Occidental-based artist Les Claypool is a man of many talents, from being the lead vocalist of the band Primus and avant garde artist to creating his own wine label. Add to the resume: Official namer of the most popular breakfast dish on the menu at Zosia Cafe & Kitchen in Graton.
The “Eggstravaganza” is a steaming bowl of fried rice with bacon, onion, celery and jalapeno with an over-easy egg draped over the top ($7.95). It’s a hearty little day-starter, made even more delightful by the fact that Claypool himself is sitting at a table next to me, possibly dreaming up other breakfast monikers. It seemed rude to ask.
The tiny hamlet of Graton just got the restaurant it’s been waiting for in Zosia. Open by husband and wife team Monika and Slawek Michalak, it’s a quirky-cool cafe that’s Wine Country enough for the espresso and pinot-set, but offbeat enough for the likes of locals like Claypool and the West County artist community to tuck into Loco Moco, Polish pierogi and borscht on weekday afternoons, while discussing life’s pressing issues.
The Polish couple, who worked with Claypool on his wine label, have transformed the corner of Graton Road and Edison St. into an inviting space with a large outdoor patio, a forthcoming Airstream coffee stand and a cozy European-style kitchen and cafe with great food, sleek lines, and original art created by GM Dawid Jaworski (another Pole and Barndiva alum). Suffice to say its a worthy addition to the destination-worthy and celeb-friendly Willow Wood and Underwood restaurants within spitting distance of the new cafe.
But what brought us out, in the pouring winter rain, was the half of the menu devoted to authentic Eastern European comfort cuisine, something sorely lacking in Sonoma County.
“There was just a need for it,” said Slawek. “Everyone comes from somewhere,” he said, and many people recognize Eastern European foods from their grandparents or great-grandparents.
Primarily served at lunch (the restaurant is currently open for breakfast and lunch only), Russian chef Ekaterina Zaitseva has an ever-changing lineup of rib-sticking dishes from cabbage borscht and Siberian “pelmeni” dumpling soup, to kielbasa, polish crepes and hunter’s stew called “Bigos”.
Slawek says the staff have daily discussions (okay sometimes ongoing arguments) about the dishes, because each of their families have a slightly different way of preparing them.
Take the borscht ($5.95 cup) for example: We tried it on a day it was make with a tomato base, cabbage and potatoes. No beets.
“We use beets,” said Slawek. So another day, he said, they’ll have it with beets. It’s the same for the pierogies ($8.95 for six), which some days are a little bigger, some days a little smaller, with different fillings including pork and beef, potato and cheese or sauerkraut and mushroom. “Polish are usually a little bigger,” said Slawek.
Polish crepes ($8.95 for three) filled with farmer’s cheese, or savory meat and veggies, are better known as blintzes, or in my Hungarian family, palatschinke. Whatever you call them, they’re breakfast perfection, made from scratch.
Cabbage rolls ($8,95) are another Eastern European favorite, filled with pork, beef and rice, and twice as good the next day (so order enough to take home). Zaitseva, who previously worked at the European Food Store (2790 Santa Rosa Ave., Santa Rosa), makes almost everything in house, so put yourself in her hands and try something you’ve never heard of — like the daily special of Bigos ($8.95), made with sauerkraut, beef, and a mix of spices that ends up being a warm winter hug in a bowl.
“There’s a story behind every dish,” said Dawid, explaining each of the unique plates piled in front of me.
Keep in mind that that Eastern European dishes are only about half the menu. The kitchen has a solid grasp on more California-style cuisine as well, with a solid burger, hearty salads and a luxe pulled pork sandwich that doesn’t rely on gobs of sauce for great smoky flavor. Breakfast includes eggs, omelettes, pastries and breakfast sandwiches, along with espressos and coffees.
Most dishes are under $10, and are perfect for sharing. Don’t miss checking out Slawek’s 1965 R695 BMW motorcycle on display in the cafe that’s still in running condition (though Monika prefers it stays behind glass than with Slawek riding it.)
And the name of the restaurant, pronounced Zo-she-a? Their eight-year-old daughter’s. Seems Claypool suggested that one too.
Zosia Cafe and Kitchen, 9010 Graton Road, Graton, 861-9241. Open Wednesday through Monday for breakfast and lunch, closed Tuesday, zosiacafe.wordpress.com.