When Peter Lowell’s opened 11 years ago it was something of a novelty. Chef Daniel Kedan (of Backyard) and owner Lowell Sheldon brought a farm-to-plate ethic to Sebastopol that far surpassed the lip service of many restaurants and took seriously its vegan and vegetarian menu … and it was excellent.
Over the years, several chefs came and went, putting their own stamps on the menu. Some good, some not as good, but the restaurant (now simply named Lowell’s) settled in as a solid neighborhood spot.
As a destination, however, the restaurant has recently been overshadowed by Sheldon’s newer project, Handline, which opened in 2016. With a budget-friendly price point, quick walk-up service, soft-serve ice cream and one of the best restaurant patios in Wine Country, there’s a lot to love.
So, on the cusp of Sheldon’s opening of a third Sebastopol business, Fernbar, in the Barlow, it seemed like a good time to get back to basics and see exactly where Lowell’s stands today. The answer: It’s better than ever.
Ten years is a magical number for restaurants and one that few ever see. The fact that it’s impossible to even find accurate figures for the percentage of restaurants that survive a decade is proof enough. Roughly 30 percent of restaurants fail in a year (not the much-quoted 90 percent). Of those, about 60 percent will fail within five years, and 70 percent will be gone by 10 years, according to a joint study from Cornell and Michigan State University. That’s some pretty rarified air.
Sheldon and his collaborators, however, have bucked trends seen as impervious to success — like buying higher-cost, farm-driven local ingredients and charging customers what they feel is a fair amount for their food costs. They work tirelessly on the restaurant’s farm, Two Belly Acres, which provides unparalleled seasonal ingredients to the restaurant.
Perhaps most controversially, Sheldon has instituted a 20 percent automatic gratuity policy, something that has failed miserably for some restaurateurs, but helps pay staff a higher wage and offer health care.
“We enter our second decade with a more subtle understanding of our purpose,” says Sheldon. Sitting at the bar of Lowell’s on a Monday morning, he’s clearly proud of what the little Sebastopol space has accomplished and looking forward to what comes next. With a bit of gray now showing in his beard, Sheldon has weathered many storms over the last 10 years, now looking at life through the lens of a father and partner to Handline (and life) collaborator Natalie Goble. With Fernbar just months from opening, a collaboration between Sheldon and Chef Joe Zobel and Sam Levy of The Restaurant at Meadowood, he’s also become reflective of the restaurant that started the whole adventure.
“We at Lowell’s have always been forward-looking. As change becomes the norm in our town, we look to embrace and influence that change by keeping true to our agrarian roots,” said Sheldon. “We are a farming town. We dedicate ourselves to an awareness of the value that farms bring and to a continued commitment to support their existence. We are humbled by our history and inspired by our future.”
Lowell’s is a laboratory of seasonality, so things change frequently. What remains are the staples — a mushroom pasta may become a butternut squash pasta. Braised greens may get the addition of squash, and tomatoes may all but disappear as winter advances.
Also, Lowell’s has recently moved to an all-day brunch menu with favorites from breakfast and lunch along with a few newcomers, like a scone plate and ricotta pancakes.
Currently, chef Tim Payne and sous chef Jillian Druzgala head the kitchen at Lowell’s, and we’ll be seeing some additional menu changes coming soon.
Antipasti Platter, $18: Yep, we almost choked, too, at the price for some seasonal veggies and cheese. Until a heavily laden board of roasted corn, spicy greens, a whole roasted garlic, potatoes, farro salad, farm cheese, beets and goat cheese, a slice of frittata, Revolution bread and lush bean dip was placed in front of us. Oh. Yeah, worth every penny. Easily a small meal or large appetizer for two or three.
Smoked Trout Tartine, $16: If you’re not a . Mt. Lassen trout fan, you will be. Mild pink fish atop an open-faced sandwich with cucumber, garlic aioli, arugula, radish and pickled onion on Revolution country bread. Fork and knife required, but its a fresh, light luncheon dish that’s not easily forgotten.
Pizza Mela, $18: Woodfired pizzas are a signature, lacking the bitter carbonization of other crusts. Chewy and light, we love the apple, bacon, caramelized onion pie with pungent Gruyere, prickly arugula and Parmesan.
Bruschetta Uovo, $16: Lemony Hollandaise, Revolution toast, poached organic eggs and roasted tomato. Getting hungry thinking about this bad boy, with roasted potatoes and homemade ketchup.
Macrobowl, $17: Since opening, this vegan(ish) bowl has been on the menu. For what it is — red rice, heirloom beans, braised greens, root and fermented veggies — it’s good.
You can top it with an egg or short ribs, along with miso ginger sauce. Frankly, there are so many things I like better on the menu, but the rippingly hot stone bowl filled with such healthy goodies is pretty persuasive.
Tagliatelle, $20: Depending on the night, you’ll get a variety of ingredients, but diving into little “boats” of pasta with roasted tomatoes, duck confit, herbs and breadcrumbs is intensely satisfying.
King Salmon, $32: Farrotto with beet, fennel, cucumber and herbed yogurt.
Overall: This longtime Sebastopol favorite is worth a return, having spent a decade perfecting their farm-to-plate classics that rarely fail to impress.
Lowell’s is located at 7385 Healdsburg Ave., Sebastopol, 707-829-1077, lowellssebastopol.com.