“You have to try the chicken tenders,” says Lo & Behold owner Tara Heffernon as she mixes cocktails at the new bar and restaurant in Healdsburg.
My face wrinkles into a grimace. I don’t do chicken tenders. (OK, I do, but only in the privacy of my own home.) My husband spoils the ruse, exclaiming excitedly that yes, we would love the chicken tenders! Philistine.
However, these are no children’s-menu frozen-mystery-meat creations. They are Chef Sean Raymond Kelley’s “Almost Famous” tenders ($14), and they are the juiciest strips of crunchy, salty, fried chicken bits I’ve ever had. Dipped in homemade ranch with a side of pickles, they’re worthy of a standing ovation. Perhaps that’s my fourth cocktail talking, but dang, they’re tasty.
Heffernon opened Lo & Behold in January with co-owners Laura Sanfilippo and Kelley. The debut marked the return of two of the four founders of Duke’s Spirited Cocktails, a groundbreaking Healdsburg bar co-owned by Heffernon, Sanfilippo and their former business partners Cappy Sorentino and Steven Maduro. The four founders abruptly walked away from Duke’s in April 2021, after a rift with founding investor David Ducommon and just weeks before opening a second business, Burdock, with Kelley as the chef. (Ducommon opened Burdock with Michael Richardson as general manager and Chef Michael Pihl in June 2021.)
After departing Duke’s, Sanfilippo said she and Heffernon didn’t have clear plans. Yet they jumped at the opportunity to open a new bar and restaurant when Mateo’s Cocina Latina closed just blocks from their old space. Lo & Behold went from concept to reality in less than six months. Kelley joined in to run the kitchen, and they raised $750,000 from family, friends and patrons for the new place.
The whole adventure is a complicated story with more twists and turns than a taffy pull. In a nutshell, Sorentino and Maduro have gone on to other projects but will likely appear behind the bar at Lo & Behold from time to time, according to Heffernon. The remaining trio — Heffernon, Sanfilippo and Kelley — has created a welcoming and inclusive space with a terrifically delicious menu of dishes at a range of prices, a heady cocktail list and a lively and lovely outdoor patio that’s already become a hot spot.
Belly up to this fun and utterly irreverent bar, because your mind is about to be blown with more than chicken tenders.
Here’s the lineup of best bets (however, after several hours of eating and drinking, we only got through a tiny portion of all that is available). Be sure to make a reservation before you go because already the word is out and the tables are hard to come by (though the bar is always first come, first served).
Kelley’s menu spans the globe, with American, Mexican, Greek, Chinese and Southeast Asian dishes. Meat eaters and vegetarians alike will find plenty on the menu, along with several gluten-free dishes. All ingredients, however, are not listed on the menu, so do alert your server to allergies.
Crab Rangoon Dip, $18: This mix of crab, cream cheese, scallions and crispy wontons has long been my favorite on Chinese restaurant menus. Like fortune cookies, it has no real history in Chinese cuisine, but it doesn’t mean you can’t love it. This deconstructed version is heavenly, with creamy crabby dip and fried wontons for dipping. Can’t stop, won’t stop eating this. Find it in the “fresh seafood” section of the menu that includes oysters, shrimp cocktail and mussels.
Crispy Pork Spareribs, $19: Fried pork is always a good thing, and the tender meat of these ribs falls off the bone with the first bite. The salty-sweet black bean sauce should be bottled and sold. This dish has so much delicious umami it should have a warning label.
Winter Greens, $14: A messy bowl of bitter winter greens hides cheese-filled pierogi that are both soft and slightly chewy, precisely as they should be. Salty sesame brown butter brings the puffy jacket of the dish together.
Housemade Noodles, $16: Absolutely nothing compares to fresh noodles, and these cloudlike strands are perfectly cooked. Bathed in kimchi butter and black vinegar, they bite back with enough heat and sourness to be irresistible.
Chum Bucket of Fries, $6: The name says it all. These and a few $4 High Life beers are all you need for an afternoon of self-care. Take that, Beverly Healdsburg!
Cocktails don’t take a back seat here. They’re front and center and put together with the same focused intensity and fun as the food menu. You’ll struggle to find a favorite, but that’s sort of the point. Drink up!
Phatty Margarita, $14: This margarita is phat. Imagine the usual margarita ingredients: tequila, Cointreau and lime, but with a round, creamy swerve. Avocado and coconut oil are the secret, along with a naughty little chicharron perched on top.
World’s Best Vodka Soda, $12: Locally made Young & Yonder vodka is the base for this drink, with “improved seltzer” and unicorn tears (it’s a tedious process, according to Heffernon). It is the best vodka soda, without a doubt, primarily because of the unicorn tears.
L & B Chilcano: Pisco sour-ish with the extra sour of golden gooseberry, lime and bitters, along with the bar’s ginger brew. Sans egg whites. Mind blown.
Overall, there’s so much to love about the return of these hometown gals who’ve made creative cocktails their stock and trade. The addition of Kelley’s kitchen expertise makes Lo & Behold an instant Healdsburg icon.
Lo & Behold, 214 Healdsburg Ave., Healdsburg, 707-756-5021, loandbeholdca.com. Open 11:30 a.m. to midnight Thursday through Monday.