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Photograph by Stephen Laufer

Have Your Cake: Elizabeth Marie serves it up at Hoffman's Bakery.

Beyond the Bakery

Hoffman's steps up with a menu of its own

By Jessica Neuman Beck

Across from all the construction on the north end of Pacific Avenue, next to the empty building that used to house Cat n' Canary, Hoffman's Bakery Cafe is easy to overlook. Walking past at dinnertime, you might notice people eating and chatting outside what seems to be an unassuming bakery. You might be intrigued by the smell of fresh salmon or fragrant risotto, or curious about the sound of live jazz on a Friday or Saturday night.

Owners Ed and June Hoffman set out to provide an upscale cafe dining experience--"food you can eat any day of the week," as Ed puts it.

His sentiment is echoed on the friendly yellow walls with artwork by Ludmilla Kondakova, a Russian artist who rose to fame with her paintings of Parisian street scenes.

"We had just made another trip to Paris before we opened the shop," Ed says, "and her art seemed to express the mood, the kind of atmosphere that we wanted. Something that would include a bakery."

Morning visitors to Hoffman's can get fresh baked pastries and coffee, or sit down to a full breakfast of eggs and cafe potatoes or an omelette, served with Hoffman's famous scones. A favorite of the lunch crowd is the grilled salmon over fresh greens.

"We want to provide healthful trends in baked products and cuisine," says Ed. "My wife goes to the farmers market on Wednesdays and we try to get a lot of that on our menu."

The dinner selection includes such diverse fare as a Black and Bleu Ahi appetizer, served rare with sautéed red bell peppers and macadamia nuts, and Oahu Bouillabaise--Hawaiian-style shellfish stew. The most popular dish, though, is June's Homemade Meatloaf.

"It's hard to describe," says Ed. "Originally, my wife cooked it and said, 'I want you to make this,' and I sort of rolled my eyes. But I started playing around with it, and the spices in there are just great--it makes it into a completely different thing." It's comfort food with a kick, served with garlic mashed potatoes and horseradish cream.

Ed and June opened Hoffman's in August of 2000. They came from a 16-year stint at a bakery they owned in Kirkland, Wash., where Ed was a pastry chef, but they wanted to get back to Santa Cruz--"I was sick of looking at buttercream," Ed says with a laugh. Though he still acts as head pastry chef at Hoffman's, working with a full restaurant menu lets him flex his creative muscles in a way he never could before. "Our filet mignon has a marvelous puff pillow that we put the filet in," Ed says, "and it just kind of sinks down. It has a little gorgonzola demi-glace--it's a nice accent."

Meanwhile, head chef William Todd created the Chicken Pear, a deboned chicken filled with pears and hazelnuts in a pear brandy demi-glace. The chicken is actually shaped like a pear, and sits on a bed of vegetable risotto.

Desserts at Hoffman's are an experience, as befits a pastry chef with Ed's experience. The cake that has garnered the most devoted following is the Princess torte, a white cake with a whipped cream and raspberry filling covered with marzipan.

"I helped bring that to Santa Cruz, actually, 25 years ago," says Ed. "I worked for Ron Schmidt, the first baker who made it here. He bought the old Theater Cafe, and he introduced the princess torte from a Swedish bakery in Tiburon--before that they'd never seen it in Santa Cruz. We did real well with it there at the Theater, and then I gave it to Gayle and she did real well with it at Gayle's."

Morning baked goods, creative cakes and amazing dinners--above all, Ed and June Hoffman want their customers to feel happy. "Come in on a Friday night and settle down with a chocolate torte while you listen to the jazz," Ed says. "It's kind of over-the-top decadent, but chocolate is really good with merlot."

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From the November 5-12, 2003 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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