Deliciously Dry Creek: Eating Through Healdsburg

Despite a down economy, new restaurants are popping up throughout Wine Country like shittakes after a good rain.

The Wurst in Healdsburg

The Wurst in Healdsburg
The Wurst in Healdsburg

Despite a down economy, new restaurants are popping up throughout Wine Country like shittakes after a good rain. In Healdsburg, a rash of closures and timely real estate shifts have created a wealth of opportunities for iron-stomached restaurateurs.  Longtime chefs are taking the dive into their first or second brick and mortar; expanding menus and playing a bit (barbecue, small plates, sauces); and newcomers are taking the opportunity to dive into the local food scene.

What’s obvious, however, are lowered price points, more ethnic eats and family-friendly comfort foods, a direct response to the sometimes high-priced luxury of Santa Rosa’s tony neighbor to the north. What hasn’t changed, however, are the inspired Healdsburg ingredients and of-the-season dishes that continue to set the mark for Wine Country cuisine. See what’s new to the table…

Coming Soon
Just heard: Sparkle Bar: Not content to merely make you look good, the gals at eco-fashion retailer Arboretum are planning to create a “sparkle lounge” featuring non-alcoholic bubblers at the shop. (Thanks to Matt for the heads up!)

The Rosen Project: There are few secrets in the close-knit hamlet of Healdsburg, but one that’s got everyone guessing is Chef Ari Rosen’s interest in the former Divine Affair Restaurant space on Healdsburg Ave, just off the square. The restaurant went dark in March, and a number of chefs have copped to checking out the space. But a change of ownership application in the window names Rosen, who heads the wildly popular Scopa just around the corner. The former Santi chef will only say that he’s is in the midst of wrangling the deal and can’t announce his full intentions until later this month. Here’s to patiently waiting!

Two eateries on the verge of opening: Moustache Bakery and Mateo Granados’ Cocina Latina. The latter will be a sit-down version of the authentic Yucatecan dishes Grandos has been serving up at Northbay farm markets and his popular pop-up Tendejon Calle dinners for years. Mixing Granados’ high-end experience (as former exec chef at Dry Creek Kitchen) and rural roots, the Cocina is slated to be a fusion of humble street food, family recipes and California cuisine — something Granados calls Modern Yucatan Cuisine. Hailing from the Yucatan peninsula, his dishes combine influences from Spain and the ancient Mayans to compliment the produce and meats of Sonoma County. And though the names may sound familiar — tacos, tamales, empanads, comidas and chorizo — Granados painstakingly seeks out local farmers and purveyors he often works with at the farm markets to flavor his dishes.

With the bounty of late summer to fuel his opening menu, Granados plans to have squash blossom emapanads with Redwood Hill cheese, White Crane Farm greens and Soda Rock tomatoes; suckling roast pig from Black Sheep Farm wrapped in banana leaves; Tierra Farms’ beans and Preston Vineyards’ pork chorizo. On this menu, farmer name-dropping isn’t chef grandstanding as much as a shout-out to friends and neighbors. Tortillas will be made in-house with ingredients like Mendocino sea salt and local olive oil mixed into the masa. Desserts are simple, season ice creams, fruits or cool-weather flan with sticky buns from the Downtown Bakery and Creamery. At each table will be bottles of Granados’ El Yuca sauces made from local chilies and peppers.

Signed on to help barside is mixologist Scott Beattie of h2hotel. He’ll help formulate a variety of tequila-inspired libations. Wine will be on-tap only. Expect prices in line with the kinds of ingredients Mateo sources, meaning $15 to $19 for larger dishes. Lunch and dinner will be served daily, and he’s just announced plans for a weekend brunch (he’s currently perfecting blue corn pancakes with honey) and possible late-night tamales at the bar, which will stay open until midnight or so. Expect a late August opening, 214 Healdsburg Ave.
Just down the street, two young bakers, Christian Sullberg and Ozzy Jiminez are putting the final touches on Moustache Bakery (381 Healdsburg Ave.,). The menu’s still browning a bit in the oven, but the duo plan on relying on plenty of produce from nearby farms and wineries, for example using Dry Creek Zin in their red velvet and carrots from nearby farms for their carrot cake. Other treats they’re working on include Mason Jar cupcakes, brownies and milk, macarons and banana cake with Nutella frosting.

Shed: The owners of Home Farm in Dry Creek Valley are about to break ground on SHED, a 9,700 square-foot multi-use market, cafe and event center in downtown Healdsburg. Replacing the former appliance store along Foss Creek, owners Cindy Daniel and Doug Lipton hope to curate a space for local produce, kitchen and garden tools and sustainable living. Owners hope to have the space ready for occupancy this fall.

Now Open

Syrah-becue at Spoonbar: Chef Rudy Mihal is getting back to barbecue, at least once a week, at h2hotel. On Wednesday nights starting this week and continuing through October, spoonbar fires up chicken and ribs on the new outdoor grill, wine director Ross Hallett grabs his favorite local Syrahs and bar manager Scott Beattie offers up bourbon drinks (Whiskey Sours, Manhattans). Served family style from 5-9pm, $25 pp or $10 for kids under 12, dishes include St. Louis style slow-cooked spare ribs, Smokey Mountain Spiced BBQ chicken, Greek Salad, County Line Collard Greens with smoked ham hocks, Dry Creek wax beans, potato salad, corn bread and seasonal fruit pies. 219 Healdsburg Avenue, 433-7222.

Sizzling Tandoor: The Santa Rosa Indian outpost has opened a second location at 1280 Healdsburg Avenue. With a fairly limited number of Asian and Indian eateries north of Santa Rosa, it’s sure to be a welcome addition to the neighborhood. 1280 Healdsburg Ave. Suite 101, Healdsburg

Wurst: If you couldn’t tell by the lines, the smell alone will drive you inside. Sweet, smoky grilled sausages (8 kinds!), $5 brewskies and cream puff topped with warm chocolate sauce make this casual wurstery one of the season’s best openings. Owner Charles Bell knows his sausage, offering up “real deal” sausages with caramelized onions, hot peppers, sweet peppers and sauerkraut. Grab a traditional “Wurst” made with pork, fennel, parsley and smoked paprika, savory Sheboygan Brats, Detroit Polish (a mix of beef, pork, beers and onions) and the Harissa Hottie with pork beef, apricot, harissa, habanero and coriander. All are $7.25, with some fancier concoctions running $8.75. The lineup also includes two chicken sausages, a Nathan’s Famous hot dog for kids and a third-pound locally-sourced beef hamburger called the Smash burger ($8.75) served on a pretzel bun. 22 Matheson Street, 395-0214.

Agave Fresh Mexican: Real-deal mole at this chef-driven Oaxacan restaurant in the heart of Healdsburg. It’s a casual affair in the Safeway shopping center with the usual burritos, quesadillas and margaritas, but owner Octavio Diaz’s mom makes this complicated regional sauce from scratch with chiles, chocolate and spices the family brings from their native Mexican village several times a year. Among the 20 or so ingredients: banana, animal crackers, ancho chiles, pumpkin seeds and Mexican chocolate. Delicious. 1063 Vine Street, 433-2411.

Noodle Bar at Shimo: What started out as a high-end Japanese steakhouse is quickly becoming the hottest place in town to get authentic ramen bowls for under $10. Never afraid to turn things on their ear, Chef/Owner Douglas Keane (of Cyrus and Healdsburg Bar and Grill) has introduced thrifty noodle bowls with everything from pork belly to Waygu beef. This DIY meal starts at just $7.95, making it a cheap date with all the trimmings of a luxury dinner at the high-end chop house. Allow yourself a little upset to taste the signature beef-fat biscuits and yuzu tipplers. 241 Healdsburg Avenue, Healdsburg, 433.6000.

Frank and Ernie’s: Every night is locals night at this off-square eatery. In a town that caters to well-heeled Wine Country visitors, it’s always nice to know there’s a spot where you can take your kids, say hello to your neighbors and pay the bill without promising a kidney or two. Opened in late 2010, Frank and Ernie’s is, at face value, an old school steakhouse owned by a local guy, Ron Palmieri. Named for his father and uncle, the seemingly unremarkable restaurant  has risen from the ashes of the old Western Boot. In the kitchen, Chef A. J. Lockwood (formerly of Safari West) turns out slabs of char-broiled sirloin, hangar, New York strip, rib eye, filet mignon, prime rib (Friday through Sunday) along with a couple of silly chest-beaters that top out at 24 ounces. Without a hint of irony, each comes with a baked potato, pilaf or fries; bbq beans and horseradish cream. Great service, solid food and a very local vibe. 9 Mitchell Lane, Healdsburg, 433-2147.

Baci Cafe: The former Manzanita space has been open for more than a year, run by River Rock Casino chef Shari Sarabi and his wife. A focus is on regional Italian and Mediterranean comfort food at a family-friendly price point has been a winning combination. The space recently opened for lunch with wood-fired pizzas, salads and a lengthy lineup of pastas. 336 Healdsburg Ave., (433-8111.
Willi’s Seafood: If you haven’t been up to Healdsburg lately, you probably haven’t seen the major expansion of popular seafood eatery Willi’s Seafood. Along with an expanded seafood bar and open prep area, they’ve added steamer pots to the menu — mussels, oysters, clams or crab legs swimming in PBR, green garlic butter and Old Bay. Make sure to get a side of sourdough to mop up all that tasty seafood broth. More best bets: Flash fried calamari with sweet chili sauce and Tuna Tartare with Jalapenos, cashews, ginger and coconut milk served on taro chips. 403 Healdsburg Ave., 433-9191.

Farmhouse Inn: Though the restaurant isn’t new, it’s worth checking out the new fixed price menu at this Forestville (okay, it’s in Dry Creek) institution. Chef Steve Litke has moved toward smaller, seasonally inspired first and second courses that take advantage of produce from the restaurant’s own gardens and nearby bounty. Don’t miss dishes like Saigon Style Tuna ceviche, a brulee of foie gras, burrata with squash blossom tempura and lush desserts like milk chocolate and peanut butter cream with strawberries, peanut brittle and strawberry sorbet. Three courses, $69; four, $84. Splurge for a wine pairing ($40-$50) from Master Sommelier Geoff Kruth — a som who always surprises and delights without ever making you feel dumb about wine. 7871 River Road, Forestville, 887-3300.