Santa Maria Sun / Eats
Act Two: Actor's Corner Café in Solvang is now the stage for an actor-turned-chef and his leading lady
BY WENDY THIES SELL
It doesn’t get much better than summer in Solvang—sunny days, shopping, eating, and sightseeing in the “Danish Capital of America,” and magical evenings under the stars seeing a show at Solvang Festival Theater.
This season, before taking your seat at PCPA’s zany play Noises Off or the popular musicals Forever Plaid or Oklahoma!, consider dining at a new restaurant right across the street from the theater.
Actor’s Corner Café, which opened last fall, is an elegant European-style restaurant, owned and operated by husband-and-wife team Santo Cervello and Grace Lebecka.
Cervello, a native of Calabria, Italy, was a stage actor for 40 years in Canada, where he also trained and worked in numerous restaurants from Toronto to Vancouver.
His leading lady, Lebecka, an immigrant from Poland, had a successful career in the high-fashion retail industry dressing celebrities in Beverly Hills. She was the Versace fashion house’s No. 1 salesperson worldwide in 2004 and 2005.
She brings her finely honed customer service skills to the restaurant, gracefully managing the front of the house.
Three years ago, the couple moved to Solvang and found the restaurant space at 443 2nd St., just feet away from the Solvang Festival Theater, was for sale.
It was kismet, so to speak, for the retired actor ready for a new role.
“I saw the theater across the street, and I said, ‘This would be a beautiful place because I’m close to the theater,’” Cervello said. “We thought there was such a theatrical vibe here. It’s a great fit.”
The couple with an Old World attitude feels at home surrounded by all the European influences in “Little Denmark.”
“In our bones and genes we have that consciousness already that the food has to be gourmet, delicious, and it’s an experience; it’s a social event,” Lebecka said.
“Not only do we provide wonderful, delicious healthy food, but also a very nice ambiance. We want everybody to enjoy the experience of being here, sitting here, relaxing,” she added.
Lebecka warmly explains to each customer: “We take time to prepare the food, because it’s gourmet. Santo cuts the tomato as the order comes. He cuts the pickles. He tears apart the lettuce. Nothing is pre-prepared. You can feel the difference, and usually the clients are so appreciative, they don’t mind waiting.”
Cervello mentioned that the café will offer a special menu during PCPA’s summer season, “then we can serve everybody quickly.”
The menu has a handful of healthful entrees and a few salads and desserts.
“Each dish is a masterpiece of its own,” Lebecka said.
Entrees include the juicy, delicious chicken breast with white wine cherry sauce, cooked in lemon and fresh rosemary and served with potatoes roasted in organic olive oil and an organic side salad sourced from the farmer’s market.
The Kobe beef burger is cooked in olive oil and topped with pickles, tomato, and melted cheddar on ciabatta.
“You get a beautiful taste,” Cervello said, adding that customers have told him it’s one of the best burgers they’ve eaten.
Lebecka explained, “We order the highest quality of meat, of chicken, Kobe beef, and other ingredients.
“We also have wonderful Italian inspired dishes. We have a gluten-free lasagna with tofu that’s all vegetarian,” she said.
The café also serves capellini Bolognese with Kobe beef; and three cheese risotto—housemade risotto with goat, sharp cheddar, and imported Parmesan cheeses, served with a 5-ounce filet steak and local mixed greens.
The café’s wine list consists of boutique Santa Barbara County wines such as Larner, Ampelos, Cold Heaven, Stolpman, Blair Fox, and movie star/winemaker Kurt Russell’s GoGi pinot noir and chardonnay.
“Actors come and eat here. Actors from out of town come here,” Cervello shared.
He didn’t divulge names, but clients also include producers and casting directors.
“Lots of people from Hollywood,” he said.
But you don’t have to appear on the silver screen or be bards “on the boards” to dine at the Actor’s Corner Café; ordinary people are more than welcome, too. Some even come multiple times a week.
The quaint café promotes interactions, likely thanks to the friendly owners.
“We found that even lonely people can come here and find friends,” Lebecka said with her attractive accent, followed by her warm laugh. “They will be adopted by somebody.”
When not wining and dining, Sun wine and food columnist Wendy Thies Sell can be contacted at email@example.com.
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