Sebastopol’s Barlow is having its closeup 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 tap rooms, tasting rooms and stores as Bay Area visitors, locals and anyone 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, Farmer’s Wife, Barrio, Acre Pizza and Fern Bar don’t have their own brisk following. 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.
But 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 curve balls with deconstructed plating (Mississipi mud pie), culinary winks such as Asian pear coulis with the tuna tartare or anise-y fennel pollen ricotta in his tomato salad or surprises like saffron bechemel or 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.
Croque Madame, $25: This showstopper is the Liberace of sandwiches. Its jeweled capelets of griddled broiche sit in a dainty puddle of golden saffron Bechemel. 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 kind of fabulous.
Hardwood Smoked Mt. Lassen Trout Salad, $15: Chef Matt is a longtime fisherman and doesn’t take kindly to bad seafood. That’s why you can’t go wrong with his house hardwood-smoked trout with crunchy haricot verts, olives, cherry tomatoes, fennel, egg and red wine dressing. It’s a riff on Nicoise salad, a food nemesis I recoil from. This has a casual California vibe that’s far more approachable.
Peaches and Sour Cream, $9: Yes, it’s a little thinky, but go with it. Arnold Palmer-flavored granita, tart lemon curd, sour cream “foam” and macerated peaches.
Melon Tomato Gazpacho, $9: Required. Sweet, savory, tart, refreshing, perfect.
Heirloom Tomato Salad with Stone Fruit, $18: The simple seasonal beauty of a ripe tomato gets a little lost between the miso garlic vinaigrette, basil yogurt and fennel-pollen ricotta. But it’s still pretty tasty.
Ahi Tuna Tartare, $18: When Chef Matt told me this was one of his star dishes a few weeks ago, I had to stifle a snort because, really? There are maybe five Sonoma County restaurants that don’t feature this over-sesame oiled, avocado-smeared nightmare. But overlook this version at your peril. Tiny jewels of fresh tuna are so perfect with dabs of sweet Asian pear and spicy aioli. Restraint plus beauty equals delight.
Required sides: Collard Greens and Creamed Corn, $9: Sharing is for suckers.
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.
Fried Green Tomatoes, $15: I’ve never understood the appeal of unripe fried tomatoes, but maybe you do. These are at least neat and tidy, crispy, with hot sauce aioli. Super-good the next day.
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 vegan Cauliflower Steak; Matt’s Smash Burger; a dino-sized Tomahawk steak and the Chef’s Grand Platter, a fresh seafood tower.
Overall: Whether you’re stopping by for a glass of wine and a $10 app or sitting down for a $95 steak with your family, there’s truly something on the menu for all tastes and budgets. Elevated techniques and well-considered dishes make it destination-worthy.
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, brkitchen.com