When I first moved back to Petaluma, I attended and fell in love with Taste of Petaluma “TOP”.  But with my passion for food, and all things local, I had a few suggestions for the organizers to improve on their already great event.  Inevitably, they asked me to “do” not “say,” and so I began volunteering.  In years past I would accompany the founder and organizer of TOP, Laura Sunday, aka Petaluma’s “Queen of Cuisine”, “Chili Empress” – (she founded and organizes the Great Petaluma Chili Cookoff), or simply “Mother Sunday”, on what she dubbed “Mini Tastes.”  Laura invites food writers to accompany her to three or four of the TOP restaurants for an intimate look at their cuisine prior to the event.  They help to publicize the event and bring special attention to the businesses and restaurants around town that support TOP and its parent organization, Cinnabar Theater.  This year I got to sit on the writers’ side of the table.  Honestly, the food tastes the same no matter which side I sit on but it is nice to finally have nobody but myself to pester about posting a review of the restaurants that we visited.  This year, I don’t have to hound other writers to help promote the event…I just need to put the fork down, wipe off my hands, and start typing, which is exactly what I am doing.

I was honored to join our Argus Courier’s very own Yovanna Bieberich for the first Mini-Taste of the 2010 TOP season.  I met Laura and Yovanna at Cordoza’s Deli for teriyaki chicken skewers with grilled pineapple.  With all the great restaurants in town, it had been a while since I had visited Cordoza’s Deli.  The food was so good that I have been back several times since our “Mini-Taste.” (They serve a killer Chorizo breakfast burrito.)  Yvonne Cordoza (the owner) was able to join us and fill us in on what has been happening at Cordoza’s since they opened roughly one year ago.  Along with a great deli and crowd-pleasing daily specials, they offer local lunch delivery as well as catering.  Whenever I see their big red wagon out on a delivery, I am hard pressed to head home without one of their sandwiches.  Needless to say, the chicken was incredibly tender and flavorful and the pineapple was a surprisingly nice touch.  Unlike the overcooked, soggy, and often flavorless pineapple I am used to on Hawaiian style pizzas, this was fresh and crisp — the perfect example of why pineapple and teriyaki go so well together.  Cordoza’s Deli – 25 Petaluma Blvd. S. (Yelp – 4 Stars on 5 reviews)

A short walk around the corner and we were at my all-time favorite – Sugo Trattoria.  This neighborhood hot spot offers fresh ingredients, an innovative menu, along with great service and prices.  The owners, Annette and Pete, have turned Sugo into one of the top restaurants in the North Bay.   (I eat here often enough that they don’t even offer me a menu anymore.)  There are few restaurants where I will trust my culinary experience to the recommendations of another but at Sugo it really doesn’t matter what ends up in front of me, I am going to either love it…or love it.  We tried a “Mini-Taste” of their classic tomato, pesto, & basil bruschetta.  As I have so eloquently written before, “Order a bruschetta trio, even at the risk of taking some of your dinner home as leftovers.” – (Did Someone Say “Italian”? – Petaluma360.com, July 2010)  Their “classic” is a great anchor of traditional Italian flavors on an invigorated crostini.  Round out your two other choices with their unique twist on traditional flavors.  Sugo does not take reservations, with its small and intimate setting, so plan accordingly.  Sugo Trattoria – 5 Petaluma Blvd S., Suite B (Yelp – 4 Stars on 42 reviews)

Just across the street, we found ourselves at Petaluma’s newest restaurant – Wild Goat Bistro.  WGB has successfully taken over a space vacated by a less than endearing wine bar.  We were treated to a selection of three different artisan pizzas: the Fog Lifter (a meaty pie), the “In Season” (a sautéed pear, ham, and gorgonzola number), and the Mediterranean (one of their veggie selections.)  Having returned to WGB several times since my “Mini-Taste” I have a lot more to write about but that will have to wait for my full blown review.  For the time being, heed my words when I tell you that you will not want to miss WGB at this year’s TOP.  There is not nearly enough space here to convey my mistrust of thin crust pizzas (I grew up on Old Chicago) but Nancy’s pizzas blow me away every time I eat them.  And don’t even get me started on their piggies in a blanket…I could eat those as an appetizer to every meal.  Nancy and her staff are like your favorite neighbor; they know exactly how to make you feel welcome – from attentive staff to seasonal specialties and excellent recommendations.  She saw us eyeing their handmade Zerts and before we could say, “We really shouldn’t,”  Yovanna, Laura, and I were indulging in the best chocolate cake I have ever eaten.  It was flavorful enough to satisfy with a single bite, yet light enough to eat all day.  (I returned the next day because I knew the GF would want to taste their food, even if that particular cake was gone.)  Wild Goat Bistro – 6 Petaluma Blvd N., Suite A5 (Yelp – 4 Stars on 22 reviews)

These three purveyors of fine food are a perfect cross section of Petaluma restaurants; three different cuisines, all unique and satisfying in their own way, and yet again, another example of why this is such a great place to live.  They are all passionate about what they are doing and have a vested interest in serving great food at a great price as well as supporting the community that supports them.  Cordoza’s and WGB both opened within the last year but have the foresight to jump at the invitation to join such a great community event, where as Sugo has been a major part of TOP since day one, over four years ago.  When I go out to eat I want to feel like I did more than just fill my belly.  I want to like the businesses I patronize and like to see them also giving back to me by championing the community we are all part of.  Cordoza’s, Sugo, and Wild Goat Bistro fit well into the Petaluma culture, because they care about our community as much as they care about what they put into their culinary offerings.  If my waistline was of no worry, I could easily eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner at these three locations and never tire of them.

The 2010 Taste of Petaluma is selling fast so get your tickets before they are sold out.  (Tickets can be purchased online at www.tasteofpetaluma.com or in person at Haus Fortuna – 2nd & C Street, Petaluma.)  For the first time, there will be a cap on the total number of tickets sold and this is an event you will regret missing if you have to wait a whole year for your next shot to taste Petaluma.   Having attended many a pitiful excuse of a “Taste of” throughout California (the latest was $75 and was awful and many around the North Bay are well over $100!!!), TOP will knock your taste buds’ socks off and keep your budget in check.

Listen to KSRO 1350AM today between 4-5pm for more recommendations.  Laura and I will be doing an on-air with Steve Jaxon, and are bringing plenty of food for him and his staff to taste.  Also, keep your eyes peeled for further reviews here on Above the Brim as we draw closer to the event… but don’t wait too long to get your tickets –  Taste of Petaluma is this Saturday (Sept 25th) from 11:30am to 4:00pm.