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Travel BLOG
March 11, 2014

Assembly: Food, Design + Community

Assembly restaurant Santa Cruz Photo by Garrick Ramirez By now, you’ve likely heard about Assembly, the much anticipated restaurant from Kendra Baker and Zach Davis. They’re the dynamic duo that gifted Santa Cruz with The Penny Ice Creamery and The Picnic Basket. Now they’re set to open their first full-service restaurant in Downtown. To assist them, they nabbed chef Carlo Espinas from San Francisco’s Comstock Saloon. Like all of Santa Cruz, I’m a fan of The Penny and The Picnic Basket. And I was also a regular patron of Carlo’s cooking at Comstock. So when I heard these three were teaming up, I was eager to learn more. I had an opportunity to catch up with Kendra and Zach, tour the space, and chat about their upcoming restaurant. We talked food, design and community. FOOD Kendra and Zach describe the food as rustic California cuisine. That means approachable, well-prepared food sourced from local bounty here in Santa Cruz. They’ll also make their own bread doing nothing to dispel my notion of Santa Cruz as bakery capital of the world. Here’s an example of what they have in mind:

  • Seared Duck Frites - Duck breast with crispy skin, cooked medium rare with a pile of fries and duck gravy.
  • Pork & Clams - Slow-roasted pork belly seared crispy, sautéed manila clams, green garlic, wedges of radishes, and toast to soak up the saucy goodness.
  • Fried Chicken Sandwich - This clever take on chicken and waffles features a fried chicken breast on a brioche roll, with radish and cabbage slaw, waffle chip, and avocado creme fraiche.
Kids will be handed a menu of their own, one that earned the blessing of Kendra’s 5 year-old son. Little ones will also be given playdough to while away the wait between courses. And after dinner? Kids cones! What treats do adults get? You do remember that Kendra is an accomplished pastry chef, right? She snuck me a quick glimpse of the dessert menu and it includes delectable confections like a Milk Bread, Bearss Lime Tart, and Milk Chocolate Malt Soda. For drinks, Zach tapped a Wine Country friend to put together a list that spotlights local producers. Thanks to the region’s great wine, you can easily please both locavores and wine snobs. Ditto the beer. Assembly sports ten craft beers on tap including local favorites Sante Adairius Rustic Ales and Discretion. Assembly restaurant Santa Cruz Photo by Garrick Ramirez

DESIGN Assembly is a looker. The former Aqua Bleu space has been completely transformed. Kendra and Zach wanted something that felt permanent, grounded and timeless. Somewhere you’d want take a family...or a date.

Assembly restaurant Santa Cruz Photo by Garrick Ramirez

The light-filled space flaunts high, exposed ceilings and refinished concrete floors. As you enter, your eyes will dart to the striking antler chandeliers that run the length of the restaurant. They’re mirrored by a row of deep-hued redwood tables. A smart-looking black banquette lines a far wall, while a copper-clad 10-seat bar lines the opposite. Custom brass light fixtures punctuate the room and a glass garage door that rolls open to the busy downtown sidewalk.

Assembly restaurant Santa Cruz Photo by Garrick Ramirez

Assembly has a great presence on Pacific Avenue with an exterior wrapped in weathered steel and horizontal wood slats. The front will also feature patio seating from Five Feet From The Moon, a local shop that’s designed fixtures for places like Laili and El Salchichero. It’ll be a nice spot to grab a drink, soak up some sun and enjoy the lively Pacific Avenue scene.

COMMUNITY: I think good food and good design naturally beget community. With apologies to Field of Dreams: if you build it -- and it’s delicious -- they will come. But Assembly is purposely community-minded: ● Zach and Kendra have been working with local farmers and food artisans since day one at The Penny. All of Assembly’s compostables will be sent to Love Apple Farms. ● Shared seating community tables will encourage interaction amongst diners, a welcome feature as I think we tend to be isolated in a car or at a computer screen for much of the day. ● Assembly also houses a secondary endeavor called POPUP which will function as a multi-faceted space to host community events and ventures. And then there’s this: Zach and Kendra are just genuinely nice, talented people who’ve provided much to appreciate. I think a community has naturally sprung up around them. The restaurant is already a hit. While I was there, numerous passersby would pause to sneak a glimpse of the under-construction space and chat with Zach, telling him how much Santa Cruz needed a place like this. I think Assembly fills a much-needed niche. It wasn’t designed as a special occasion destination. Rather, it’s a comfortable and invigorating space -- and menu -- that will regularly draw people to gather. Or, you know: assemble. Assembly is now open. They serve Dinner from 5:30-9:30 PM on Tuesday - Thursday and Sunday; 5:30-10:30 PM on Friday and Saturday. Lunch is served Tuesday through Sunday at 11:00 AM and Brunch is served on Saturday and Sunday starting at 9 AM. You can keep up to date with them on Twitter at @AssembleForFood and on Facebook.


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  • google authorship for business 4 years 105 days ago
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  • admin 4 years 176 days ago
    With the girls for sure, Lisa ;) ~Christine

  • Lisa J Dyer 4 years 197 days ago
    I can't wait to try this new place. Not sure if I should go on a date with my husband or enjoy with the girls. Either way it sounds like I would be in for a treat.