Blue Ridge Kitchen
Sebastopol’s Barlow center is having its close-up moment. After some stunning lows over the years — namely, the 2018 flood that left shops and restaurants literally underwater — the sprawling outdoor marketplace is suddenly a poster child for outdoor entertainment in the pandemic age.
Restaurants are bustling, as are taprooms, tasting rooms, and stores, as those in need of a little vitamin D with their craft brew gather, socially distanced, for a much-needed outing.
The newest entrant is Blue Ridge Kitchen, a Southern(ish) restaurant that was designed to be a sort of something-for-everyone spot similar to Napa’s Rutherford Grill or the iconic Buckeye Roadhouse. With plenty of fast-casual and cocktail-cool dining concepts in the Barlow, Blue Ridge is the approachable anchor restaurant missing since the departure of zazu farm + restaurant in 2018.
Not that fellow Barlow restaurants, including Sushi Kosho, The Farmer’s Wife, Barrio, Acre Pizza, and Fern Bar don’t have their own brisk followings. It’s just that Blue Ridge is where you take your mom for a two-mimosa brunch with fried chicken and waffles so good she’ll forgive you for the belly button ring in 1997.
Like a good SpongeBob episode, Blue Ridge Kitchen transcends its intended audience. Chef Matt D’Ambrosi (Spoonbar, Harmon Guest House, Pizzando) is keen to throw a few curveballs with deconstructed plating (Mississippi mud pie), culinary winks such as Asian pear coulis with the tuna tartare and an anise-y fennel-pollen ricotta in his tomato salad, and surprises like saffron béchamel and caviar classing up the Croque Madame.
Sure, there are moments when things like sumac powder or endless microgreens seem overly fussy. But chefs live for accessorizing their dishes. We think Coco Chanel summed it up best, however, when she decreed that a well-dressed plate should always have one thing removed before leaving the kitchen. Or something like that.
Don’t miss the Croque Madame, $25, which is the Liberace of sandwiches. Its jeweled capelets of griddled brioche sit in a dainty puddle of golden saffron bechamel. Up top is a jaunty chapeau of sunny-side-up eggs and sequins of caviar. Peering inside, you’ll find a symphony of fontina, country ham, and freaking lobster. You can’t look away from that.
Also especially special is the Fried Chicken and Waffles, $19, petite thyme and rosemary waffles that keep their structure, with two manageable pieces of perfectly fried chicken. Bigger isn’t always better. Bits of bacon and smoked syrup bring the whole thing together. I approve this dish.
What we’ll return for: It’s pretty impossible to get through the menu in even three or four visits, but we’re looking forward to trying the Roasted Cauliflower Steak; Matt’s Smash Burger; a dino-sized Tomahawk steak; and the Chef’s Raw Platter, a fresh seafood tower.
Blue Ridge Kitchen. Open daily from 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. (until 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday). 6770 McKinley St., Suite 150, Sebastopol, 707-222-5040, brkitchen.com
Filled with meat, vegetables, and cheese and wrapped in corn husks or banana leaves, these ancient corn masa cakes are the original fast food. But Sonoma County radio host and businessman Neil Pacheco wants to elevate this ubiquitous street fare into something far grander. Pairing the salsas and long-simmered homemade moles of his Oaxacan ancestors with a handful of California cuisine-inspired ingredients like extra virgin olive oil, finishing salt, edible flowers, and microgreens, Pacheco has created Tamales Oaxaqueños, a newcomer to Roseland’s Mitote Food Park.
Pacheco teamed with longtime tamale-maker Maria Castillo of Tamales Magos to produce the tamales and make his dream a reality. Don’t miss the tamales de puerco en mole Oaxaqueño negro (pork tamales in Oaxacan black mole), featuring a mix of cinnamon, citrus, and chocolate. This long-simmered sauce tastes like Christmas morning.
Open 4-10 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. 655 Sebastopol Road, Santa Rosa, in the Mitote Food Park
Quick Hits for Takeout
Mary’s Pizza Shack: The new crispy chicken sandwich ($10.95) is as good as I’d dared to hope. A toasty brioche bun, not-too-thick fried chicken patty, chili mayo, Parmesan cheese, and pickled onion with cabbage and arugula slaw pairs perfectly with my third glass of Chardonnay. My go-to however, is their chicken parmigiana ($14.75) with tart tomato sauce, melted provolone, and creamy fettuccine Alfredo. I eat it while hiding in the garage from my family. Ten locations throughout Sonoma. maryspizzashack.com
Taqueria California: My kids discovered this spot on Doordash and we’ve never looked back. The crispy carnitas and al pastor tacos were still shockingly good even after they sweated it out in a delivery driver’s car. In fact, these are the tastiest carnitas I’ve had in a very, very long time. Leftovers were perfect while we watched a bloodred sunset and chunks of ash falling from the sky. 750 Stony Point Road, Santa Rosa, 707-595-3363.
Zoftig Eatery: Is falafel a vegetable? I’ve decided it is. This breakfast/lunch spot near Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital is doing a brisk business satisfying stresseating hospital workers and my family. You can go either way here, with a kindahealthy falafel wrap (hummus, cucumber raita, pickled onions, veggies, tahini dressing, sparkles of hope) or the K-Town buttermilk-fried chicken sandwich with gochujang barbecue sauce, sesame aioli, jalapeño, and lime. A perfect handheld lunch for those days when you’re walking in circles questioning reality. 57 Montgomery Drive, Santa Rosa, 707-521-9554, zoftigeatery.com
Haku Sushi: Wacky sushi rolls with names like Thunder Down Under and Funny Feeling Down There. Hours of parental giggling ensue as your teenage children roll their eyes in disgust after hearing your phone order. Win! 518 Seventh St., Santa Rosa, 707-541-6359.
Castaneda’s: The family “Super Snack Pack” comes with six crispy tacos, four burrito halves, tater tot nachos, and grilled shrimp ($40). Order one for them, then sneak another into your bedroom and lock the door, yelling, “No one home!” when anyone knocks. Also an ideal reward for crabby husbands who’ve been stuck “homeschooling” the children all day. 8465 Old Redwood Highway, Windsor, 707-838-8820.