The hottest new restaurant in Healdsburg is a sandwich shop.
Actually, it’s a bread bakery by morning that turns into a sandwich shop during the afternoon and does a final quick change into an intimate chef’s counter at night.
Chef Sean McGaughey is the guy in the baker’s apron at Troubadour Bread and Bistro, a French-inspired restaurant that pops up five nights a week in the nibble-size bakery he and wife Melissa Yanc founded in 2021. The couple is also behind Healdsburg’s buzzy Quail & Condor bakery that opened in 2020. Yep, that’s three business concepts in less than two years.
For McGaughey, making sandwiches and pastries just wasn’t the same thing as working in the kitchens of Single Thread, where he rose from executive sous chef to head chef over five years. His background in classic French cuisine, plus the precision he practiced at Michelin-starred Single Thread, were still calling.
“I thought that putting the same effort of cooking into making sandwiches was going to fill my tank, but it just didn’t,” he said on the heels of his first week of dinner service at the newly reminted Troubadour Bread and Bistro.
The concept is simple: a five-course dinner for $125 per person, preordered through exploretock.com. On Tuesday through Saturday, McGaughey and his small team cook a dinner of seasonal, locally sourced dishes such as duck a l’orange with crisp salty skin, Wagyu steak tartare with a cured egg yolk, petite escargot served in a Limoges tea cup with creamy veloute and roasted garlic and a thick tomato slice with tart sauce vierge and caviar.
Much of the produce comes from the Single Thread farm in Alexander Valley. It’s stunning stuff, especially in a boulangerie with just 20 seats, all stools pulled up to counter seating. Much of the cooking is done in simmer baths and low-temperature ovens, to take advantage of every bit of space in the tiny kitchen.
“We don’t have a lot of refrigeration either, so it forces us to be creative and constantly change,” McGaughey said.
The restaurant is refreshingly single-minded in its vision of elevated French bistro cuisine. The menu isn’t Cal-Ital or Mediterranean-French or another fusion. It’s just French, with all the unpronounceable but delicious sauces that have been perfected over centuries.
“I’ve always liked cooking French food. It’s always been in my repertoire. These are the techniques you learn (in school). Even Single Thread is very much of the French tradition,” McGaughey said.
“I also love the mix of grand French cuisine, the copper pots stuff. But, on the flip side, I like bistro favorites and want to elevate those,” he said.
The four best seats in the house are at the counter facing Healdsburg Avenue. There, you can watch people go by (and be watched, eating) in the evening hours. More private seats at the bakery counter are better for intimate dining, and groups of up to four can sit at a communal table. The vibe is a mix of irreverence (don’t miss the Andre the Giant homage in the bathroom) and old-school French, with antique mix-and-match Limoges plates and a clubby San Francisco cafe atmosphere.
McGaughey has teamed up with Single Thread alum Tiffany Spurgeon as the restaurant’s host. Spurgeon, McGaughey and his wife are all part of an ever-growing cohort of Single Thread alums creating new food businesses with the support of their former bosses.
“We weren’t really sure what this was going to be, but it’s turned into a secret date-night restaurant,” McGaughey said. “We’re untraditional but fun, and we’re not going to take up your whole evening.”
Troubadour Bread and Bistro dinner service is at 6 and 7:45 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, by prepaid reservation only. The shop is located at 381 Healdsburg Ave. in Healdsburg. Visit troubadourhbg.com.