September 21, 2021 – When it comes to food, Italian mothers always seem to know best. Enzo Pelliccia had long been wowing people with his poetic Italian desserts, like pistachio mini choux and candied lemon tarts. But when he needed to brainstorm ideas for a savory pastry, he phoned his mother in Naples.
“Do your version of Rustico Napolitano!” she laughed, surprised that he hadn’t already gravitated there.
“Rustico Napolitano was a no brainer—you find it in every patisserie in Napoli,” explains Pelliccia, “and each patisserie has a slightly different version. It gets really competitive, too, with whose is best.”
Enzo’s version has a short crust pastry shell that is slightly sweet with a filling of ricotta, smoked provolone, salami, and ham. There’s no one else doing this in Santa Cruz, but even with stiff competition, his sweet and savory flavor bomb would take the lead.
As I waited in line to order mine, a mother/daughter team who’d been chatting with the chef turned to me to apologize for the delay. Mom Kim explained, “Kaitlin couldn’t have a sweet 16 party last year, so we’re making up for it this year with a special cake by Enzo—a vegan brownie cake and his vegan croissants stuffed with lemon marmalade from Sicily.”
That’s another surprise. Many of Pelliccia’s desserts can be altered for various dietary restrictions—he can do vegan, diabetic friendly, gluten-free and dairy-free. “Dessert is a pleasure that everyone should be able to enjoy,” he says emphatically. “It’s simple to use the kinds of sugars that are healthier, and fat is easy to substitute if you know the chemistry of cooking. Take my vegan croissants—they’re available every day until they sellout—and they always do.”
As if on cue (and after politely offering me one), Kim and Kaitlyn nabbed the last two croissants. I had plenty on my plate already, feeling compelled to sample a couple of the mini desserts along with my Rustico Napolitano and espresso.
“Napoli is known for its miniature versions of bigger desserts,” Pelliccia pointed out as I admired a glass case filled jewel-like baby babà au rhum and tiny raspberry tarts. Atop each pastry is a small gold-dusted chocolate coin with a filigree “E” emblazoned on it using a sealing wax stamp—Enzo’s signature touch.
“I painted and sculpted as a kid,” he says, “and pastries are expressions of art. I love to push limits and experiment, and am always pursuing perfection, trying again and again until I master something.”
Raised in Naples, Pelliccia attended Italian hotel school, concentrating on becoming a chef until wanderlust hit. He eventually landed in Tuscany where he launched his cooking career and later worked in Rome and Switzerland before arriving in California. After stints in several Santa Cruz area restaurants, he was named the executive pastry chef at Los Gatos’ Michelin-starred Hellenic restaurant Dio Deka.
Fast forward three years to mid-COVID: “I was ready to to run my own show and work in Santa Cruz, where I lived,” he says, “and my good friend Giovanni Spanu, chef/co-owner of Lago di Como, offered me the use of his restaurant.”
“I’m closed in the mornings,” Spanu told him, “and if you’ll commit to a year, you can use the place until we start setting up for dinner.”
Today, seven months later, Enzo sells his decadent desserts Thursday through Sunday inside the East Cliff Drive restaurant. You can enjoy them there at the marble bar or take them home. If you’re a chocolate fan, make sure you try the Cioccolato Bomb; about the size of a softball, it has white chocolate ganache at its center, gluten-free chocolate cake inside, all surrounded by a milk chocolate mousse and coated with a shimmering chocolate glaze. And of course, there’s a gold coin to reward you at the end, as if eating something that delicious needs any kind of reward.
Open Thursday-Sunday 9am-3pm
21490 E Cliff Dr. Santa Cruz, CA 95062. Located inside Lago di Como restaurant