A Slow Weekend in Sonoma County
Text by Malia Guyer-Stevens, Editorial Intern
Photos by Carol Diaz, Slow Food Sonoma County North
Slow Weekends is a travel series from Slow Food USA that highlights businesses that have been awarded the Snail of Approval award. This distinguished recognition is given to food businesses that make meaningful commitments to the environment, local communities, employees and purveyors, and advance justice and work to end oppression in food systems and beyond.
Sonoma County is full of rolling green hills, dramatic coastline and towering redwoods. Nestled amongst it all are the vineyards that have put the county on the map and draw visitors in every fall for wine tours and tastings. And while there are so many incredible wineries to visit, some of which have made it into the Slow Wine Guide, there is so much more that Sonoma County has to offer including the many restaurants, bars, farms and businesses serving local, delicious food.
To discover Sonoma County’s food scene, you need a weekend at least. So let us suggest taking a long, slow weekend to soak in the beauty and taste your way across the county. If you were to take the scenic Route 1 up the coast from San Francisco (and head inland from Bodega Bay, home of the Ark of Taste Bodega Red Potatoes) you’d first find yourself driving through the pastures of west county and into the community of Valley Ford. This is an excellent place to stop for breakfast at Estero Cafe. The café’s owner, Samantha Ramey, created Estero as a farm-to-table comfort food restaurant quite literally in the middle of farm country. Serving pastries or a full breakfast on the weekends, their menu is sourced from almost a dozen local farms and ranches at any given time.
Continue inland and you’ll find yourself in the heart of Sebastopol, the home of the Gravenstein apple. Handline is the best option for lunch here: housed in a repurposed Foster’s Freeze, which once supplied the town with fast food and soft serve, the drive-in location has been turned into an excellent spot for sustainably sourced seafood dishes.
If you’re in need of an afternoon pick-me-up, enjoy a West County take on high tea at Patisserie Angelica. This French-style bakery creates cakes and pastries using single-origin chocolate, natural food dyes, and homemade jams in their desserts. They’re also the place to go if you’re in search of some tasty gluten-free treats.
Start day two in Santa Rosa with freshly made waffles with preserved Santa Rosa Quince and cream at the Naked Pig, or an eggs benedict with local eggs, potatoes and bacon. The dish is topped with lemon hollandaise made by the chef and owner Dalia Martinez. Eating food that not only tastes good but makes you feel good is at the heart of Martinez’s cooking, and is apparent in both her brunch spot and her shop next door, Little Piggy Market, where you can pick up some kitchen staples.
Saturday is the perfect day to be in Santa Rosa because it means you can stop by the Santa Rosa Original Certified Farmers Market to pick up veggies from Bernier Farms, which sells produce grown in the nearby Dry Creek and Alexander Valley. Make sure to check out Lantern Farm as well, which sells organic produce and flowers. Or just up the road you can stop at the Tierra Vegetables’ farmstand. The sister-brother team that runs this 20-acre farm sells a wide variety of vegetables, but also specializes in chiles, sweet peppers, and dried corn and beans.
Then it might be time to head over to 4th Street Social Club for dinner. Owned by gardener and restauranteur Melissa Matteson, this urban garden-to-plate spot serves hyper-local dishes. Everything is either grown or foraged within a 40 mile radius, which helps the restaurant run on 100% renewable energy and stay zero waste.
Alternatively, you can start your Sunday with 4th Street’s brunch menu, which changes regularly but can include house made cinnamon rolls with honey whipped cream and blackberry compote, or omelets with local quail eggs. Matteson also wears the hat of a mixologist, so you wouldn’t want to miss the Breakfast Bourbon, which mixes bourbon with blackstrap molasses, brown sugar, orange bitters and is topped with a torched orange peel. Or check out their list of alcohol-free cocktails because, as the menu header states: “you have plans later.”
For the rest of the day you’re going to drive into the hills of northern Sonoma County, making a stop for lunch in downtown Cloverdale. There you can enjoy Trading Post Restaurant’s menu, which is a celebration of the region’s foodways. While the ingredients are always locally sourced, during the right season they come directly from the Cloverdale Farmers Market.
For dinner, you then have a choice. Stay in the northern reaches of the county and off highway 101, and you can head to the town of Geyserville to eat Neapolitan style pizza, handmade pastas or house-cured salamis at Diavola.
Or perhaps it’s time to head to the county’s only three-Michelin-star restaurant, SingleThread, in the heart of Healdsburg. Along with the SingleThread Farm and Inn, the restaurant was created by a husband and wife team, chef Kyle and farmer Katina Connaughton. They use produce from their farm on an 11-course tasting menu that adapts to the growing season and has a Japanese influence. This luxurious meal might be the perfect way to finish off your long, slow weekend dining in Sonoma County, and perhaps even warrants a stay in one of the rooms of the Inn upstairs.
Even if traveling to Sonoma County is not in the cards for you this year, there are still ways to support local food producers from afar. While you may not make it to the town of Sonoma to pick up delicious, prepared foods from The Epicurean Connection, you can always learn from the shop’s owner and award winning cheesemaker, Sheana Davis. Every Tuesday and Saturday, no matter where you live, she offers virtual cheesemaking classes for all levels. Back in Healdsburg, there’s a way to fight hunger through supporting Farm to Fight Hunger, a nonprofit farm that donates 100% of what they grow. In the midst of the pandemic last year, they donated 10,000 pounds of produce to the community and over 20,000 eggs to local food banks.
From the delicate Japanese inspired dishes of SingleThread to the fresh seafood served at the counter at Handline, there are countless ways to explore Sonoma County’s bounty beyond the wine. You can also find more Snail of Approval businesses from Slow Food Sonoma County North and Slow Food Russian River on their websites, to discover food that is good, clean and fair for all.