Cafe Ella sits across the street from the imposing Tuttle Mansion on East Lake Street. Undaunted by the storied Victorian era neighbor, Ella King and her staff prepare some of the finest café food in the Pajaro Valley.
The location in the corner of an office building belies the friendly homeyness of the café, surrounding you with easy chairs, houseplants, wood cabinets and the warm fragrances of wood-fired pizza and brewed coffee. On a sunny day, you can take advantage of the small, enclosed garden patio, shaded from the sun by a leafy tree and umbrellas.
I was a bit overwhelmed by the menu—so many choices. Breakfast at 2 p.m.? No problem; it’s served all day. I could top my Ella waffles with butter and lemon curd, real maple syrup or even sweet jalapeno cream cheese. For something savory, perhaps a brie and blackened ham croissant or a Mañana Panini with scrambled egg, caramelized onions, cheddar cheese and a choice of bacon, diced ham or spinach and basil. One might also go the healthy route with granola or steel-cut oatmeal with “golden flax.”
But I was in a late-lunch mood, so I ordered a cup of carrot soup and “The Local,” a hot panini sandwich with shaved roast beef, cheddar cheese, sweet jalapenos, Ella slaw and spread. I noticed that all of the sandwich ingredients are also offered as “panini wraps” in spinach, whole wheat or classic flour tortillas. But I went the traditional route, and chose the pressed sandwich.
I wasn’t disappointed, either. The shaved roast beef was hot and tender, and the jalapenos and slaw gave my sandwich a tangy bite. There was a pronounced citrus flavor to the coleslaw on the side. The soup was creamy and mildly sweet.
My companion ordered the Panzanella, a salad containing organic arugula and spinach, roasted bell peppers, tomatoes, feta cheese, cucumbers and capers with a basil vinaigrette. Overall, the salad was fresh and tasty, with one little glitch: The ciabatta bread cubes used as topping had completely absorbed the dressing and were soggy.
I chatted with the friendly server behind the counter, Maricruz Santillan, who informed me that Ella King has been running the café for more than four years. She has recently opened another branch in Hollister, where only brunch and dinner are served. The Watsonville cafe serves breakfast and lunch, and closes at 4 p.m.
The cafe serves all types of espresso drinks, coffees and teas from Alta Organic Coffee and Tea in Davenport. There is also a tempting selection of 16-ounce “smooth and cold drinks” with some fun combinations. The “Chocobanella,” for example, combines Guittard chocolate, along with bananas, vanilla yogurt, apple juice and soy milk. The Pinemangella contains a tropical mix of pineapples, mangoes, bananas, vanilla yogurt, orange juice and soy. You can add in whey protein or bee pollen if you like.
The fact that there are pastries from Kelly’s French Bakery in Santa Cruz is a nostalgic plus for me. I lived across the street from Kelly’s in Santa Cruz for several years and loved its fresh pastries and breads. For dessert, I ordered a slice of luscious strawberry-rhubarb pie, which came with a dollop of real whipped cream—a perfect ending to my lunch.
Next time, I’ll try the wood-fired pizza. There’s plenty of good food at Cafe Ella to keep me going back for more.
734 E. Lake Ave. #1 in Watsonville. Open Monday-Saturday, 6:30 a.m.-4 p.m. 831-722-0480. WI-FI available. cafe-ella.com