Edible Monterey Bay

Fine Dining Chefs Launch Soquel Café

January 8, 2019 – Four fine dining chefs—all veterans of the renowned Michelin-starred restaurant Sons & Daughters in San Francisco—are about to open an unpretentious breakfast and lunch spot in Soquel village.

“I was done with the city. I had a thirst for a higher-quality of life and wanted a place to raise my family and live closer to nature,” says Matt McNamara who pulled back from his role as chef/partner at Sons & Daughters five years ago to start an 83-acre organic farm called Ox & Willow near Summit Rd. in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

Joining him at the new Soquel spot are Alex and Jen Jackson, a husband and wife duo who cooked at farm-to-table style restaurants in Portland and Austin before moving to San Francisco, where Alex worked as chef de cuisine at Sons & Daughters. Tim Oegema is the fourth team member, a former chef at Sons & Daughters and manager of its more casual sister café, Sweet Woodruff.

Their new project is called Pretty Good Advice, a cryptic name spelled out in ransom-note lettering on the front of the restaurant at 3070 Porter St. next door to the library. They hope to open later this week or next week.

“Our goal is to make everything in house, straight from the farm in an honest and fun way,” says McNamara. Their own social media calls Pretty Good Advice a “rock and roll take out joint loaded with charcuteries, homemade bread and farm fresh everything.”

Jen Jackson’s sourdough bread and homemade English muffins are the foundation of the menu, used in the Mac Muffin with house-smoked ham and cheese and in the toast du jour.

I was lucky to sample two toasts. One was a thick slab of sourdough spread with whipped butter and topped with mandarin orange marmalade, made with fruit from the farm. The other toast was topped with house made ricotta and honey nut squash dusted with a mixture of roasted chile and squash seed. Both were delicious.

“These are deceptively simple dishes, but the ingredients are outrageously high quality, so the toast knocks you over and the salads are so much more than salad, so good,” he says. All food is served in compostable paper containers.

Also on the menu is cream of fennel soup with chanterelles, baby root vegetables and crispy croutons—a dish that comes directly from the Sons & Daughters tasting menu.

A bowl of heirloom shelling beans grown at Hawks Haven Farm is another menu staple, along with sweet and sour Brussels sprouts, kale and apple salad with nut brittle and delicata squash and a variety of sandwiches. The idea is to keep portion size and prices in check so diners can try several items at one meal.

Cat & Cloud’s Night Shift filter coffee will be served, in addition to trendy Topo Chico sparkling mineral water, Arnold Palmers, Tanuki Cider, craft beer from Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing and wine in cans.

When asked about the origin of name Pretty Good Advice, McNamara says it means something low key “something I can handle.”

“We’ve all been involved in pretentious restaurants all our lives making tweezer-related food, but this is not pretentious, we want it to be fun,” he adds.

“Alex and Jen can walk to work, Tim rides his motorcycle. There is still the stress of paying high rents, but there is more joy here.”

Pretty Good Advice will be open Wednesday to Sunday from 7am to 4pm. They hope to add dinner service eventually, but McNamara says that should happen “organically” as they figure out what the community wants and are able to find staff who share their vision.

Meanwhile McNamara will also continue to run Ox & Willow farm, which grows 300 different varieties of fruits and vegetable and supplies upscale restaurants like Californios and Aster in San Francisco and Plumed Horse in Saratoga.