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A Bittersweet New Year for Chocolate the Restaurant

Chocolate the Restaurant has faced challenges since it opened in 1999, but none greater than the shifting demands that have come with the COVID-19 pandemic.

The good news is that despite temporary closures, changes in how meals can be served and other necessary alterations, Chocolate is still a favorite destination in downtown Santa Cruz. Now serving meals on the outdoor patio and for takeout, the restaurant is continuing to make sure its customers are well fed and cared for.

“Our clientele has been very loyal about ordering meals for pickup,” says chef/founder David Jackman, who notes that the full menu is available at chocolate-the-restaurant.square.site where online orders can be placed. In addition, food delivery is also available via DoorDash. 

Patrons can order not just meals, but also libations such as its famous cocktails in single servings or by the quart, hot chocolates, wine and beer to go, in addition to dinners, appetizers, desserts and even whole cakes and pies.

Chocolate the Restaurant first opened in 1999 with the goal of creating a lively and friendly atmosphere in downtown Santa Cruz. Although chocolate (the ingredient) is definitely a focal point here, the farm-to-table establishment prides itself on offering the area’s best to its customers, with local sourcing of produce, breads, pasta, coffee and olive oil, and aiming for organic and GMO-free whenever possible. 

Chef/owner David Jackman on the patio at Chocolate

The lively and diverse menu includes such specialties as Pork & Plantains, roast free-range pork simmered in housemade barbecue sauce and served with sesame roasted plantains, and the Molé Plate, which offers free-range chicken braised in a traditional sauce made with organic bittersweet chocolate plus a slice of cheesy polenta pie. Seafood, vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free selections are also available as well as soups, salads and appetizers. 

The restaurant is well known for its cocktails, which are prepared using simple top-quality ingredients. Bar favorites include the Passion Fruit Margarita, Fresh Mint Mojito, Cucumber Gin & Tonic and the Bourbon Bee, made with Westside Water small-batch bourbon, lemon juice and honey. All are available to go, in addition to local beers and wines. There is also an extensive selection of creative hot chocolate and mocha beverages. 

A slice of chocolate cream pie is a good way to finish off your meal

Desserts, of course, are a must at Chocolate the Restaurant. As you might imagine, chocolate is plentiful, with Dulce de Leche Torte, Chocolate Cream Pie, tiramisu, Chocolate Ecstasy Cake and many others, as well as delectable non-chocolate offerings like Coconut Cheesecake. For those who can’t make up their minds, a sampler platter called the Dessert Orgy can be ordered.

For those who want something sweet that’s a little smaller, the restaurant’s truffle offerings are perennial favorites, with cherry, mint, hazelnut, bittersweet, salted caramel, coconut and many others to choose from.

One thing Jackman has noticed in the restaurant’s takeout business is that people aren’t shying away from having a sweet treat: “Because they’re getting food at home, they’re not worried about leftovers, so they’re more bold about ordering desserts.”

Whole pies and cakes are available any time although they must be ordered 48 hours in advance, in addition to other sweet treats such as cupcakes, cannoli and more.

The restaurant next to Bookshop Santa Cruz has been operating as best as it can under extraordinary circumstances. Currently takeout is offered Tuesdays through Sundays from 4-8pm and delivery is also available during those hours.

Jackman says 2020 led to numerous shifts in service. When restaurants had to switch to outdoor dining, for instance, Chocolate staff poured their efforts into enhancing the space outside, with “protection from the wind and rain, and with more heaters.”

Pasta rosettes for two is a popular entrée

During the period when reduced indoor dining was allowed, “The restaurant filled up nightly, and young people started coming in early,” he says. And the seats continued to fill up through closing. Customers were appreciative of the staff’s efforts: “It’s been an extremely joyous experience for my employees.”

“We have experienced so much gratitude and kindness from our customers, to levels that we’d never seen before,” says Jackman.

Of course, following extra safety protocols has been a necessity, with the goal of creating a safe and socially distanced space for customers and staff alike.

Now, with new regulations in place to stop the spread of COVID-19, the change to takeout only has gone smoothly and people are appreciating the ease of online-only ordering, where the restaurant’s entire menu is available as well as daily specials. Thanks to an emergency regulation by the City of Santa Cruz, DoorDash is limited to charging restaurants a 15% commission, which allows Chocolate and others to better afford working with the delivery service.

Jackman is now dreaming up special menus for Valentine’s Day on Feb. 14. For sweethearts, the restaurant will offer a $100 dinner box for two that includes a pink rosé brut champagne and dessert, by advance order. There also will be special dinner items as well as truffle gift boxes.

Chocolate the Restaurant • 1522 Pacific Avenue, Santa Cruz • 831.427.9900 • chocolatesantacruz.com • online orders: chocolate-the-restaurant.square.site

About the author

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Kathryn McKenzie, who grew up in Santa Cruz and now lives on a Christmas tree farm in north Monterey County, writes about the environment, sustainable living and health for numerous publications and websites. She is the co-author of “Humbled: How California’s Monterey Bay Escaped Industrial Ruin.”