Rinkside Cafe Serves Slamming — and Fresh! — Favorites
With sporting venues on a welcome rebound, Ice in Paradise recently reopened in Goleta and is now in the swing of winter sports such as ice hockey and figure skating. But that’s not the only reason crowds are returning to the rink.
Mysael Val Valerdi and Sean Bentley, the visionaries behind Ice in Paradise’s newest culinary concept, Rinkside Cafe, have a knack for creating finely crafted sports grub — the kind you dream about on Super Bowl Sunday.
The options include hand-tossed, thin-crust pizza pies with house-made dough, crushed tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, fresh herbs, and mozzarella and topped with an arsenal of fresh meat and garden vegetables ($20); as well as baskets of crispy chicken wings smothered in homemade barbecue sauce ($10) alongside sweet potato fries ($3.75) and roasted buffalo cauliflower florets covered in a tangy red sauce served with shaved carrots and celery sticks.
Previously the pair worked side by side for a decade at Zizzo’s Cafe in Goleta. Valerdi learned the business side as cafe manager, while Bentley churned out fresh pastries and healthful snacks to go with the cafe’s just-brewed coffee and specialty beverages. For a time, the pair worked at Ice in Paradise when Zizzo’s managed the rink’s cafe from 2016 to 2018. Their friendly customer service and from-scratch menu made an impression on customers. But when Zizzo’s closed last year during the pandemic, Valerdi and Bentley were free agents.
Prior to working at Zizzo’s, Bentley, who grew up in Santa Barbara and attended culinary school at SBCC, worked in just about every role you can in a kitchen — from dishwasher to line cook. At The Garden and Tyger Tyger, he paid close attention to cooking with fresh ingredients and learning new culinary styles.
When Ice in Paradise made them an offer last June, Valerdi and Bentley signed on as manager and head chef, respectively, and have been working alongside its team to develop the menu.
“When we heard there was an opening at the cafe, we pitched our vison of a cafe with our unique menu and style, that would draw crowds from all over not just ice skaters, but every culture and age,” Valerdi said.
With its jovial atmosphere and crafty menu, the cafe is a perfect pitstop for any occasion.
Inside, sporting events stream on the wall-mounted TVs. Outside, a chef’s herb garden provides a relaxed, farm-to-table ambiance as well as fresh ingredients.
Striking a balance of tasty sports grub and healthful snacks is an important part of their mission, Valerdi said.
On the counter there are baskets of fresh fruit and bags of nuts alongside an assortment of candy and homemade granola bars.
“The granola bars and house-baked chocolate chip cookies are very popular,” Valerdi said.
The cooler is stocked with beer, wine, bottled waters, sparkling Pellegrino, kombucha, and soda pop. The coffee and hot cocoa are always served fresh and hot.
Crowd pleasers also include hot dogs, subs, and tacos.
The Santa Felicia Street Dog is a bacon-wrapped, all-beef frank with grilled onions, peppers, pickled jalapenos, ketchup, mustard, mayo, and crema ($5).
Bentley takes the same dough he uses for the pizza, adds rosemary and cheese, and bakes focaccia rolls for the sandwiches ($8). The Italian sub is stuffed with salami, ham, pepperoni, mozzarella and spicy mustard, then toasted and topped with romaine lettuce, bell pepper, red onion and vinaigrette. The chicken pesto sub with cherry tomato and basil is simple and savory.
Tuesday is no ordinary Taco Night. Bentley prepares a variety of fillings such as juicy pork garnished with cotija and mozzarella cheese, cilantro, onion, and radish, and dressed in a smoky guajillo sauce (made with jalapenos, lime, vinegar, and salt). Or choose from a variety of other fillings such as slow roasted chicken, veggie/vegan, shredded birria (beef), and spicy Korean pork with kimchi and sriracha. Tacos are served in corn tortillas grilled until crispy. Tacos are only $3, except beef, which is $3.50 — making these hearty and delicious creations perfect for any budget.
“They’re like street tacos, but we add our own special touch,” Valerdi said. “We assemble them with love; they’re not rushed.”
On any given weekend you’ll find Valerdi and Bentley working in tandem in the kitchen. A group of teenage figure skaters donning sweatshirts and floral Vans slip-ons enter the cafe and ask Bentley if the chocolate chip cookies are out of the oven yet. On the patio, a few dads share a pizza and a pitcher of beer while their toddlers munch down on pizza bagels.
Valerdi said the cafe has an ongoing flow of ice skaters and families but increasingly it’s filling up with diners who are coming in to sample the menu as well as local beer and wine selections.
“We’re here to serve food and it makes us happy to see people enjoying it,” Bentley said.
6985 Santa Felicia Drive in Goleta. Open 4-11 pm Monday-Friday; 8 am-10 pm Saturday-Sunday. For more information on public skate and hockey schedules visit www.iceinparadise.org.