharf, Santa Cruz. 831.423.4441; www.miramarfishgrotto.com.

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From the July 20-27, 2005 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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

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