Dining editor Heather Irwin picks some favorite spots for summer dining in Sonoma County. Click through the above gallery for dishes to order.
Let’s not mince words. Cornerstone Sonoma has long sought, and sometimes failed, to find an audience. It’s a lovely spot with sculpture gardens, tasting rooms, and aspirational design shops.
But the glue necessary to bind it together was never there, as restaurants quietly came and went without adding to the cohesion of a larger whole.
Until now. Folktable — a project from “Top Chef” finalist Casey Thompson and executive sous chef Melanie Wilkerson — is transforming meh into magnificent. After an extended ramp-up, Folktable has spread its wings with an expanded menu, dine-in seating, and patio service in the magnificent gardens. With flowers blooming, warm sun shining, and a bustling brunch set packing the place, it’s safe to say this spot is one of summer’s big hits.
Sitting under a sprawling olive tree, we couldn’t imagine a lovelier meal: fried chicken, tater tots smothered in Kewpie mayo and bonito flakes, and a big farm salad, each dish better than the last. Folktable also has a menu for dogs (of course), coffee and pastries from an outdoor kiosk, and the Best Buttermilk Carrot Cake, which lives up to its name.
Fried Chicken Goujons, $18: This is just a fancy name for chicken fingers — juicy breast meat pieces covered in sticky chile-honey sauce and served with sweet, milk-washed Hawaiian rolls, pickles, and jalapeño dipping sauce.
Turkish Eggs, $13: This dish is a beauty. Poached eggs top warm Greek yogurt punctuated by Aleppo chile butter and crunchy shallots. Dip in crusty slices of sourdough for a satisfying breakfast or brunch.
Okonomiyaki Tots, $13: Here’s a riff on the savory Japanese pancake dish, topped with creamy Kewpie mayo, sweet barbecue sauce, scallions, and bonito flakes.
Open Wednesday through Sunday. 23584 Arnold Drive, Sonoma, 707-356-3569, folktable.com
Casino Bar & Grill – The Holly and Tali Show
The Casino Bar & Grill is a place to discover accidentally and then love unconditionally. As visitors crane their necks to see the steeple of the Saint Teresa of Avila church, made famous in Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds,” they tend to overlook an old wooden building that leans into the road at the center of town. For more than 100 years, the nondescript structure — with its neon red “CASINO” sign out front — has stood as a simple roadhouse. (It’s never been an actual casino.) Inside, the space is dark and woody, with creaking floors and an old jukebox in the corner. It’s not a place begging for attention from hipsters for its lineup of craft brews.
On Monday through Thursday nights, local chefs and caterers Holly Carter and Tali Aiona put on the Holly and Tali Show at the Casino, preparing dinner menus reflecting the surrounding fields, farms, and fisheries.To call it a pop-up isn’t quite fair, because the duo have been creating destination-worthy food here for nearly six years — in a kitchen barely larger than its twoburner stove.
Recent menus included Panizzera sausage and brisket lasagna; orange-olive oil upside-down cake (their baked goods are incredible); Dungeness crab mac and cheese that beats every version I’ve ever had; kale and Brussels sprouts salad with prawns; tikka masala; and cider-brined pork chops with red lentils.
Don’t go in with any preconceived ideas. Just let Holly and Tali cook for you.
Nimble & Finn’s
Guerneville’s legendary ice creamery has quietly opened a Santa Rosa outpost in Railroad Square with seasonal flavors like front porch mint chip, lavender honeycomb, and whiskey butterscotch. There are also boozy ice cream floats: We love the Permanent Holiday, featuring creamy Meyer lemon ice cream, Lo Fi sweet vermouth and Goat Rock rosé cider, and the summery Strawberry Letter, which combines strawberry sorbet, vermouth, elderflower, and Champagne. Either goes great with one of their gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches.
Open Thursday-Sunday. 123 Fourth St., Santa Rosa, 707-666-9590, nimbleandfinns.com
The opening of Americana is a dream come true for Samantha and Ryan Ramey.
The owners of Estero Cafe in Valley Ford saved for years with the hopes of bringing their field-to-fork diner fare to Santa Rosa. After simmering on a back burner during the pandemic, the restaurant is all ready for summer, with odes to classic American comfort food—think 1950s favorites like burgers, fried chicken, and onion rings with a side of the best pie you’ve ever had, all sourced from local farms and ranches.
Even in its infancy, Americana is the kind of uncomplicated, from-the-heart food that speaks to the moment. Best bets include the burger with blue cheese, mushrooms, and bacon—a mouthful of a meal on a Village Bakery bun—plus a fried chicken sandwich with coleslaw for extra crunch, a classic Cobb salad, and thick milkshakes with Straus ice cream. Americana’s holy grail French fries are cooked in beef tallow, just like original McDonald’s fries. Frying fat comes from Stemple Creek Ranch (as does the beef for the burgers) and is rendered in-house. It’s not a simple process, but the results are undeniable.
Open Thursday- Sunday. 205 Fifth St., Santa Rosa, 707-755-1548, americanasr.com
After a long renovation of the former Whole Pie location in Santa Rosa, the iconic Kenwood Italian restaurant best loved for its Caesar salad, lasagna, and crave-worthy pasta sauces is once again in business – with a twist.
Owners Luca and Linda Citti are now focused on takeout (though there are a handful of coveted seats on the outdoor deck). Pizzas, pasta, salads and sandwiches are queued up with amazing efficiency and ready to shuttle home to your table. There’s a lot of mix-and-matching on the menu, pairing sauces with pastas or polenta, which we love. Don’t miss the fried polenta with mushroom sauce or the pollo affumicato, a smoked chicken with tomato, and lemon cream sauce that’s perfect on anything.
Open Tuesday- Saturday. 2792 Fourth St., Santa Rosa, 707-523-2690, cafecitti.com
“Beverly Healdsburg,” as locals sometimes call the once-sleepy ranch hamlet, is not known for its beer and chicken wings scene. But the one thing Healdsburg cannot abide, more than big-screen televisions the size of small trucks? Uninspired food. That’s why we’re smitten with Coyote Sonoma, in a hidden space in downtown’s Mill District. The spot’s Wednesday night trivia nights are becoming legendary, and the place feels like old times, when we could laugh and play games and shout out answers together.
Chef Tim Vallery has turned a ho-hum menu into something worthwhile: Reuben sandwiches with melted Gruyere; red wine arancini; and Pitman Farms chicken wings with housemade blue cheese dressing. Coyote Sonoma is just what we need right now: the familiar flavors of fun with a deft hand in the kitchen.
Open Wednesday – Saturday. 44F Mill St., Healdsburg, 707-433-4444, coyotesonoma.com