February 12, 2019 – The Dream Inn is leaning into local with the opening of the new Jack O’Neill Restaurant in the space that was formerly Aquarius, overlooking Cowell Beach and the Municipal Wharf in Santa Cruz.
To prepare for the new surfside restaurant—set to open to the public on February 20—the hotel has joined the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program for the first time and started sourcing produce from local farms. It has also introduced a new bar menu using Santa Cruz-made Venus spirits, Santa Cruz Mountain wines and local craft beers, and it is partnering with the O’Neill Sea Odyssey teaching vessel so that staff members will be able to tell the story of the Monterey Bay.
“We’re sitting here on one of the best marine sanctuaries in the world and we want to be sustainable and make sure our guests realize how important that is,” says sales and marketing manager Dan Smart.
The hotel is also hoping a bright new casual design, easy-going spirit and family-friendly menu—with dishes like the Corralitos Sausage Sampler and Lost Boys Bouillabaisse—will attract more local diners to the restaurant.
“Our clientele wear tee shirts and jeans to work everyday, they’re not interested in putting on a jacket to go to dinner in Santa Cruz,” says food and beverage manager Lars Stokkebye, who is confident the new look and menu will “raise the energy level.”
The new restaurant is really an outgrowth of the successful Jack O’Neill Lounge that opened in the hotel four years ago on the site of O’Neill’s surf shop. Under a licensing agreement with the family of the late surf icon, the hotel displays surfboards, historic photos and other memorabilia from O’Neill’s life.
You can imbibe in Jack’s signature martini, made with blue cheese olives, at the bar, where live music is being added from 6:30pm to 9:30pm on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights.
Other highlights of exec chef Ken Drew’s menu for the new restaurant include: Mavericks Meatballs made with lamb and ricotta ($10): Poke Timbale with ahi tuna, Skuna Bay salmon and orange-sesame-tamari glaze ($16); and gluten-free agave tamari grilled tofu with curried ratatouille ($18). More substantial entrées like chicken under a brick and blackened mahi mahi are also available, and so is a children’s menu.
Large circular booths and comfy banquettes have been added to the sun-drenched dining room, and raised seating assures coastal views for all diners. The new restaurant also boasts a sleek 12-seat private dining room that can be used for family dinners or parties. Full tech hookups and a video monitor allow it to also be used for working breakfasts or lunches.
Local farms mentioned on the menu include Driscoll’s, Glaum Egg Ranch, Gizdich Ranch and many others. “Santa Cruz and Monterey counties provide such an abundance of local and organic ingredients, it’s all right here. Why not use it?” says Smart.
Under the partnership with the O’Neill Sea Odyssey—a catamaran where school children learn about ocean conservation—members of the Dream Inn staff will take turns as chaperones on the teaching vessel.
“We want our staff to be knowledgeable and to be able to tell the story of Jack O’Neill and the Monterey Bay to guests in an approachable way,” says Smart. Staff will continue to take part in a quarterly beach clean up with Save Our Shores.
The new Jack O’Neill restaurant will be open for breakfast, lunch and dinner daily.
Deborah Luhrman is publisher and editor of Edible Monterey Bay. A lifelong journalist, she has reported from around the globe, but now prefers covering our flourishing local food scene and growing her own vegetables in the Santa Cruz Mountains.