Monday, April 02, 2018

Group Picnic Catering @ Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

Sometimes, you don't just eat food at restaurants, or in your home, or in a friend's home.  Instead, you attend catered events.  Like ones at the beach boardwalk in Santa Cruz.  For hundreds of people.

And ... the quality is about as you'd expect, although it was a very professionally run, smooth operation, no easy feat for a group that large.

The Setting

We had a large group, and thus had several private spaces, both inside and out.  There was a main food serving station inside and one outside, with the same menu in both places, plus several large banquet rooms with seating inside, and plenty of picnic style seating outside.  It was relatively easy to flow through the spaces, our wristbands allowed easy access to both.
Inside Bar Area.
I failed to take any other interior photos but it was just a large banquet hall with several rooms.  This is the bar where soft drinks were served.  As you can see, it was very spacious.
Picnic Area.
Outside was tons of picnic tables, some on fake turf, some on a deck, some on the beach.

The Food

The Santa Cruz Boardwalk group "Beach Party" Packages have several options for each course, along with some standard items.

For sides, all menus include veggie baked beans, and a choice of two salads (garden salad, pasta salad, potato salad, Asian salad, 3-bean salad or Caesar salad).  Our hosts picked the pasta salad and garden salad (the ones I'd consider the least interesting!  I was hoping for potato, Asian, or at least caesar), but the dressing for the garden salad was surprisingly good.

All menus also include veggie burgers, but then our hosts were able to pick 3 main meat entrees from the list of hamburgers, hot dogs, BBQ chicken, BBQ ribs, pulled pork, a fajita bar, teriyaki chicken, coconut shrimp and tri-tip.  Ours picked BBQ chicken, BBQ ribs, and hot dogs (likely because we had so many kids attending).  We also had two other veggie entrees (stir fry and ratatouille).  None of these were great.

Finally, they had the choice of potato chips or garlic bread, and curiously picked the garlic bread, a kinda strange choice given our entrees (don't chips go better with hot dogs and ribs? Seems like the garlic bread is more geared towards the tri-tip and teriyaki chicken crowd ...), but the garlic bread turned out to be the highlight.

The included dessert was fruit salad and ... ice cream bars!  The ice cream offered were Blue Bunny sundae cones, classic It's It, and Klondike bars, although the later were available in a very limited quantity.  Since I've had, and reviewed, the others before, I was thrilled that I was able to snag one of those limited items.
Buffet Spread.
The food was served buffet style, in several areas to accommodate our large group, one outside area, and one inside.  Each section had two lines for carnivores, and a separate line for vegetarians.  Everything was well labeled, and replenished constantly.  The staff here clearly know how to handle groups.
Regular Menu.
The non-vegetarian serving lines started with two salads, followed by sides, followed by three entree choices.  The menu was:
  • Pesto Pasta Salad
  • Garden Salad
  • Vegetarian Baked Beans
  • Garlic Bread Sticks
  • Hot Dogs
  • BBQ Chicken
  • BBQ Ribs
The BBQ items at the end were served by attendants, everything else was self-serve.
Garden Salad, Pasta Salad.
The salads were ... ok.

The pasta salad was corkscrew pasta in a creamy sauce, with shredded carrot and bits of olive.  Not particularly flavorful, not particularly interesting.

The garden salad had some redeeming qualities actually.  A good mix of assorted greens, including whole endive that I liked.  The carrots, cucumber, and tomatoes were pretty standard low end products, but the lettuces really weren't bad.

There were three dressings, ranch, thousand island, and another I forget.  I really liked the ranch, and went back for seconds of the salad, really just to eat more ranch.  I also found it made a great dipping sauce for other things ...
Baked Beans (V). Garlic Bread Sticks (V).
The baked beans were actually fine, fairly flavorful, nicely cooked and not too mushy.

But the bread sticks!  They were the star!  (Yes, I realize how crazy this sounds).

I really, really liked them.  They were soft and doughy, but a bit crispy on the bottom.  They were warm.  Really well seasoned, including something red (?) and a really nice garlic flavor.

I dipped mine in the ranch dressing, and loved it.  Even though I knew I had coupons to spend on the read boardwalk, I went back for another of these instead of going to get fries or something more fun, because I really, really, really liked them.
Hot Dogs, BBQ Chicken, BBQ Ribs.
The mains for carnivores were hot dogs, bbq chicken, and bbq ribs.

They were strangely controlling over the chicken and ribs, served by an attendant, with strict instructions that you could have one or the other, and only one piece.  But then they offered that you could come back as many times as you wanted from 11-3:30pm, as long as you got a fresh plate each time.  Uh, ok?

I didn't have the chicken or ribs, but I had a hot dog.  I love hot dogs, but these ... weren't great.  Classic beef, no snap nor char to the cases, kinda grainy inside.  Meh.

Our packets with our silverware included ketchup, mustard, relish, and mayo, which helped a little, but, meh.
Vegetarian Menu.
Each main serving area had a line dedicated for vegetarians.  The menu included the same first 4 items (the sides) from the other lines, but also three entrees:
  • Pesto Pasta Salad
  • Garden Salad
  • Vegetarian Baked Beans
  • Garlic Bread Sticks
  • Veggie Burgers
  • Steamed Brown Rice
  • Tofu Vegetable Stir Fry
  • Vegan Ratatouille over Steamed Spaghetti Squash
I found many vegetarians didn't know those lines were there though, and thought that they only had sides to eat.
Vegan Ratatouille (V).
"Seasonal veggies in marinara over steamed spaghetti squash."

I didn't try the ratatouille.  It seemed kinda random at a beach bbq.
Tofu & Seasonal Veggie Stir Fry (V).
I did try some stir fry, mostly just the onions and bean sprouts, but it was just flavorless mush.
Veggie Burgers (V).
I didn't try the veggie burgers, they looked rather standard.  On the side was lettuce, tomato, pickles, and red onion to top them, and seeded buns.

I did have some pickles, they were generic but tasty.
Soft drinks were available in many locations, some via self-serve soda fountains, others just laid out on the bar.  All sugary sodas, Pepsi products.

We also had a few types of beer (yes, Bud Light, Coors, and the like), and a single red and white wine to choose from.  I tried some of the red wine, it was unremarkable.

The wine/beer areas were also where ice cream was served.
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