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Beach Cafe Bingo

Robert Scheer

Altitude Thickness: Dollie Case presents the Beach Street Cafe's star--the juicy Mile High Burger.

Establishing its turf, right by the surf, Beach Street Cafe keeps on delivering quick coastal culinary prizes

By Christina Waters

A CALM, EFFICIENTLY RUN OASIS in the midst of the Boardwalk's on-going carnival, Beach Street Cafe offers gastronomic aid and comfort to locals and visitors alike. Famed for full breakfasts, serious sandwiches and top-of-the-line burgers, the cafe never breaks its unpretentious stride, whatever the season. Eight to three, seven days a week, come rain, come shine, the incredibly well-situated daytime eatery has a lot to like.

During the summer months, when what seems like the entire population of California swirls around the eatery's front door, it's one of the coziest vantage points on the pulsating amusement park street scene. Last weekend, I checked out the Beach Street Cafe experience at both lunch and breakfast, in both cases enjoying the surge and sprawl of Cocoanut Grove partiers blended with day trippers intent on hitting every amusement ride.

Stacie and I took a window seat right before the huge noontime influx, just in time to enjoy the temporarily deafening din of the Roaring Camp train shimmying and shaking its way up to the mountains. We knew we wanted soup, salad and sandwich, but what about those orange muffins, we wondered?

"Well, they taste real orangey," we were assured by our waitress, "sort of like Fruit Loops." Despite that endorsement, we ordered a couple of the housemade orange muffins and discovered that, yes, they did taste just like Fruit Loops--dry Fruit Loops.

Aided by big glasses of iced tea that were frequently and vigorously refilled without warning, we lunched happily on a huge shrimp Louie ($8.75), a cup of world-class chowder ($3.50) and a lavishly comforting grilled ham and cheese sandwich ($5.25) accompanied by sautéed potatoes good enough to revive the dead.

Beach Street Cafe's owners, Dollie and Willie Case, have filled their tiny space--which retains authentic traces of the original St. Francis Grill built on this spot in 1924--with an eye-filling collection of Maxfield Parrish prints. Somewhere in the sea of nymphets lounging against those purple and golden skies, you'll find your own favorite. But the thick chowder--packed with red new potatoes, herbs and a flavor-heightening splash of sherry--absorbed most of our attention.

Stacie worked her way through most of her enormous Louie, admiring the baby lettuces on which those extra-fat bay shrimp lolled like sunbathers on an esplanade. She loved the hard-boiled eggs, the wedges of lemon, the entire ripe avocado that had sacrificed itself on this green shore, and especially the very tasty house Louie dressing--the perfect balance of those time-honored, non-designer ingredients beloved of baby boomers everywhere.

Meanwhile, on my side of the table, two crustless slabs of sourdough bread--liberally filled with thinly sliced lean ham fused into a molten mass with jack cheese--glowed all golden from the grill. It was easily the best grilled ham and cheese unit I'd had since my mother's own. And it came with comforting diced, sautéed new potatoes--destination potatoes, I'm bound to say.

And the next day, over a late breakfast--we were late, breakfast runs all day--Mr. B agreed with me. In all candor, he had to pry my fork off his potatoes, since technically they were his, having accompanied the excellent Mile-High Burger he'd ordered ($5.25). This baby had it all--a toasted sesame seed bun, the crunchy kind that gives pliantly in the center, sweet Bermuda onion rings, lettuce and tomatoes and the usual gang of condiments--even a big, fat dill pickle on a stick poking out of its top. The ground beef was juicy.

Best burger in town? Possibly.

I, on the other hand, waded through only the top layer of my eggs Sardou ($8.50), an unfulfilling bed of artichoke hearts topped with that kind of overcooked spinach that you suspect has been frozen, then a layer of outstanding Hollandaise sauce and finally two, perfect poached eggs. Half of the dish was great--the eggs and Hollandaise--the other half detracted. So my fork kept going over to Mr. B's plate for potatoes. Surely you can understand why.

Beach Street Cafe

Address: 399 Beach Street, Santa Cruz
Phone: 426-7621
Hours: 8am-3pm daily
Cuisine: All-day breakfasts, lunch fare
Ambiance: Friendly, cozy
Service: Efficient, if not perfunctory
Price: Inexpensive
Overall: ** Better than basic brunch cafe

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

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From the August 29-September 4, 1996 issue of Metro Santa Cruz

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