SOME DAYS OF THE YEAR... you long for a simple scoop of vanilla ice cream, the kind that can handily be found at most any sweet shop in your neighborhood. Sometimes you want the perfect burrito, the one that's lush with beans and loads of chile. And very often, in life, you require the tender succulence of a deep-fried artichoke, the kind of bite that's further enhanced by a creamy, tangy dip.
The funny thing, of course, with cravings, is that while you can't visit a field where ice cream scoops are grown, nor, sadly, a burrito tree, you can visit Castroville, which is Artichoke Central, aka Artichokelandia, aka The Heart of Hearts. And you can chow upon on deep-friend artichokes and grilled artichokes and steamed artichokes just steps from where so much of the artichoke growing action goes down, out in the vast rows upon rows of the thistle-amazing edible.
ONE FAVORITE SPOT... to do so happens just outside Pezzini Farms, a large and bustling Castroville stand where you can bag up all of the chokies you want to cook later at home, and your artichoke cupcakes for dessert, and your artichoke water, for drinking, and your artichoke plates and cups and aprons and your artichoke everything. Look just to the left of the open-front stand's entrance and you'll spy the green Choke Coach, a regional go-to that's served up thousands of chokies during its 7+ years in business. While The Choke Coach has a sizable menu, you'll want to search out the pointy leafy goodness and the several forms it arrives in, on a plate, because that's what you've come to enjoy, right?
DEEP-FRIED ARTICHOKES... with lemon-dill dipping sauce or or ranch or garlic-dijon is a popular choice, you'd probably guess, though if you like your chokie with a bit more char to it, there's a grilled choice and the classic steamed. You can also get your deep-fried beauties in a full-on wrap, if you want less of a snack and more of a lunch (it comes stuffed with other goodies, from parmesan to tomatoes to lettuce and more). And all the while you get to bask in that oh-so-Castroville air, those soft, ocean-close breezes that this magical foodstuff gobbles up while it grows. Okay, yes, science surely has more of a definitive explanation as to why artichokes grow so well in Castroville beyond the whole air-gobbling thing, and science might even figure out a way to grow burritos on trees (fingers crossed). But all we really need right now is a small paper boat brimming with deep-fried artichoke chunks and some dip nearby. You can always find the coach, by the by, at Pezzini Farms, but there's a second green truck out there around the region, visiting special events like Wings Over Watsonville and various local fairs. Oh, be still our (artichoke) heart.