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New Burger Spot in Sebastopol Is a Smash

Popular pop-up burger concept has found a permanent home.

Thin, crispy, Panko-crusted, bacon-fat-fried onion rings won’t change your life. But if anything could change your life — in a single bite — it would be precisely those onion rings, served at Sonoma Burger in Sebastopol.

This fast-casual burger spot started as a pop-up at Gravenstein Grill in the early days of the pandemic, as the Sebastopol restaurant navigated evolving health mandates. The pop-up gained traction and Gravenstein Grill Executive Chef Bob Simontacchi, with business partner and restaurant manager Brandon Parkhurst, started looking for a permanent location for their new venture. They settled on the former Giovanni’s Deli, just around the corner from Gravenstein Grill, and Simontacchi expanded the menu. It now includes those righteous rings along with smash burgers, “griddle hot dogs,“ a crispy chicken sandwich and other tasty bites on warm Parker House buns.

Serving up at Sonoma Burger in Sebastopol. (Heather Irwin/Sonoma Magazine)

Almost everything on the Sonoma Burger menu is made in-house, from the herb ranch dip to the fermented pickles. Simontacchi’s passion for local ingredients shows: He gets his burgers and hot dogs from Sonoma Mountain Beef Co. and uses Moonlight Brewing’s Death and Taxes lager in the beer cheese sauce (a required addition to your order). The fried chicken sandwich is made with Mary’s chicken, and the cream for the soft serve ice cream comes from Straus Family Creamery.

Take note, however, that the burgers are conspicuously small. In fact, all portions are pretty petite. We didn’t really miss all the extra stuff, which is usually too much of a good thing anyhow. But if you want more, there are plenty of toppings to add. The smash burger, served with pickles, raw onion, lettuce, tomato and sauce, is $6 — the meat is locally raised by a woman rancher. Extras include cheese ($1 – $1.50) and Sonoma Meat Co. bacon ($1.75); a double patty is $3.25. That makes a burger with all the good stuff about $8 – $10.

It seems Simontacchi and Parkhurst are onto something with this build-your-own-burger model. As supply-chain disruptions and shortages continue, the cost of meat is skyrocketing. Instead of paying $20 for a gourmet burger with fries and sauce or $3 for a not-so-satisfying fast-food burger, Sonoma Burger customers can decide how much they want to invest in their next burger, making it deluxe or basic (but still good).

Best bets include the super-crispy and juicy fried chicken sandwich ($7); the BBQ Burger ($8.50) with a kicky ginger barbecue sauce and crispy onions; and the Tempeh Burger ($7), with house-smoked seasoned tempeh and griddled onions.

“Griddle hot dogs” are a revelation. Like smash burgers (literally smashed onto a hot griddle to achieve optimal savoriness, or umami flavor), these dogs, which are sliced in half, get perfectly browned and crisp on both sides. Topped with homemade chili and pimento cheese, they’re an arpeggio of flavors.

Order the Sonoma Strong Turkey Burger ($7) and a $1 donation will be made to Food for Thought, a west county-based charity that provides food to Sonoma County residents with medical needs.

There’s a small outdoor area for seating, and takeout is available. You can order beer on tap and local wines, along with soft drinks, floats and milkshakes. Open daily from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., 173 Pleasant Hill Ave. N., Sebastopol, sonomaburger.com

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