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3 Sonoma Restaurants to Try Right Now

New restaurants, new dishes and best bets for summer dining.

Bayou On The Bay

Sebastopol and elsewhere

Waking up to the aroma of frying beignets at his grandmother’s house in Louisiana is one of chef Bradley Wildridge’s earliest memories. Cajun through and through, he has jambalaya in his blood and roux in his soul. “Yoo-hoo!” was his grandma’s call for him to get out of bed and make a beeline for the kitchen, where the warm, yeasty puffs waited.

Now Wildridge and his wife, Mandy, make the same beignets each Sunday at the Sebastopol Farmers’ Market under a small tent emblazoned with the name of the fledgling food business, Bayou On The Bay. It’s been less than a year since Wildridge got serious about his dream of French-Cajun fusion and offered his first pop-up menu. “I just asked some friends one night after beers,” he explains— and things grew from there. Dishes include curry jambalaya, crawfish meat pies, and muffuletta sandwiches, plus other rotating menu items. Mandy Wildridge’s Cajun Cake features moist, dark crumbs studded with pineapple, and takes me back to childhood granny cakes made with brown sugar, pecans and pineapple.

So. Freaking. Good.

With a small fryer, mise en place, chafing dishes, and portable cooktops, the couple dances around their 10-by-10-foot market space, turning out orders efficiently and smiling at curious passersby. They often host pop-ups at local breweries—at one recent event at Seismic Brewing, a new sushi rice lager (brewed with sushi rice in the grist) was the perfect pairing for the bright, bold, spicy, utterly fusion flavors of Bayou on the Bay. Ça, c’est bon, y’all.

Muffaletta sandwich at Bayou on the Bay. (Heather Irwin/Sonoma Magazine)

Best Bets

Smoked BBQ Mac and Cheese, $15: Smoky Joe Matos cheese is the base for creamy macaroni topped with BBQ mushrooms (possibly my new favorite food), crispy onioavns, jalapeños, and BBQ sauce. You can add chicken, bacon, or andouille sausage, but it’s pretty perfect on its own.

Crawfish Deviled Egg, $7: Crawfish are the lobster of the bayou—they have a similar sweet and briny meat, just in an abbreviated package. At Bayou On The Bay, their little tails are sauteed in truffle butter and set atop a spicy deviled egg— they’re not three-alarm hot, but they do have a kick that’ll make your eyes water.

Curry Jambalaya, $15: Here’s where the fusion surfaces. Curry and coconut milk are added to traditional jambalaya spices and a Cajun “holy trinity” of onions, bell peppers and celery. Chicken and sausage stud the rich, aromatic stew, a delicious mash-up that somehow makes a ton of sense.

Big Spoon Sauce Co.

Occidental

Chili crisp is more than a condiment, it’s an obsession. A mix of crunchy shallots, garlic, red chiles and oil, this Chinese sauce is good on just about anything. The point isn’t to burn your face off, but to add a giant plop of sweet, salty, crunchy, zingy umami to everything from ramen to scrambled eggs to ice cream (really).

Chili crisp from Big Spoon Sauce Co. in Occidental. (Nathan Bender)

Of all the many crisps we’ve tried, the most complex, delicious, and fun to eat is from Big Spoon Sauce Co. Nathan Bender and Lani Chan have day jobs creating content for wineries, and in their off-hours, they make a Sichuan chili crisp inspired by their time in China. “We wanted to tailor a product to our own tastes, with an olive-oil base and playing with local stuff,” Bender says.

Bender and Chan use roughly 40 ingredients, including mushroom powder for umami, peanuts, sugar, cardamom, star anise, and fennel. They also craft a crisp made with fermented black soybeans, and plans are in the works for an extra-spicy version, too.

Available at many west county farmers markets and at bigspoonsauceco.com.

Psychic Pie

Sebastopol

The vibe might be psychedelic, but this chef-inspired Roman-style pie isn’t messing around. This spring, the funky pizza pop-up from Bay Area baker Nicholi Ludlow and his wife, Leith Leiser-Miller, has found a permanent home in Sebastopol. The shop’s rectangular 9-inch-by-9-inch pizzas are sold by the pound, along with salads, wine, beer, and the world’s most buttery cookies. Ingredients are locally sourced and the pizza dough is naturally fermented. You can choose a fresh slice out of the oven, or a par-cooked pizza to finish baking at home, for a better-than-delivery experience.

Flavors change frequently, with face-meltingly amazing toppings including pepperoni and Estero gold cheese; potato, bacon, Fontina, spinach, and brown butter-leek Mornay sauce; or vegan tomato, olive, and fried rosemary sauce.

980 Gravenstein Highway S., Sebastopol. 707-827-6032, psychicpie.com

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