Sweet T’s Restaurant opening in Santa Rosa

Low Country meets Wine Country as Sweet T's prepares for opening in Santa Rosa

Sweet T's Fried Chicken in Santa Rosa

Fried Chicken at Sweet T's in Santa Rosa
Fried Chicken at Sweet T's in Santa Rosa

Gladys is the Southern fried heart of Doug Richey’s new kitchen.
Quietly burbling and steaming away she’s a gleaming new Henny Penny pressure fryer that’s seen some heavy R&D over the last several months as Sweet T’s Restaurant and Barin Santa Rosa preps for opening day.

But some whoops and hollers from mingling staff in the pre-opening days as Richey puts out another basket of “test” fried chicken confirm he’s hit the perfect combination. A mash-up recipe of “TK’s” (Chef Thomas Keller) brining technique, his own mix of secret herbs and spices, and what he claims is the real secret to KFC’s chicken (the number of pieces put into the fryer) — this batch is tender, juicy and perfectly crispy, the hallmark of great Southern fried chicken.

“They’re polite, they’re Southern when they don’t like it,” said Richey of less-successful attempts.

Catfish Po Boy at Sweet T's in Santa Rosa
Catfish Po Boy at Sweet T's in Santa Rosa

Putting aside his pasta and olive-oil drenched past, the former Santi chef is embracing barbecue, creamed corn, molasses cake and of course, his signature fried chicken as the Fountaingrove restaurant transforms into a Wine Country-does-Low-Country eatery. One of the most eagerly anticipated openings in recent memory, Sweet T’s is slated to open mid-November 2011 (probably on 11.18, but call ahead).

Outside, a Southern Pride smoker puffs away, filled with ribs, chicken and pork butt, which will be another staple of the menu. Long-cooked stuff goes in the night before, infusing the meats and building a “bark” on the pork. Like any true Southern ‘que spot, the meats change up daily and are served with coleslaw, biscuits and a napkin — and once it’s gone for the day, it’s gone.

The food is familiar to Richey, who’s family hails from the South, but to re-indoctrinate himself, he spent several weeks last summer eating and staging at some of the South’s best barbecue eateries. Ultimately, it was his momma’s recipes that inspired some of his favorite dishes.

Peanut Butter and Raspberry Cake with Sweet Potato Chips at Sweet T's
Peanut Butter and Raspberry Cake with Sweet Potato Chips at Sweet T's

Backed by investors Dennis and Ann Tussey, along with a number of Bay Area restaurateurs, it’s been a long road to the current lineup, but here’s what’s slated to roll out later this week:

– Simple pickles: Housemade pickles and onions ($2)
Boiled Peanuts: The Southern version of edamame ($2)
– Cornbread: Cooked to order in tiny cast-iron skillets ($2)
– Onion rings with buttermilk vinaigrette
Hush puppies with salted honey butter ($5)
Catfish Poor Boy: Doug hates that the fish isn’t local, but hey, you gotta have catfish, right? Dredged in Cajun spices with a lush remoulade. ($9)
– Daily ‘que (chicken, “chopped” pork, ribs, brisket)

Creamed Corn at Sweet T's in Santa Rosa
Creamed Corn at Sweet T's in Santa Rosa

– Sides of succotash, mashed potatoes, collard greens, hoppin john, mac and cheese, and grits. ($3-5). The creamed corn nearly made me weep.
– The burger: Right now it’s a cheeseburger, but Doug’s trying to get a lean chuck infused with bacon trimmings on the menu (let’s just say not everyone appreciates the beauty of this concept). Let’s all lend our support here.

Most of the above plus…
– “Guilty Pleasures” of chicken lives and cracklin’ with sweet onion jam; crispy Brussels sprouts with garlic aoili
– Barbecue, of course.
– Gumbo with okra, shimp and oysters ($3, 6)
Shrimp and Grits: Anson Mills grits with prawns and crispy leeks ($16)
– Meatloaf with mashed potatoes and ketchup glaze
– Oven roasted pork chop
Southern Fried chicken with two sides ($14, $18)

Save room for dessert. We’re just saying. Stay tuned for final opening dates. Cause we know you’re all going to be standing outside with your nose pressed against the window. I know I am.

Sweet T’s: 2009 Stagecoach Road, Santa Rosa, 595-3935