Santa Cruz is a town with a split identity. Wow, that sounds like the beginning of a detective novel, doesn’t it?
One personality is Beach. Sun, sand, surfing, families, Monterey Bay. Everyone likes Beach.
The other is, for want of a better term, Junkie. Santa Cruz has a HUGE drug and homelessness problem. There are several thousand homeless people roaming around. A lot of them are drug addicts and/or mentally ill, and they’re responsible for something like 40% of the city’s crime – the crime rate here is also absurdly high – this is the single most dangerous small city in California.
And, unfortunately, Ideal seems to be a restaurant where they both thrive, Beach and Junkie. The restaurant itself is great. But it’s right on the beach, it’s right at the foot of the Municipal Wharf, and there are usually a LOT of homeless people gathered on the sand at the foot of the wharf. Some of them are underneath it, where the base of the wharf forms kind of a cavern.
Ideal is a nice place – it’s a lot of fun, and the food is good. But you may also be treated, during the meal, to some of the saddest, most broken human beings in the world. Be forewarned.
Ideal is at the foot of Santa Cruz’s Municipal Wharf, right next to the Beach Boardwalk complex. It’s at absolute Ground Zero for tourism in Santa Cruz, but it can also be murderously crowded and really difficult to manage if you’re driving. Your best options is to park on the Wharf, if you can find a space. This is not free, so bring some cash, or a credit card. More forewarning, however – during the summer, which is tourist season, this part of Santa Cruz is a zoo.
Address: 106 Beach Street, Santa Cruz, CA 95060
Phone: (831) 423-5271
Monday – Friday; 11:00 – 21:00; Saturday 8:00 – 22:30; Sunday 8:00 – 21:30
Again, beach. There’s a big main room, with enormous floor-to-ceiling windows that open, ceiling fans, big plants and a general airy, spacious feeling that’s really nice. This includes a big, open four-sided bar that’s right by the door, and has big television sets – the ideal place to watch a Giants or Niners game. Finally, there’s a lot of outdoor seating on the Boardwalk itself – a big deck that overlooks the Bay, and the municipal beach volleyball courts, which are always busy if the weather’s decent. The deck is the perfect place – and I mean perfect – for a Bloody Mary and brunch again, if the weather’s nice.
Terrific. Very casual – this is a beach town, after all, and everyone looks like they just came in off the water, but they know their stuff, and enjoy what they do. Our server comped our coffee, and presented our dessert with a burning sparkler on top of it just because, you know, why not?
Ideal is not cheap. They have the best location in that part of Santa Cruz, and the best food, so dinner for two, with drinks, a shared dessert and a shared appetizer, came to $90.
The food is good, simple, fun beach food. It’s definitely not fancy – this isn’t Laguna Beach – but it’s good, expertly made and satisfying.
Our shared appetizer was an artichoke bruschetta. It was really good, and a lot livelier and more interesting the regular bruschetta – good strong artichoke flavor, a LOT of artichoke, and five pieces. Great start.
My entrée was blackened mahi-mahi. This was good also – seriously seasoned and spicy, which is how it ought to be, topped with cheese and peppers, and served with a side order of rice and steamed vegetables. Nothing super-fancy or tricky, but good, and exactly the right thing after a day at the beach – seafood, simply prepared, veggies, rice, done. Great.
Beth’s dish was Chicken Parmesan, the ultimate simple, straightforward chicken dish, and was also terrific. Properly done, served over Rigatoni, topped with cheese and finished under the broiler. There was also a very generous portion, which is great – this is the kind of dish that is perfect when you’re really hungry, and Ideal took care of that.
Dessert was cheesecake, chosen from a simple list of six or so of the standard offerings – crème brulee, cake, etc. It was good also, and came with the nice finishing touch of a sparkler, compliments of our friendly, outgoing and all-around-good server.
Ideal is the perfect place for a big, happy, relaxed meal after a day on the beach. Simple food, expertly prepared and delivered in a setting that I’ll bet is what Jimmy Buffet had in mind when he wrote every single sing he ever sang.