As restaurateur Lowell Sheldon walks through the construction zone that will soon become Handline, the only visible reminder that this space was once a Foster’s Freeze is a small room on the western end of the building. The 1950’s powder blue tiles are, at least for now, still on the exterior, and the ghosts of a million soft serve cones and chili cheese fries hang heavy in the air.
Come September, this room will become a tortilleria, where Sheldon’s partner, Natalie Goble and her staff will make authentic, house-ground corn tortillas by hand each day.
Those tortillas will be part of the carefully-curated “coastal California” menu that Sheldon (owner of Peter Lowell’s Restaurant in Sebastopol) and Goble have been developing for more than a year. Slated for an early fall opening, the fast-casual restaurant pays homage to Northern California’s bounty of seafood and artisan farms, along with nods to Southern California’s burger and taco culture and a few hat-tips to the historic Foster’s Freeze that once stood on the property.
As Sheldon walks through the rest of the building, showing the massive production kitchen, walk-up counter, beverage bar and indoor seating area, the vibe is quite different. The highly stylized interior is made with reclaimed wood, giant soji-like panels that slide open to the outside, a spot where a tree will stand indoors, and the yet-to-be-built garden and patio areas, it’s clear that the space is the culmination of years of planning.
Though its more than a month before the restaurant will open when I meet up with Goble and Sheldon, it’s already clear the food is going to be pretty special. At the Sebastopol home of the couple, Goble has made a preview feast of some of the items she’s been developing, including fish tacos, ceviche and smothered summer squash. A opening menu on the table also includes raw and cooked oysters, chicken and bean tostadas, pastured beef and vegan burgers, fisherman’s stew, roasted padron peppers and of course, soft serve ice cream.
Goble spent months studying how to make authentic corn tortillas at El Molino Central in Sonoma, where owner Karen Waikiki (also of Primavera Tamales) is revitalizing the art of stone ground corn tortilla making. Though the women who deftly flatten and flip the corn masa into thick tortillas make it look easy, Goble says its a true art that takes years to perfect. Having worked for years at Peter Lowell’s, she brings that restaurant’s fastidious farm-to-plate philosophy to the restaurant as well.
It’s almost painful to pull ourselves away from the lush, rockfish ceviche with fresh avocado Natalie has prepared, and the roasted squash that comes from her family’s nearby Two Belly Acres Farm with charred onion and pepita sauce is, well, something we’ve been obsessing about for weeks.
Though there’s still plenty to do before opening, Goble and Sheldon already have a clear vision, a solid menu and the passion to make Handline a solid addition to the burgeoning Sebastopol dining scene—one tortilla at a time.
Handline Coastal California restaurant, opening in September, 935 Gravenstein Hwy., Sebatopol, Website.