Tom McNary does not run a vegetarian restaurant.
Discovering meat, poultry and fish on the menu has often come as a surprise to a number of first-time patrons to Carried Away, a café located in Aptos Center offering both dine-in and takeout with seasonally-based menus.
“Many people think that we’re a vegetarian place, but we’re just a restaurant that serves a lot of vegetables,” said McNary, owner and chef of Carried Away. “We’ve been basically buying from local farmers ever since the day we opened. We’re lucky that we have such a huge amount of farmers to draw from in this area.”
Established in November 1989, Carried Away quickly became and has remained a regular stop on early Saturday mornings for a number of farmers and vendors participating in the Monterey Bay Certified Farmers Markets. Before the farmers arrive at Cabrillo College for the Aptos market, they drop off their orders at the cafe, which is located just down the road on Soquel Drive.
That isn’t to say that McNary, a native of Oahu, Hawaii, isn’t a regular at the market. After all of his orders arrive, he heads over to the market every Saturday to search for inspiration.
With 85-90 percent of its ingredients organic, Carried Away is open during lunch and dinner hours and offers soups, salads, sandwiches, entrees and desserts made from scratch daily. Handmade thin-crust pizza is available Tuesday, Friday and Saturday. The restaurant is closed Sunday.
“It’s a pretty small menu, but it changes all the time,” McNary said. “Sandwiches, soups and salads change daily while entrees change weekly. We also cater all types of events. It’s very accessible, well-balanced, simple food. We’re pretty straightforward, yet there’s a lot of technique involved.”
Technique that McNary, 52, first began to learn while still a teenager.
“I was recommended to go to a junior college to study underneath an Austrian named Ken Wolfe, whose culinary program was well known at the time,” said McNary of his days at Contra Costa College, located in San Pablo near Richmond. “He had developed a reputation for turning out high quality cooks. It was basically a free education, as opposed to going to a culinary academy.
“I went to school from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and worked at a restaurant from 3-11 p.m., six days a week for three and a half years,” McNary continued. “That’s a pretty typical European-style apprenticeship.”
McNary graduated with a certificate from Contra Costa College and later earned an associate’s degree from Cabrillo College, where he also taught in the culinary program for a semester.
Credits on McNary’s resume include cooking at the esteemed Chez Panisse in Berkeley as well as at the Stanford Court Hotel and the South Park Café, both located in San Francisco.
He moved to the area the same year that he opened Carried Away. He currently oversees a staff of six at the 1,100-square-foot café, which has become a popular destination for both Cabrillo College faculty and students as well as personnel from a number of medical offices located in the area.
“I think one of the reasons that we have been around as long as we have is that our customers know that the ingredients we use are pretty pure,” McNary said. “I believe that you should start with the best ingredients that you can and do the least amount to them. It’s important to cook with all five senses and be honest with your food.”