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Readers Choice 2020

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SantaCruzSentinel.Com February 12, 2021 | READERS CHOICE | 6 I t is an understatement to say the global pandemic that began in 2020 affected everyone in drastic ways. This year's poll included a few categories related to COVID-19 and how Santa Cruz County's people and businesses adapted. Here are the win- ners. best Outdoor Transformation: mentone (winner) & bruno's bar & grill (runner-up) mentone In addition to winning for this cate- gory, Mentone also got first runner-up for Best New Restaurant (see separate article). Mentone, owned and operat- ed by David Kinch, was very success- ful at pivoting during the pandemic. First, it offered takeout only; later, the restaurant transformed its outdoor parking lot into a dining area called "Little Beach" that became popular with locals. Of course, this has had to close during several lockdown peri- ods and during rainy weather. "Obviously the 'taking home piz- za concept' is not a tough sell, so we were very fortunate in that regard," explains General Manager Chris Sullivan. "Though it had limitations, serving outdoors allowed us to make the space our own, to curate an expe- rience, and provide adept hospitality. It was such a welcome change to have that guest interaction after just tak- ing phone orders and passing boxes to folks!" At Little Beach, they used glassware and real plates. "Every- thing tastes better with these, espe- cially our pizza!" Chris and his colleagues enjoyed hosting the Little Beach experience but also look forward to the future. "It was a chance to create a space that was fun and festive, with music going, great food and drinks, all while din- ing outside in our beautiful weather," says Chris. "We are so excited to share the inside dining room when it's safe to do so." In addition, there are plans to introduce more of the regional (French and Italian Riviera) dishes when indoor dining is allowed. "Pas- tas and entrees don't travel as well, so it will be nice to have guests join us and enjoy the experience we had in mind when researching and building Mentone." Because Mentone wasn't open for indoor dining, it was able to host oc- casional extra offerings in 2020. For example, sister business Manresa Bread did popup Saturdays in front of Mentone from September through December. From 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. (or sellout), customers could purchase a rotating selection of bread and pas- tries including Manresa Bread's sig- nature croissants, Kougin Amann, and housemade granola, with added treats around the holidays. As the weeks went on and word spread, in- creasing numbers of people came to get their fix. bruno's bar & grill In addition to being runner-up in this category, Bruno's won Best Over- all Restaurant in Scotts Valley. During the pandemic when out- door dining was still permissible, Bruno's Bar and Grill created a "Coro- naCation" experience. Since people weren't able to travel, they set up outdoor vacation destinations. These included Hawaii, decorated with an outdoor bar, thatched umbrel- las surrounded by bamboo fencing, tiki torches and light-up palm trees; Mexico, with light-up cacti, serape table runners, and an outdoor bar with a margarita machine; Paris, with bistro tables and a seven-foot light-up Eiffel tower; and Hollywood, with a "spotlighted" Hollywood sign, a VIP red carpet area with velvet rope stanchions, and life-sized cutouts of the "Friends" cast. When customers called Bruno's for reservations, they were asked where they wanted to go. Your reservation was in that 'coun- try.' Each week, one themed special was available. Dining groups were given passports, stamped with a des- tination. After collecting stamps from each country, you could enter a con- test for a $50 Bruno's gift card. Chil- dren were given toy-filled luggage favors. When indoor dining reopened (before shutting down again), Bruno's added an indoor Las Vegas area with a light-up Las Vegas sign, life-sized showgirl cutout, metallic curtains, gi- ant cards hanging from the ceiling, and several five-feet dice. In addition to appreciating themed dishes, customers continued loving Bruno's classics. Joanne "Jo" Guz- man, who co-owns Bruno's with her husband (and the chef) Rogelio "Ro" Guzman, says the most popular items are ribs "…with Ro's incredible sauces like raspberry chipotle and pineapple jalapeno. He also created a mouth- watering tangy 'Naughty' sauce that he puts on our Bad Boy burger and naughty fries. People love it. Another fave is our mac-n-cheese skins (po- tato skins stuffed with mac-n-cheese, topped with cheddar, green onions and bacon)," adds Jo. They serve fresh-baked breads from Aldo's Ital- ian Bakery in Soquel, and available beers include local Santa Cruz Moun- tain Brewing and Discretion Brewing. Jo says customers love Bruno's fun atmosphere just as much as the food. "Our tagline is #WhereTheFunIs. In everything we do, including naming dishes, we look to add fun," she says. "Another key to our success is we pride ourselves on hiring staff with personality plus! We have a big fol- lowing because guests and employees all feel like a great big family." Helping us survive the pandemic: six local standouts By Tara Fatemi Walker continues on 8...

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