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Regulars Know, it's 'Mark's Place'

Moss Landing Café celebrates 26 years in the sleepy harbor town.

Locals call the Moss Landing Café “Mark’s Place,” referring to Chef de Cuisine Mark Couts, who has been running the café for over 2 decades. In fact, their 26th anniversary was just a few days ago, on May 28.

If you’re from the Pajaro Valley, you’ve likely driven through Moss Landing, passed the Moss Landing Café and maybe even stopped by for a meal. After all, it’s just a short jaunt south from Watsonville.

So if you haven't been yet, look for the white wooden building with red trim. Inside, the dining room is decorated in a nautical theme, a porthole at the front door, old photos of Moss Landing harbor, and an old fashioned diving helmet in one corner.

I like to think I’ve found a correlation between how well staff get along with each other and how good the food is in small restaurants and cafes. At the Moss Landing Café, the staff and chef keep up a relaxed, low-key banter with each other—and sometimes with local customers—as they work, or take their breaks. It was easy to spot the owner, because he was in the dining room talking to locals and staff. Things like that tend to move my good-food detection meter up a notch.

The final test is in the food. My friend, Michael, ordered the Dave’s Omelet. The Café specializes in seafood, so I ordered a Spinach Salad with sanddabs. I noticed that the servers are attentive, as well as friendly. After taking orders, they keep an eye on everything, making sure everyone has what they need. Best of all, they seem to enjoy their work.

Both of our meals came with fruit on the side, a slice of cantaloupe and honeydew. Michael’s omelet came with two big slices of wheat toast. The sour cream (listed in ingredients) was missing, however, in a heartbeat the server showed up to check on us and rushed off to fetch it. The chef had whipped finely chopped bacon, green onion, and avocado into the egg, and jack cheese was melted within, making for a fluffy, richly flavored omelet.

My spinach salad was dressed with vinegar and oil. It was topped by several pieces of fried sanddab, and a mound of thinly sliced fried onion rings, and accompanied by sliced jalapeños and tomatoes, tartar sauce for the fish, and two large pieces of garlic French bread. The delicate flavor of sanddabs can sometimes be lost if not cooked right. But these tasted fresh, moist and flavorful. The combo of spinach, sanddabs and delicately crisp onion rings made for a tasty and nicely textured salad.

The Moss Landing Café serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Seafood is their specialty; they serve “the best fish sandwiches and deep-fried artichokes around,” according to Couts. Try their Salsa Squid or Oyster Sandwiches. Dinners are simple, seasonal fish or grilled New York steak, but with a choice of tempting spicy and savory sauces, salsas and rubs. You can also get pasta, dinner sandwiches and salads.

Couts got his start cooking in Santa Cruz at local tourist eateries: the Dream Inn, Bocci’s Cellar, Denny’s and the DeLaveaga Golf Lodge, and his experience is evident. He purchases his seafood from the Moss Landing and Monterey harbors, and Stagnaro’s at the Santa Cruz Wharf. Most of his customers are return business. The quality of the food and friendly staff will keep you coming back to Mark’s place, where “everybody knows your name,” or will soon.

421 Moss Landing Rd., Moss Landing. Hours: breakfast and lunch daily, 6:30 a.m.—3 p.m. Dinner on Fri. and Sat., 4:30—8:30 p.m. 831-633-3355.

Cathy P. June 07, 2011 at 03:36 PM
Moss Landing Cafe has been our Go-To breakfast "joint" for years! And it's true, waitstaff really does remember your name (and your order if you're a creature of habit like me). The Friday & Saturday night dinners are amazing too. Mark is a great guy and will come and sit at your table and just talk if he has time. This is a little diamond of a place, I highly recommend trying it.
Cathy P. June 07, 2011 at 03:39 PM
For seafood, we go to the Sea Harvest in Moss Landing. Prices are the best and the seafood is the freshest I've ever had. Sabina will greet you at the door and make you feel like family. I've never had a bad meal at the Sea Harvest. They have a small but adequate wine list also. Make sure and sit out on the patio, especially at sunset, for a fantastic view of the harbor, sea otters and kayak-ers. IMHO, Sea Harvest is better than Phil's!!!
Jean Vengua June 07, 2011 at 11:27 PM
Thanks for the comments, Cissy. I will definitely return; I'm really curious to try the Cafe's squid and oyster sandwiches.

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