There’s a reason you’re not going to see “America’s Top Caterer” anytime soon on the Food Network. Not because catering chefs aren’t as talented as the blustery toques waving chef’s knives and pork tattoos for the cameras. It’s because hard-working caterers—the amazing culinary wizards who can somehow make dinner for 400 inside a pop-up tent, with two broken burners and a crying bride —aren’t in it for the glory. They’re in it to make the food that make the event.
And that’s why I have a special place in my heart for folks like Chef Christopher Ludwick, a longtime caterer (Grapevine Catering) who recently opened Earth’s Bounty Kitchen and Wine Bar in the former Fresh by Lisa Hemenway (5755 Mountain Hawk Way, Santa Rosa, 827-9700). Yeah, the name’s a bit of a mouthful, but so’s the food. Meaning there’s plenty to stuff your face with—and then some.
First off, the massive interior has been radically transformed. Where Hemenway’s combined restaurant/market/coffeeshop space felt a bit, well, confusing, Ludwick has created distinct spaces: A deli and retail shop in front, the cozy wine bar/restaurant to the right and an enviable catering kitchen taking up much of the back.
But the food is really the star here. BiteClub fell to pieces over nearly everything on the compact and well-curated menu. A charcuterie board ($13) with a changing lineup of salamis, fight-over-the-last-bite pate, pickled veggies and Cabernet mustard (ours also featured duck rillettes and head cheese); a tiny iron skillet with pork cheeks, charred tomatoes and Vella Dry Jack ($10) cooked the wood oven; the Earth’s Bounty Burger with violet mustard, Cabernet onion jam and Vella cheddar on a Village Bakery English muffin ($13); “Mac and Cheese” ($12) which is less like Kraft and more like a creamy, dreamy dish of orecchiette, mushrooms, shallots, melty cheese and buttered crumbs; chicken and waffles ($18) with rosemary-bacon waffles, country gravy and collard greens (we could eat the collard greens for weeks); and most especially the ever-changing desserts, which include a homemade “Ding Dong” (Devil’s food cake, ganache, marshmallow cream and other wickedness) or a warm fruit crumble with mascarpone.
Perhaps we should mention the pizzas. The wood-fired oven has been moved into the restaurant, with its incredible heat doing double duty as pizza cooker and meat and vegetable roaster. Neopolitan-style, thin crust with just a hint of bubbly burnt bits, the pizzaiolo spins everyday nibblers like the margherita or mushroom (with chevre and olive oil, natch) as well as pepperoni and specials like maitake mushroom, truffle oil, prosciutto and Toma cheese ($13-$16)
Don’t call Ludwick’s restaurant farm-to-table, though, he says with an eye roll. “We’re Sonoma Farm Country Cuisine,” says Ludwick, which turns out to be 53 local farms and producers bringing of-the-moment ingredients to his doorstep. And your mouth.
Earth’s Bounty Kitchen, open for dinner from 5 to 9p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, Sunday 11a.m. to 4p.m. 5755 Mountain Hawk Way, Santa Rosa, 827-9700