Santa Cruz Market
1947 E. Main St.
The first thing that strikes me as my car rolls into the parking lot of the Santa Cruz Market is the smoky aroma of tri-tip. I park my car just a few spaces away from where it sits sizzling on a hot grill, taking in the scent. This uber-casual preparation just screams SoCal to me — and I love it for the summertime nostalgia it conjures up and for the tender sliced beef sandwiches that it yields.
If you haven’t been to the Santa Cruz Market yet, it sits in the space formerly occupied by Jue’s Market on the corner of Main and Santa Cruz streets in Midtown Ventura. The market makes a great destination for a few groceries, a quick sandwich for lunch, or even a sit-down dinner and a glass of wine.
Now, let’s get back to the tri-tip sandwich. After cooking low and slow on the grill, the meat is sliced and piled on a toasted roll with a choice of barbecue sauce or a garlic, butter and herb sauce. I loved the latter but, unfortunately, on this particular day, the beef was a bit tough — perhaps not given enough time to rest before slicing.
You’ll find the tri-tip available for order at the deli area, in addition to a full selection of hot and cold deli sandwiches, deli salads and a sprinkling of Middle Eastern specialties like stuffed grape leaves and beef fataya (savory pastry pockets with fillings like beef, cheese or spinach). While we enjoyed the flavors of the beef and lamb shawarma sandwich — filled with pickled vegetables and wrapped in lavash bread — the meat wasn’t as tender as we had hoped.
In contrast, the Reuben sandwich and the kubi truly won our hearts. The Reuben is filled with corned beef perfectly crisp at the edges, melting cheese, Thousand Island dressing, and a hint of sauerkraut; it’s sourness perfectly cutting all the fat in the sandwich. For those unaccustomed to kubi, the Lebanese dish is made with ground beef, pine nuts, spices and bulgur wheat. Once deep fried, these balls are full of flavor, with a crunchy golden crust on the outside and tender beef inside. They are served with a tangy yogurt sauce for dipping.
For those with a sweet tooth, there’s a tantalizing pastry case filled with cheesecake bars, thick brownies and pecan bars begging to be eaten. Though tempted by the s’mores bar topped with chocolate and mini marshmallows, I opted for the peanut butter and chocolate bar — dense and chewy, salty and sweet.
For the home cooks, there are a thorough produce and cheese section, a variety of international products and bulk grains and a full meat counter, more than enough to put an inspired meal on the table.
For those looking for libations, there is a huge beer and wine selection filling a separate section of the market. Wine options range from Sterling to Blackstone to Cupcake, and an array of craft beers includes Lagunitas and Samuel Smith, Telegraph and Chimay, Firestone and Stone.
Those looking for a sit-down meal will want to head to the Lounge. The cozy space is filled with dark wooden dining tables, a small bar and a flat-screen TV displaying the latest sports game. Twelve beers on tap are offered, a selection of wines by the glass, and a food menu is available until 9 p.m. every night. The small menu is built around interesting dishes like the pork wings (pork short ribs finished with wing sauce) and buffalo chicken tulips (fried drumsticks with a sweet tiger sauce). Entree options include Wahoo fish tacos with cucumber wasabi sauce, a Kobe beef burger or half a rotisserie chicken served with garlic mashed potatoes and white wine asparagus.
As for the service at Santa Cruz, my interactions with staff have only been positive; yet, they still appear to be working out a few kinks. On one visit, I waited at the checkout counter for a few minutes before anyone came to ring me up, and on another visit the checkout person was unable to answer my questions about the food and beverages available in the lounge area.
The signage and menu in the deli area are a bit confusing, leaving guests feeling a bit awkward as they figure out what dishes are available that day and where to order. The atmosphere of the small dining area where you might enjoy that deli sandwich is no-frills, with miscellaneous catering gear tucked into the corner and nary a trashcan in sight.
If atmosphere is what you crave, I do recommend ducking into the Lounge. Even if you just came for a gallon of milk or a loaf of bread, here you can take a load off, order yourself a cold beer and get your chill on before heading back to reality.
Check out my food tasting tours at www.venturafoodtours.com, where you’ll find information on our private tasting tours, corporate team-building outings and special events.