Have you ever left a restaurant and wondered “Who gave these people a business loan?” Right. Then you know how I feel now that I’ve sampled what is advertised as “Classic Southern Italian Cooking” at the new place on Soquel Avenue. If you know the food business, or have an experienced cook, or even a few killer recipes — it would make sense that you might want to open an eating place. Lacking any of the above, opening a restaurant in a town full of creative food, is simply suicide.

I have no wish to hurt anyone pouring heart and soul into a new business. But vanity restaurants should pay us to stop by. A person who knows nothing about cars wouldn’t be wise to open an auto body shop, right? So why would merely opening a few cans and putting some over-sized photographs on the walls qualify someone for restaurant ownership?

Southern Italian? I don’t think so. Southern Philly, maybe, but the unseasoned tomato sauces, brick of tepid polenta (I do mean “brick”), the neutered chicken broth floating with macaroni and cannelini beans — none of these is authentically Italian. The deal is, Santa Cruzans do know a little something about Italian food. So you can’t simply pretend that calling the food “Italian” is good enough. Here is a dining hall that asked me to pay $8.95 for the aforementioned brick of polenta doused with what tasted exactly like a can of tomato sauce in which eight tiny pieces of ground meat were suspended. That’s not Italian. Or even hearty Italian-American. That’s a rip-off.

And this in a neighborhood with inexpensive, fresh, high-flavor foods at Charlie Hong Kong on one end, and the fresh, creative, inexpensive salads, pastas and sandwiches of The Buttery on the other.
I can’t recoup my $18. But I can pass along my caveat.

Kitchen in a coma.