Donna Maurillo, Food for Thought

With spring coming on and masks coming off, we’ve been getting out more often. That means discovering (or rediscovering) some of our favorite places to eat.

Gary and I have made Sugo Italian Pasta Bar a regular stop when we want a simple dish of pasta or a crispy pizza or focaccia. This compact place features an uncomplicated menu and a friendly staff.

Just down the block from The Crepe Place, it’s where you can select the pasta you like and top it with a choice of sauces. Or choose ready-made dishes like lasagna and eggplant Parmigiana. I love the focaccia, freshly baked thin crust topped with romaine lettuce, cheese, and smoked salmon. Pizza is made the same way, with a variety of toppings.

Sugo has also made me a believer in the Aperol spritz—a blend of prosecco, Aperol, a splash of club soda, and ice. Go to

My daughter just introduced me to Pretty Good Advice, a vegetarian and vegan place at 3070 Porter St., Soquel, just before Soquel High. They offer a menu of non-meat burgers, plus sandwiches, salads, soup, and soft serve “ice cream” made with oat milk. All items can be made vegan.

I ordered the arugula salad with strawberries, cabbage, nuts, manchego cheese, and a lemony dressing. Donna-Renée chose the kale salad with tangerines, shaved fennel, raisins, granola, and a creamy citrus dressing. Both made a satisfying lunch at $9 each.

We topped it off with swirls of chocolate and horchata soft serve. Dining in the garden patio was comfortable. And there’s a kids’ menu at $4 per item. Next time, I’ll try the lemon artichoke soup. Go to

Up in the valley

We’ve been hosting a young man from Italy who is a Cabrillo student. A few nights ago, Alessandro brought home a box of pastries from La Placa Family Bakery on Highway 9 in Ben Lomond.

Oh, yum! Flaky puff pastry was wrapped around a rich pastry cream. Another version featured apple filling. Self-control fell by the wayside as we ate our fill. We had to visit this place!

The rustic looking bakery is across the road from Casa Nostra restaurant. Its pastry case is brimming with many of my Italian favorites, like sfogliatelle, almond paste cookies, limoncello mascarpone cake, berry-topped crème brulée, bombolini, and more. Prices range from about $2-5. Plus, they have a gelato case with flavors like chocolate hazelnut, mint, mango sorbetto, and a dozen more.

Thin-crust pizza is also on the menu, with the pillowy edge that I love. Order your own toppings or select one of their specialties. Small pizzas with cheese start at $12 plus toppings, or $20.50 for large. They have no website, but visit them on Yelp for photos and reviews, where they rated just under five stars.

Mashed potato chips?

I haven’t tried this, but it might be a fun thing for the kids to make. Sam the Cooking Guy on YouTube says you can create mashed potatoes from potato chips. No, no, I’m serious.

Bring a cup of water to a boil in a saucepan. Add 3 ounces of potato chips and mush them down into the water with a spatula until they soften. Continue stirring and cooking until smooth and as loose or thick as you like. It makes about a cup.

Sam swears they’re great. You can even use flavored chips, like dill, or sour cream and onion, or barbecue. Just don’t add salt, but you can add a bit of butter, olive oil, cheese, or whatever.


Tomato sauce stains are surprisingly easy to remove. Just wet the fabric with water and set it out in the sun for about 15-20 minutes. The stain just disappears! I’ve been doing this since my kids were babies.


Cheesecake is welcome this time of year. It’s cool, creamy, and satisfying. Lemon cheesecake is especially refreshing. Make this a day ahead so it can chill sufficiently before serving. Thanks to My Baking Addiction for the recipe.


Serves 8-10


For the Crust

1 ½ cups graham cracker crumbs

½ cup almond flour (not ground almonds)

3 tablespoons sugar

6 tablespoons butter, melted

For the Cheesecake

1 cup granulated sugar

Zest of 2 lemons

4 8-ounce packages cream cheese, room temperature

4 large eggs, room temperature

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

⅓ cup heavy cream

For the Topping

1 cup lemon curd


1.     Preheat oven to 350F. Line the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan with a circle of baking parchment. Coat the inside of the pan with nonstick cooking spray. Tightly wrap the outside bottom and sides of the pan with two layers of heavy-duty foil, making it waterproof.

2.     Place the crust ingredients in a medium bowl. Stir until evenly combined. Spoon crumbs into the prepared pan. Press into the bottom of the pan and up the sides making an even layer. Bake for 10 minutes. Remove pan to a cooling rack.

3.     In a medium bowl, use your fingertips to combine the sugar and lemon zest until the sugar is fragrant. Meanwhile, bring several cups of water to a boil in a large saucepan.

4.     In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or in a large bowl with an electric mixer, beat cream cheese and lemon-sugar for about 2 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and mix 30 seconds more. Add eggs, one at a time, beating and scraping the bowl after each addition. The mixture should be smooth and creamy. Add the vanilla, lemon juice, and cream. Beat another 30 seconds.

5.     Pour the cheesecake filling over the crust. Place pan into a larger pan, such as a roasting pan. Pour boiling water into the larger pan until halfway up the sides of the cheesecake pan. Gently lay a piece of foil over the pan, leaving it loose enough for air circulation.

6.     Bake 55-65 minutes. The edges will appear to be set, but the center will still have some jiggle to it. Turn off the oven and leave the oven door cracked open. Let the cheesecake rest in the cooling oven for one hour.

7.     Then carefully remove the cheesecake from the water bath. Place on a rack to cool about an hour. Then refrigerate for at least 8 hours.

8.     Just before serving, run a knife between the crust and the pan to loosen it. Remove the sides. Top the cheesecake with lemon curd.

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