There are long vacations, weekend getaways and day trips, but the briefest escape is dining out, away from your home and its attending chores, immersed, for the duration of a meal, in a little world of someone else's devising. Only blocks apart, these two Arcata eateries offer very different transportive experiences: one recalling the pleasures of travel, the other reveling in 1980s arcade nostalgia.

The trip to Arcada is more about time travel than distance. Blocks from the Arcata Plaza, its door is a portal to the 1980s arcade of your dreams but with way better fries. Past the bar, with its eight taps and eclectic stock of beer, cider and soft drinks, the blinking lights and pinball bumpers beckon.

"P-nut and I have a similar background in terms of love for video games," says Amber Saba, who co-owns the joint with wife Kristen "P-nut" Thompson. "That is what we spent every quarter we had on." And not just as kids. The passion stayed with them well after opening Slice of Humboldt Pie (828 I St., Arcata), and fueled their collecting the vintage cabinet video games and pinball machines that line the walls. Unlike at most arcades, these babies aren't rentals and don't rotate out. While the insides are mostly updated, the cabinets and coin slots are old school — Centipede even has an ashtray from the days of ubiquitous indoor smoking. And before you ask, the pinball machines emblazoned with Houdini's flashing eyes, the Munsters and Jurassic Park dinosaurs are all 100 percent level. No tilting.

Thompson and Saba love to see customers reunited with their old favorites and nemeses. "It really does take them back to when they were 12," says Saba, recalling one woman who called her brother in Florida to get the old cheat codes they used to use.

The menu is meant to take diners back, too. As if their pie baking wasn't enough comfort food cred, Thompson's family ran a pizza parlor/diner called Stan's Pizza in Ohio. "Was anyone named Stan? No," Thompson says with practiced deadpan delivery. "I was there every waking moment." She and Saba built Arcada with nostalgia in mind, as well as "the love of everything diner, and really having this public space for people to hang out and eat and feel good."

Saba comes from a bowling family, regulars at an alley with a 24-hour diner that's still an inspiration. "We just try to give you that 1980s retro food we had back then. But a little nicer." Scratchmade sloppy Joes and jalapeño poppers are more than a few levels up from the snack bar at the skate rink. And the mozzarella sticks — hand-cut from a block of cheese and coated in homemade seasoned breadcrumbs — may ruin you for the frozen kind forever. The boneless Buffalo wings are another achievement unlocked, made with juicy wing meat under a crust that holds Saba's homemade sauce.

The challenge — other than beating the high score on Moon Patrol — is choosing what to mix and match. Thompson encourages guests to imagine they're 12 again and follow their bliss, covering beer-battered fries, nachos or tots with pulled pork, bacon, beef or veggie chili, sloppy Joe filling — whatever. Then there are the homemade dipping options: avocado sauce, cumin lime sauce, ranch, Cajun ranch, nacho cheese, bleu cheese and pico de gallo salsa.

If it's been a while since you turned your tongue slushie blue, consider the pair of churning tanks at the end of the bar for a non-alcoholic blue raspberry or a frozen sangria served in a snifter with a bright little organic jelly fruit slice, kiddo. While most of the week is for the 18-and-up crowd, kids are welcome on Saturdays from noon to 5 p.m. On a sunny day, don't be surprised if the lot is closed to make room for cornhole and ping pong tables.

The bright sidewalk tables and chairs in front of Renata's Creperie pick up the colors in the mosaic of birds and waves on the exterior wall. There's more mosaic inside, including at the bar seating in the back, where Sarah Griswold peels hot crepes from the four raised griddles on the other side. The whole place is a bit of a mosaic, an assemblage of lush flowers, colorful pieces of art and craft from all over, furniture from India, Morocco and Mexico, and jewel-toned walls under a punched tin ceiling. Born to Latvian immigrants, owner Renata Maculans is an enthusiastic traveler and wanted diners "to go in and feel like you're in a different part of the world."

"I came to Arcata to paint and fell in love with the farmers market," says Maculans. She arrived in town flush with cash from working on an Alaskan fishing boat and in 2000, on her 30th birthday, opened a crepe business in a converted postal truck at the market on the Arcata Plaza. The Hungry Farmer crepe — stuffed with garlic-rosemary mashed potatoes, Jack and feta cheeses, onions and sour cream — was among the truck's first offerings and remains a menu staple at the restaurant. "That was one where I could feed the farmers and feed myself and it would sustain us all day."

Maculans is partial to seasonal specials that draw on the haul of summer fruit at the farmers market just down the street, where she once parked her crepe truck. She also loves crepes that play on a balance of sweet and savory, maybe a little heat, like the Amber Rose. Slices of crisp apple offset smoked bacon, onion, brie, scrambled egg, chili flakes and crème fraiche in a nutty buckwheat crepe. It's a popular standard and the one Griswold grew up eating as a regular with her family.

Manager Lorenza Simmons-Phillips has been loyal to the Got Yer Goat — a buckwheat crepe stuffed with Rumiano Jack cheese, chevre, sauteed mushrooms and spinach, sun-dried tomatoes and artichoke hearts — since the truck days. On the sweet side, she may steer you to the Righteous Babe, a delicate wheat flour crepe with homemade whipped cream, zigzags of chocolate hazelnut sauce and strawberries and raspberries tucked within. And yet there's something to be envied when you see the simple lemon, sugar and butter crepe folded onto a plate and passed to another table.

There's a full slate of espresso drinks, including a mocha served in a two-hander of a bowl and topped with a cumulus dollop of whipped cream and Ghirardelli chocolate shavings. The star one-hander is the mimosa flute, either classic orange or a surprise juice on the specials board. Either encourages you to linger and maybe give that lemon crepe a try after all.

Pin It



Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Latest in Drink

About The Author

Jennifer Fumiko Cahill

Jennifer Fumiko Cahill

Jennifer Fumiko Cahill is the arts and features editor of the North Coast Journal. She won the Association of Alternative Newsmedia’s 2020 Best Food Writing Award and the 2019 California News Publisher's Association award for Best Writing.

more from the author

Out 4 Business

Out 4 Business @ Phatsy Kline’s Parlor Lounge

Last Thursday of every month, 5-7 p.m.

© 2023 Humboldt Insider

Website powered by Foundation