Beverly Healdsburg, as locals sometimes like to call the once-sleepy ranch hamlet that now regularly welcomes celebrities and other well-heeled visitors, is not known for its beer and chicken wings scene. It thumbs its nose at play-along trivia nights on a patio full of rowdy dogs and rowdier families.
But what’s the one thing Healdsburg cannot abide, more than big screen televisions the size of small trucks or karaoke nights? Uninspired food.
That’s why we’re smitten with Coyote Sonoma, in a hidden-away space that once housed Sonoma Cider. Tim Vallery of Peleton Catering, the recently-installed chef who has turned a ho-hum menu into something worthwhile, brings together casual fun and simple but impressive eats that so rarely go together in Wine Country.
After being purchased by Wilson Winery in 2018 and turned into a tasting room, the venue lost its luster despite having a large indoor-outdoor space that’s perfect for music, food and entertainment. Frankly, it languished until Vallery took over the kitchen earlier this year and resuscitated it.
The tasting room and restaurant, located in downtown Healdsburg’s Mill District, is still finding its footing in the gaps between bar food and upscale dining, but we like the idea of Red Wine Arancini ($8) instead of frozen mozzarella sticks or a warm asparagus salad with lemon-thyme vinaigrette, pickled onions and a soft-boiled egg ($13) next to burgers and panini.
Part of that dynamic has to do with the audience. On a Wednesday night, Vallery warns us that the trivia night players will descend en masse around 6 p.m., all ordering food at the same time. His kitchen crew are at the ready as tables fill up, exactly as expected. Sandwiches headed for the panini press are lined up in formation, roasted cauliflower hummus dip stands at attention and chicken wings are prepped for annihilation.
Even socially distanced, the place feels like old times, when we could laugh and play games and shout trivia answers together. It’s a spot to grab a beer or four with vaccinated friends and family and just enjoy each other rather than obsessing about each bite.
Coyote Sonoma is just what Healdsburgers — and the rest of us — need right now: the familiar flavors of fun with a deft hand in the kitchen.
Warm Asparagus Salad, $13: With the prime time for asparagus cresting, it’s worth diving into this seasonal salad. Gently poached spears are married with lemon-thyme vinaigrette, dried apricot, pickled onions, a soft-boiled egg, tarragon aioli, radish and Italian parsley. What could end up heavy and gloppy is light and refreshing with each note — tart, bitter, creamy, vegetal — distinguished beautifully.
Coyote Burger, $16: I love a burger that’s just slightly larger than the bun, thick enough to be taken seriously but not so overdressed to be ridiculous. This version — though I could have enjoyed it a bit more rare — sits between two soft Costeaux Bakery brioche buns (kudos on the local choice) with onion relish, Sonoma Schmear (we’ll call it Thousand Island-ish) and Gruyere cheese.
Reuben, $14: Another big winner, though purists might disagree. A reasonable amount of salty pastrami (not piles of the stuff) with melted Gruyere (Swiss cheese’s classier cousin), sauerkraut and Russian dressing on light rye. It’s all about balance, people.
Flat Iron Steak, $27: Vallery keeps this steak, one of just two fancier entrees on the menu, super simple. I like my meat rare, with a little char on the edges, and this steak was perfectly cooked. It comes with a nice pile of Yukon Gold potatoes with horseradish puree and perfect honey-glazed carrots. I make the world’s best glazed carrots, so that’s high praise.
Roasted Cauliflower Hummus, $7: Start healthy, then work your way toward dessert. This is a nice foil to the wall of beer taps.
Pitman Farms Chicken Wings, $10/$18: Roasted, not fried, then doused in Buffalo or red wine barbecue sauce. Think of them as the high-low kind of food that Vallery has excelled at on this menu. The house-made blue cheese dressing is addictive.
Red Wine Arancini, $8: The fried balls of red wine-soaked arancini have gooey smoked mozzarella, salami (which I couldn’t exactly see, but could taste) and herb aioli. The crumb breading didn’t wow me, but otherwise this dish was solid.
Also on the menu: Food writers are allowed to have a few food phobias, and among others, sausage is mine. I just don’t love the stuff. Maybe it was too many hot dogs forced on me as a kid. But Coyote Sonoma’s menu features some amazing Yanni Sausages and a Beer Brat Hoagie that sausage fans will love.
Drinks: The wine list includes a variety of Wilson wine brands — Wilson, Mazzacco, deLorimier, Matrix, Coyote and Pezzi King among others — by the bottle and by the glass. There’s also a huge list of wines on tap, including Healdsburg Brewing Co.’s Golden Ale, an insanely drinkable beer.
44 Mill St., Healdsburg, 707-433-4444, coyotesonoma.com