To claim the pinnacle of any sport, elite athletes understand they have to use the finest fuel. Arguably the greatest Olympian ever, Carl Lewis, swore off animal-based proteins while training and drank upwards of 32 ounces of juice a day.
What follows is a blueprint for what our county locals might locate when it comes to the best bodily inputs. Only thing is, a steady sequence of Gianni’s pizzas, Abalonetti calamari and Parker-Lusseau desserts, while all winners, would lend itself more to gold-medal gluttony than any shot at a 100-meter world championship.
271 Bonifacio Plaza, Monterey 646-1620
1232 Broadway Ave., Seaside 394-7798
Yummy is the operative word here, what with the incredible ham-and-cheese croissants and the top apple turnovers, each cooked to a flaky-buttery perfection. One after another, people enter Paris Bakery’s doors from 6am to 6pm in their pursuit, and one after another gets stuck to the gleaming pastry window like a suction cup. There are classic sticky buns and pineapple upside-downs, bear claws and angel wings, muffins and a variety of croissants. The taste isn’t the only thing appetizing about Paris: You can purchase a pastry for only two or three dollars. These treats are built to brighten your morning, afternoon or evening.
9 Soledad Drive, Monterey
Elmo cake. Golf-caddy cake. Ladybug cake. Storm Trooper cake. From holidays to birthdays, sports events to weddings, owner Tony Nuovo and team are ready to make any cake fantasy a reality. All cakes start at $20 even, and each is upgraded with fresh flowers, ribbons and words free of charge. Specialized themes and flavors are available in blockbuster sizes; cupcakes arrive in white, chocolate, lemon or red velvet with buttercream or cream cheese frosting; slices of their bestselling Death by Chocolate and the marzipan-covered sponge favorite called simply “princess” are also imminently edible. No matter how unique the treat, the service remains consistently attentive and comprehensive, which is why, for yet another year, Layers takes the cake.
401 Lighthouse Ave., Monterey
In an unassuming Victorian on Lighthouse Avenue hides one heckuva barbecue joint. In business for a little over two years, Henry’s cooks up succulent slabs of tender meat slathered in homemade sauce with an array of delicious sides. Ribs and tri-tip are some of the offerings available to send one into a carne coma; chicken and Hawaiian-style pulled pork can also deliver knock-out satisfaction. The cozy residential house setting with antique signage on the walls and a faux fire lends a certain charm to the dining experience, but it’s the experienced grill masters in the back and a helpful and friendly front-of-house staff that’s central to Henry’s success in fashioning finger-lickin’ foodstuffs. One more thing: the homemade bread pudding with warm whiskey sauce is superb, so save room.
570 Munras Ave., Monterey, 372-4930
201 Crossroads Shopping Village, Carmel, 626-8054
The first order of business when building an r.g. burger is choosing the real estate between the bun: ground beef, ground turkey, chicken breast, bison or vegetarian falafel (served with tahini dressing instead of the special r.g. sauce). Next comes the costuming. There are 20 different ways to go, from the creamily decadent béarnaise, drenched in the synonymous sauce and sautéed mushrooms, or the popular western barbecue, covered with cheddar cheese and topped with grilled onions and r.g. barbecue sauce. The only things left to do: Take a bite of the personalized patty, chew, swallow and repeat.
Chipotle Mexican Grill
500 Del Monte Center, Monterey
There is a line out the door for a reason. OK, a few reasons – maybe as many reasons as there are notable nicknames for Chipoodle. There’s the full creative control of burrito assembly that puts the customize back into customer. There’s the freshly steamed, flour tortillas and the cilantro-lime rice. There’s the fact that thanks to the fajita veggies, robust beans and hearty corn salsa, herbivores can leave as stuffed as carnivores. And the fact that they earnestly and accountably source their stuff as locally as they can.
Abalonetti Seafood Restaurant
57 Fisherman’s Wharf, Monterey
An assortment of little grappling hook-like tentacles and tender tubes, Abalonetti’s flash-fried calamari ($9.95) is a plate of golden brown goodness. Unlike other local restaurants, Abalonetti processes its calamari from start to finish. According to the restaurant’s managing partner, Kevin Phillips, Abalonetti receives its fresh calamari from the local purveyor, Monterey Fish Company, and employs two guys five days a week just to clean it. “We process it,” Phillips says, “all the way to your plate.”
Compagno’s Market and Deli
2000 Prescott Ave., Monterey
Ten-hut! Listen up, you seaweed-sucking cuisinartistas: This is actionable intel! The people have spoken, and that means that only one deli can lead this ragtag outfit. Compagno’s Market and Deli, a dietary (term used very loosely in this case) staple of the adjacently interned armed forces and sandwich-loving locals, in large part due to the large parts that make up these tank-sized monster-pieces. A full-sized Marine Special (chicken breast, bacon, Caesar dressing, pepper jack cheese and a full arsenal of produce and condiments, on huge rolls) will stuff you goofy for two, maybe three meals. And that doesn’t include the mandatory explorations into the rarely seen regional chips (like Herr’s Heinz Catsup – usually seen only on the Eastern Seaboard) or rare sodas (Cheerwine – Carolina treat) and beers that effervescent, funny and friendly owner Bennett Compagno stocks to please his globe-hopping clientele.
242 Forest Ave., Pacific Grove
Meat your makers. The guys behind the counter at Grove Market know their trade. Lamb kabobs? They’re marinated, skewered and ready to go. Butterflied whole chicken? Come back in 15 minutes and it’ll be done. Pork belly? They can order it for you. Plump turkey or juicy rack of lamb for the holiday table? It’s a cinch. Even if it’s a succulent roast chicken or a stuffed pork chop you’re after, here tonight’s supper can be ready in minutes. For over 40 years, the butchers at Grove Market have been the indomitable dinner fairy, whether it’s for everyday or special occasions. It’s all top quality meat, freshly cut and proffered with a smile.
The Cheese Shop
Carmel Plaza, Junipero at Ocean, Carmel
A few years back, when the California Lottery was pumping out clever commercials faster than a scratcher addict could rub off numbers, one ad captured the imaginations of cheese lovers everywhere: A lottery winner, wandering blissfully through a grocery store, suddenly realizes, “I could totally afford all this cheese.” It’s a feeling of wow akin to walking into The Cheese Shop, the delightfully aromatic Carmel space that sells upwards of 300 varieties annually (with upwards of 200 normally in stock) of miraculously formed milk byproduct and everything one could possibly need for a serious cheese-feasting session: wine, tapenades, jams, nuts, honeys, vinegars (deep breath, inhale) and crackers, cookies, olive oils, chocolates and more cheese. Kent Torrey and company do more than hand over a slice of cheddar and call it a day, which is why they’ve been commercing in curds in Carmel since 1975. “A lot of places let people buy without knowing the flavor, but we give people tastes and give them an education,” says salesperson Katie Glitz. The first question on the shop’s list of Frequently Asked Questions is, “How long will cheese last?” “Until it’s gone,” reads the first line of the answer.
Michael’s Grill & Taqueria
197 Country Club Gate Ctr., Pacific Grove, 647-8654
265 Reservation Road, Marina, 884-2568
321 Main St., Salinas, 754-8917
Nothing spells take-out like convenient, fresh, affordable and delicious, and Michael’s – which started in Pacific Grove in 1986 and has since expanded to Marina and most recently, Salinas – has got the formula down: the mouth-watering blackened chicken and shrimp house specialty, killer wet burritos, mean beans, generous portions of guac and sour cream, and homemade salsa and chips. The “Big Rule” for Michael’s kitchen is like this: “If it looks like mama’s, get it on a plate real fast. If it looks like Aunt Janna’s, go home, have a cold one and call me in the morning.”
452 Alvarado St., Monterey, 372-5242
2160 California Ave., Sand City, 392-1581
539 Carmel Rancho Blvd., Carmel, 625-5180
1132 Forest Ave., Pacific Grove, 649-6272
1110 Northridge Shopping Ctr., Salinas, 449-1110
969 W. Alisal St., Salinas, 758-0280
Totally baked is good, especially fresh every morning, as are the B.B.’s flagship circles of doughy goodness, bound to calm the familiar beast called hunger. Nearly 20 various bagels and nine different cream cheeses create an almost-endless list of combinations, before you customize by way of deli favorites – ham, turkey or pastrami, among others – or elect to select a signature bagel sammie. For veggie lovers, the super seed bagel with fresh alfalfa sprouts, tomato, red onion and creamy avocado knows no peer on the Peninsula. Fast service and affordable pricing only help to makin’ this bakin’ the Best of Monterey County.
Acme Coffee Roasting Co.
485-B Palm Ave. (on the alley), Seaside
Acme owners Larry and Jacki Thurman inspire a comparison to Han Solo and Chewy (metaphorically, of course), and their funky, garage-like coffee shop where they serve up javalicious beverage is their Millennium Falcon. Their fight – “Resist Corporate Coffee” – is gaining traction locally, and each year, resistance to the Empire grows. The reasons, no doubt, go well beyond the philosophical: Their beans are roasted on site with love and a craftsman’s precision and are being sold to an ever-increasing number of local restaurants and stores. For the uninitiated lucky enough to stop by and enjoy a cup at the shop, be sure to keep dogs out of the garden lining the parking lot, lest they be “shot and eaten.”
Coffee Mia Brew Bar
250 Reservation Road, Marina
Coffee is an art to Horace Mercurio. That’s why, when he noticed a need for a premium drip coffee bar in Marina, he took matters into his own hands and opened Coffee Mia Brew Bar three years ago. Using Santa Cruz Coffee Roasting Company’s Special Espresso for all espresso-related action, he has perfected the balance between bold espresso, froth and steamed milk. The friendly and welcoming atmosphere, tunes of Michael Bublé, large windows and brightly painted walls combine with the carefully crafted caffeine to create a cheerful context, as does a procession of regulars and house-made treats that range from breakfast burritos to tri-tip panini sandwiches to cannolis and cheesecake.
731 Munras Ave., Monterey, 643-0300
539 Hartnell St., Monterey, 641-9188
40 Ragsdale Drive, Monterey, 655-3030
Husband-and-wife co-owners Anne Parker Johnson and Yann Lusseau met in Belgium. Thank goodness. If they hadn’t, Monterey County wouldn’t have met their beautifully handcrafted petit fours, rich arrangement of cakes, tarts, cookies, eclairs and artisan chocolates. This sweet little abode-away-from-home also offers a full breakfast and lunch menu, with mouthwatering morsels such as the tomato-goat cheese quiche ($5) and the open-faced portabella tartine ($6.75).
685 Cannery Row #103, Monterey
491 Alvarado St., Monterey
Self-determination is the foundation of America. It’s also the foundation of froyo. That’s not a famous hobbit; it’s a frozen yogurt creation made to your own enterprising specs. MYO (make your own), the brainchild of Toro Park locals Jamie and Stew Roth, takes the concept to delicious heights at two Monterey locations. A rotating lineup of eight yogurt selections include the classic choco and vanilla, plus non-dairy, no-sugar and tart flavors. All of them are rich in probiotics, calcium and Vitamin B2, and are low – or non-fat – unless, of course, you pile on mounds of cookie dough, Butterfinger bits and hot fudge. It’s your call. (Fresh local fruit and nuts also inhabit the abundant toppings bar.) It takes a lean concept to be successful in lean times, but MYO’s done it: Franchises in Salinas and Gilroy are coming soon.
725 Lighthouse Ave., Monterey
For New York City-style pizza in Monterey, Gianni’s comes through like a taxicab. They can take a pie to the unprecedented places with specialties like the Meatzilla (sausage, pepperoni, Canadian bacon) and Pesto di Mare (spinach pesto with sliced tomato, shrimp and garlic). But when it comes down to it, it’s still all about the way Gianni’s does its simple, medium-thin crust covered with fresh tomato sauce and loads of mozzarella. The brick walls and red – and white-checkered tablecloths always add to the deliciousness of killer pizza.
1488 Constitution Blvd., Salinas
The great writer/director Nora Ephron once wrote of rice pudding, “It’s a very personal thing.” If ever a line applied to a food, it’s this one, only the food in question should be chicken wings. Chicken wings are the ultimate in personal preference. For some, it’s strictly the drumette. For others, it’s the wingette (you know, that boney section that’s NOT the drumette). And boneless? C’mon. You’re not even trying hard. But at reader favorite Wing Stop, with locations in Salinas and Watsonville, personal preference rules. A 10-piece wing (bone-in or, sigh, boneless) can be splashed with up to two of the chain’s nine sauces, from “atomic” to lemon-pepper to garlic-parmesan to sweet Hawaiian. We did the math: With three types of wings, nine sauces, six sides and three dips, you’re facing a long life of Wing Stop combos – 486 unique permutations in all.
For fans of the I Love Lucy show, Ricky Ricardo was comic relief with a Cuban accent. For Babalocos (as Babaloo groupies are called), it means sinking your teeth into layers of slow-roasted pulled pork, ham and gooey Swiss cheese pressed between crusty Cuban bread. Weekly readers love fun, and fun is on the menu at this roving restaurant. Fun food – “Fred and Ethel” (seafood sliders) or a “Little Ricky” (coffee ice cream with cookie crust), anyone? – is served up from a 1986 Chevy truck painted with rambunctious rumba dancers cavorting in the palm trees by none other than flamboyant owner Gladys Parada. Who else can pull off wearing a pineapple and grapes on her head?
445 Reservation Road, Suite U, Marina
It’s already a given, after eating a sandwich at Wild Thyme Deli in Marina, that Terry Teplitzky has an imaginative culinary vision along with attention to detail. But before he opened the deli, he started his catering business, which has consistently been serving works of gastronomic creativity around the Peninsula since 1997. Whether it’s a three-course holiday menu starring roasted maple-brined pork loin or an entire Mediterranean-themed wedding offering bistro-style rotisserie chicken with kalamata olive and artichoke salsa, the Atlantic City native can make any social event a lot tastier.
Crazy Horse, Bay Park Hotel
1425 Munras Ave., Monterey
Beets, berries and beans are just a few of the foods one can add to her salad when riding the Crazy Horse. Located within the Bay Park Hotel for more than 35 years now, the locals’ spot offers a comfortable, casual and affordable environment for breakfast, lunch and dinner, but it’s the salad bar that is boss – bring on the great greens, endless croutons, avocado, broccoli, cauliflower, grilled chicken, soup, curried shrimp with rice, potato salad, pasta salad, tuna salad and more, more, more. It’s also almost criminal to lay down just $10.95 for this all-you-can-eat treat, which includes a closing scoop of sorbet.
398 Alvarado St., Monterey, 655-9696
463 Canyon Del Rey Blvd., Del Rey Oaks, 583-0577
2160-C California Ave., Sand City, 583-9696
1552-A N. Main St., Salinas, 449-3200
815 Canyon Del Rey, Del Rey Oaks, 393-2090
Cue the Pomegranate Pick-Me-Up, Strawberry Wild and Peach Pleasure, Jamba classic favorites. Boost away with the help of a free protein, immunity, energy or daily vitamin add-in. Lighten the load with Mango Mantra, Berry Fulfilling and Strawberry Nirvana for a light smoothie from the new Jamba Light menu. But here the house motto, “We believe in the good stuff,” goes beyond blenders and berries: Recent evolutionary steps include probiotic fruit and yogurt drinks, non-dairy, gluten-free and vegan options, organic coffee brewed by the cup and Mighty Leaf Tea. And no more Styrofoam. There are acai, berry and banana peach toppers and sandwiches, wraps and salads on the side, even a Coldbuster to jump-start your immune system.
Parsonage Village Vineyard
19 E. Carmel Valley Road, Carmel Valley
Sardine Factory has long set the gold standard for wine lists locally. So when its wine director freaks over a new grape-juice discovery, it’s worth taking note. It happened the other day: “This is the best Syrah I’ve ever had!” Arvine Dutt gushed. To taste is to understand: This is full, lush and fruity – indulgent to the point of scheduling a visit to confession after a trip to their beautiful Carmel Valley Village tasting room or the vineyard itself for a wine club party, where the limestone and decomposed granite soils connive to produce some of the greatest Syrah grapes alive.
415 W. Carmel Valley Road, Carmel Valley
Good Chardonnay can be a little hard to come by – the best are aged in French oak barrels that run $1,000 a pop, after all. Since these folks run such a big operation (50,000 cases) they’ve got good equipment and access to great opportunities. In this Monterey County blend, the grapes come from the rarified Rosella’s, Sleepy Hollow and Paraiso vineyards. Expect slightly gold color and tropical fruit aromas that harmonize with the wine’s rather fat persona, though there’s enough acidity to lengthen the finish. The people who like buttery-oaky Chardonnays would love this, and Cote de Beaune aficionados might even sip this and say, “Thank you so much.”
223 Reindollar Ave., Marina
When your thirst for a real beer in a real pub in a real town overwhelms, head to resurgent Marina and one of its real gems. English Ales serves up nine English-style ales, from the popular, hopped-up Fat Lip Amber, to a bitter and crisp Corkscrew Ale, plus other tastes from all across the brewing spectrum, with wheats, IPAs, lagers, pales and porters. Have a mug there, or take home a growler for later fresh from the taps, or procure yourself a nifty sixer at a local liqueur store. When in doubt, do yourself a favor and try a majestic, marble-smooth Monk Brown Ale. Mmm. Thirsty…