Downtown Santa Rosa has upped its craft beer, cocktail and duck fat fries quota with the opening of the long-awaited Beer Baron. With a stunning remodel, the former Rendez Vous Bistro has become the European-plaza style eatery it has long deserved to be—complete with front-row Fourth St. people-watching.

With breezy open design and an outdoor patio just steps from Courthouse Square, Beer Baron has some of the most coveted seats in town.

We stopped in during their first lunch service (the lunch and dinner menus are the same) to see how the Chandi Hospitalilty Group were getting along in their collaboration with their Beer Baron collaborators (there are Beer Baron pubs in Pleasanton and Livermore). So far all signs are good for this simple pub and kitchen concept, which has been packed since opening.

Pork nuggets at Beer Baron in Santa Rosa. Heather Irwin/PD

Pork nuggets at Beer Baron in Santa Rosa. Heather Irwin/PD

On tap are about 25 beers, ranging from Fieldwork Island Time sour ale and HenHouse Brewing’s Big Country Pale Wheat to Racer 5 IPA from Bear Republic, Green Zebra Gose from Founders Brewing, and a nitro Chocolate porter from New Bohemia. The whiskey selection really impresses, with plenty of local spirits including offerings from Charbay, Spiritworks, Ukiah’s Low Gap, and Sonoma County Distilling. There are a handful of whiskey cocktails, including a fig shrub julep that was refreshing, if a little heavy on ice and light on julep.

Beer Baron’s soft-opening menu is simple and approachable, made for sharing with bar snacks, small plates and entrees all under $20 (most between $7-$10). The menu is almost identical to that of the Pleasanton restaurant, so they’ve had time to work out the kinks and find out what dishes resonate.

Chicken waffle with Fresno chili at Beer Baron in Santa Rosa. heather irwin/PD

Chicken waffle with Fresno chili at Beer Baron in Santa Rosa. heather irwin/PD

Don’t Miss:
– Duck Fat Fries ($7): These thick Belgian-style fries are fried in duck fat, giving them a uniquely light, crispy texture that’s so craveable you’ll be smart to snag a couple orders. Served with sides of aioli, chipotle ketchup and curried mayo, they’re one of my favorite dishes of the month.

Baron Burger ($16): A meaty 7oz. patty made with angus, short rib, tri tip and brisket, cooked medium rare is one of the better burgers downtown (we also love Bibi’s Burger Bar’s Cabernet Burger and the Drive-In burger at Third St. Aleworks). The Baron Burger comes with duck fat fries, cheese, ale mustard and aioli.

Fried chicken and waffles, $15: Marinated in Frank’s Red Hot sauce and buttermilk, the fried chicken is solid, served with a fluffy waffle, sliced chilis, maple bacon butter, and syrup. Solid, and better than fancier versions I’ve had.

Needs Work:
– Hoisin Chili Lamb Riblet, $12: Though plenty of these seemed to be going out to happy customers, ours were drenched with sticky sweet hoisin sauce and the lamb was a little gamey for our palate.

We Also Tried:
– Beer braised carnitas tacos, $10: Nothing spectacular, but nothing off. Great happy hour noshing, but the flour tortillas were a little too gringo to wow us.

– Smoked Olive Oil Guacamole, $8: Avocados with red peppers and smoked olive oil. Interesting. Our friends loved it.

Beer Baron in Santa Rosa. Heather Irwin/PD

Beer Baron in Santa Rosa. Heather Irwin/PD

– Pulled Pork Nuggets, $10: Pulled pork hits the deep fat fryer, resulting in crispy little squares of, well, pulled pork. With bbq sauce. Strange, but a great base for a couple ‘o pints.

Overall: The best restaurant real estate in downtown Santa Rosa is open for business again. With great drinks, a shareable, approachable menu and friendly staff, Beer Baron is a perfect after work meeting place and lunch spot. Open until 1a.m., its also a great late night hangout.

Brunch and happy hour menus coming soon.

614 Fourth St., Santa Rosa, 707-757-9294, beerbaronbar.com.