(This is Part 3 of my Taste of Petaluma series.)
If I haven’t convinced you yet that Taste of Petaluma is a great way to experience multiple restaurants, I am going to give it one more shot. Your visit not only helps support local business but all the proceeds from ticket sales go towards Cinnabar Theater, which is about to begin its 39th season. (www.cinnabartheater.com) It also gives you a great opportunity to try many of the top restaurants in town without having to go out to dinner ten nights in a row. In fact, this has become such a popular event that I have spoken with guests who time their trip to Petaluma (to visit family, take a mini-vacation, etc) to coincide with the taste of Petaluma. If you do it right, you can turn this into both a lunch and a dinner experience, and find some truly incredible restaurants that will have you coming back for years to come.
As mentioned in previous blogs, Laura Sunday organizes Taste of Petaluma, and her main form of promotion revolves around inviting food writers and bloggers to join her prior to the event for “mini-tastes.” (Every dollar saved on promotions goes straight into helping running Cinnabar Theater.) On this mini-taste we discovered a gem of a riverside patio, with once of the best lunch menus in town, an old favorite that has been pairing some of the counties best and freshest beers and food, a warm and friendly Irish pub, a family friendly eatery, and a surprising story from one of the new names in town.
Our journey began on the “other side” of the river. Just a short two minute walk from Petaluma Blvd, across the foot bridge, you will find three of the best restaurants in town, housed in Golden Eagle Shopping Center. I would highly recommend that this Saturday, you start your culinary journey on this side of the foot bridge, before delving into downtown.
Although we didn’t visit them today, the best Indian food in town, and possibly in the entire north bay, is being served at Everest. The flavors are innovative, with a foundation set in traditional cuisine from northern India, Tibet, and Nepal. Although they have been at their current location for a couple of years now, they are often forgotten about…but Everest should not be missed. Their food is incredible, their service is superb, and being a hidden gem means that you never have to wait in line for a table…well, at least not right now. Participating in events like Taste of Petaluma is raising Everest above the radar. So is serving dishes like this years offering, which is either Veggies in Tikka Masala Sauce or Veggies and Prawns in Apricot Sauce. I am not normally a fan of fruit in anything but key lime pies, and fresh off the vine, but a visit to Everest is incomplete without one of their apricot dishes. In fact, I like their apricot dishes so much, it inspired me to buy an apricot tree, which is now thriving in my back yard. Everest also has a great selection of beer and wine, as well as the best choices in non-alcoholic drinks in all of Petaluma. It is not unusual for me to stop in to Everest for a Ginger-mint ice tea, Lassi or Masala Chai when I am looking for something refreshing on a warm afternoon. Often, the Lassi actually replaces my craving for ice cream — go figure, but the ginger-mint ice tea is by far my favorite drink anywhere, not including Guinness.
And get this…you can receive cellphone coupons from Everest. How dumb is it that in this day and age of everything wireless, everything paperless, and everyone trying to go green, that you still need to carry around paper coupons in order to get a deal? Well, not at Everest. You can receive text message coupons, which you can use without ever downloading or printing them. I love when technology works to actually make our lives better and am thoroughly impressed with Everest that they are leading the way with eco-friendly couponing.
The next location on the Golden Eagle side of the foot bridge is Riverside Bistro. For those of you who are scratching your head, this is the restaurant that popped into Flipper’s old location. I have spoken to a lot of people who think this is just Flippers, but with a new name, but I here to assure you this is completely brand new, and completely better than Flippers ever was. The owner, Sammy, is a delicatessen extraordinaire, having worked at just about every delicatessen in San Francisco. Laura and I had visited Riverside Bistro before, with our respective partners, and had a very enjoyable dinner. Their patio sits right on the river, giving you some great views of the Petaluma water front, and all of our meals were surprisingly good. The only reason I say “surprisingly” is because we were expecting this to just be a revamped Flippers. But it really isn’t. The menu has been completely changed, and is vastly improved, at the expert hands of owner Sammy. On a burger note, Riverside Bistro has one of the better burgers in town. As we learned later from Sammy, he takes great care in selecting, seasoning, and preparing his meats.
We had heard good things about their lunch menu and were excited to finally visit, and with several other food writers. I am a big fan of pastrami, so I was happy to see that their Taste of Petaluma item will be a taste of their pastrami sandwich, with a side of slaw (and maybe fries?) This sandwich was incredible! This is not your average pastrami. Sammy explained that he pays attention when he is buying the meat and takes extra steps when preparing it, and it shows. The meat had very little fat, was almost as tender as corned beef, and was perfectly flavored, thanks to a quick ride over the grill prior to be sandwiched between slaw, cheese, and bread.
One of Sammy’s main reasons for opening Riverside Bistro was to offer an affordable lunch menu, which he clearly has. The lunch menu tops out at $8.95, with sandwiches, soups, and salads. And take special note of their fries. They are hand made on sight, immediately flash fried (in oil that is not also used for fish — this is important) and readied for order. When an order comes in, they get a second frying, which gives them a unique flavor and texture which I haven’t had with other fries. And speaking of fish…although I haven’t had either yet, I will be returning for their red-snapper only fish and chips, and what our server Joanne tells me is the best clam chowder in town. (She heard me ranting and raving about Maguire’s clam chowder…which you will read me ranting and raving about in the next few paragraphs.) I also look forward to trying their brunch menu. For all the great lunch and dinner places in town, there is shortage of good breakfast and brunch locations. I am glad to see Riverside Bistro helping to fill the gap. Riverside Bistro also has live jazz on the patio, every Saturday night. Prepare to come early because it fills up quickly (our dinner visit was on a Saturday night.)
You know them, you love them, but maybe you haven’t walked across the bridge to visit them in a while, so Taste of Petaluma is a perfect chance to get reacquainted with Dempsey’s. For twenty years now (that’s right, I said TWENTY YEARS), Peter and Bernadette have been pairing the best food and micro-brewed beer that the north bay has to offer. And not to belittle the “slow food movement” but from day one, well before everyone was going green, shopping locally, and sources from area farmers, Dempsey’s was only buying the best, only buying local, and placing Petaluma at the center of a culinary shift that has now swept the nation.
This year’s offering for Taste of Petaluma is Thai Chicken Drummette with Tamarind glaze & a taste of our hand crafted Beer. Along with that, we were lucky enough to be served an excellent Caesar salad, a thin crusted sausage pizza, and their ever popular Chinese chicken salad. Bernadette joked with us that they still call their Chinese chicken salad the “new salad” even though it has now been on the menu for a while. It start as one of Dempsey’s specials, but grew to such popularity that they didn’t dare upset the natives by pulling it. Our “mini-taste” was rounded out with several tasters of Dempsey’s beers, which are now available in the bottle at several local outlets, including Wilibees (one of our sponsors, and suggested ice vendor) and Petaluma Market, which another one of the great locations participating in Taste of Petaluma. I am not normally a fan of wheat beers, but sitting in the afternoon sun on Dempsey’s patio, I found it particularly refreshing, and perfectly paired with the Chinese chicken salad.
The next stop on our culinary walking tour of downtown Petaluma found us entering Maguire’s Pub. In just a couple of years under the new owner Jules, Maguire’s has quickly gain favor with many locals and has gained a reputation for having better than normal pub fare. The manager, Jeff, met us upon our arrival and immediately struck me as looking familiar, and not just because my family frequents Maguire’s for their half-off Mondays and Tuesdays (yes, that includes all your drinks too.) After a short conversation with Jeff, I learned that he used to manage the bowling alley. I know what you are thinking, “why are you telling us this…and what kind of pedigree is a bowling alley?” Here is why. If you have ever heard me talk about our bowling alley, the first thing I mention is how good the customer service is. At a bowling alley? Really? YES. And why should you care? Because nothing is worse than packing the kids into rented shoes in order for them to toss around cannon balls, only to find that the alley staff isn’t particularly interested in how good your experience is. Actually, it is almost a given that when you need help at a bowling alley, there is nobody there to help you, and if you can find them, they act as if you are inconveniencing them. Well…not when Jeff managed our local lanes. Every time we visited the lanes, Jeff was on-site and making sure that we were all having a good time. I spent many an afternoon there with my nephew and always came away feeling like Jeff appreciated our business. I think Maguire’s has pulled a coup-de-ta by bringing Jeff on, and it helps explain why the service is much improved over the old days.
That all being said, we were there to try some food. And great food was eaten by all. Maguire’s is offering your choice of their Sheppard’s Pie or their clam chowder, both of which are excellent. Although a bit less conventional, Maguire’s uses beef instead of lamb for their shepards pie stuffing. There are many who are not fond of the flavor of lamb so this pie should appeal to the masses, and within our group of writers, it certainly did. And the clam chowder is as good as I have had without having to take a drive out to the coast…and even then, it is right on par with what we have come to expect living here in the seafood rich bay area.
Our next stop was at Velasco’s, which on the corner of Kentucky Street and Washington Street, across the street from Maguire’s and kitty-corner from TAPS. Teri has been running Velasco’s since I was in high school and it has always been a town favorite. One of its draws is that it is kid friendly and is usually voted best kid friendly restaurant in the Argus Courier’s “Best of Petaluma” competition each year. Teri is also a big supporter of the community, making herself available to non-profits from Cinnabar Theater to Rotary to everyone in between. We are grateful to Teri for letting us adorn her building with our Taste of Petaluma and Great Chili Cookoff banners each year.
This year Teri is offering Al Pastor BBQ Pork Tacos with cilantro and onions on a soft corn tortilla. As a big fan of pork, I was excited to try yet another incarnation of my favorite meat. I don’t know what “Al Pastol” means (no, a google search would have me following abscure tangents for the next 45 minutes), but whatever it is, it is good. It is perfectly seasoned and I always like my taco fillings surrounded by a soft tortilla. Check out there bar too — they make a mean margarita. Teri also does catering, and in this tight budgetted economy, Velasco’s catering is a great (and filling) way to have food at your party without losing your shirt.
Last, but certainly not least, was High Tech Burrito. I have been hearing for months about High Tech’s Thai Chicken wrap from Laura Sunday, who apparently has one every weekend on her trek back from skating in Golden Gate Park. I remember a High Tech Burrito from when I lived in Berkeley, but couldn’t remember why I liked it so much better than all the other wrap shops. Luckily, the company owner was there to help fill in what High Tech Burrito is all about. First, I thought they were a franchise, or some big huge chain, something that isn’t really on par with the rest of the great eateries in Petaluma. But it is neither. High Tech, although slickly marketed, with cleanly appointed restaurants, is own by one person, Greg, a native of Marin, who wanted to offer a healthy and quick lunch option. And that is exactly what they offer. Greg also wants to be a healthy part of every community where he sets up shop, and his community bulletin board and entry into events like Taste of Petaluma certainly convey his sincerity.
Although words like “fresh” and “made your way” adorn their walls, menus, and logos, we often don’t think about what that really means. At High Tech Burrito that means that other than the rice and beans (their Cilantro lime rice kicks the hell out of any I have had before), which are made daily, everything else is cooked fresh for your order. The onions have not been pre-cooked, the meat has not been pre-grilled, and the tortillas have not been pre-browned. What you get for your order has been created right there while you wait, and you can taste the difference. They also go above and beyond to source from local suppliers and to substitute healthy cooking methods whenever possible.
We were treated to their Taste of Petaluma special — Chicken Fajita Burrito, as well as a Thai Chicken Burrito, since they wanted me to taste what Laura has been raving about. The quality and freshness of the ingredients are apparent even before you take your first bite. The colors of the peppers were vibrant, and there was an obvious lack of grease and oil. The Chicken Fajita is a great combination, and I didn’t even mind all the veggies. The Thai Chicken was also excellent; you can’t go wrong with peanut sauce infused dish, as far as I am concerned. If you haven’t tried High Tech Burrito, I suggest you make it one of your “must visit” locations during this year’s Taste of Petaluma. I have yet to meet anyone who tasted their food and didn’t immediately become a fan. And although not my thing, rumor has it that High Tech Burrito makes the best fish tacos in town.
Although not part of this particular “mini-taste”, I wanted to make two special mentions. The first is a shout-out to Wilibees Wine and Spirits, located on the corner of D Street and Lakeville Street. If you remember it as Lakeville Liquor, you are not alone…but take that memory and toss it out the window. Wilibees is a night and day change over the old store that lived in this location for many years. The owners of Wilibees are always on hand to help you make the right wine or spirit decision, and their beer selection is outstanding. On a recent trip to Renoux, I found a new favorite beer from Knee Deep Brewing. Not only did Wilibees have KD’s Tanilla Porter, but they had everything that Knee Deep offers. They have a healthy Facebook presense, a great selection of alcohol, and they do weekly “brown bag” wine tastings. On Thursday nights they open 4-5 bottles of wine, “brown bag” them for anonymity, and invited the public to taste and rate the wines. Wilibees graciously donated ice to this years event, so we ask that you help support them, and their support of the community, by stopping in and checking them out. With such a convenient location, you won’t have to rely on your grocery store for you wine and beer needs anymore. Personally, I am attracted to buying my alcohol from a specialty shop. I like when a location gets to know me and can make suggestions based off of my past purchases. Petaluma was hip to local food sourcing, before the “slow food movement” even took hold — I’d like to see us do the same thing with shopping. Let’s call it the “slow shopping movement.” I like to run into neighbors and friends when I shop, and you can’t do that at a big box store. So, anyway, thanks Wilibees — we look forward to working with you in the future.
The second special note is concernign Zoe’s Meats. Their moto is “the art of meat” and they aren’t joking. The owner, George, wanted to make healthy meat for his carniverous young daughter Zoe, and Zoe’s Meats was born. But not before a lot of hard work and research. George even went so far as to train in Europe so he could bring their old world curing methods into the modern age of the west coast charcuterie popularity. Zoe’s Meats are available through their website, and through Taste of Petaluma participant Petaluma Market, as well as G&G markets. You will also their name popping up menus throughout the bay area (including the Marketbar at the Ferry Building in San Francisco.) Chefs that want great meats, and want to buying them locally, are quickly learning that Zoe’s Meats is the way to go.
With enough info to warrant its own blog, I will only briefly describe some of personal favorites from Zoe’s Meats. To taste if for yourself by visiting Vine & Barrel during Taste of Petaluma. I am personally adicted to Zoe’s Finocchiona. It is a fennel salami with a little smoke and a hint of citrus. It is simply the best salami I have ever had. A close second is Zoe’s Genovese, which is made with Pinot Grigio. There is also a new concoction called Salame de Caco which is cured with cocoa powder and hints of spice and smoke. This was a big hit during our recent radio station visit to KSRO. All of these are nitrite free, which means those of you that have shied away from salami because of the hangover it gave it…welcome back! Included in the list of nitrite free salamis is standard salami, a spice salami, and a sopressata (salami with hints of cinnamon, cardamom, and thai ginger. And this is just their salamis. They offer everything from ham (including a very exclusive single muscle ham) to sausage and dogs to bacon to turkey (their fire roased garlic and herb turkey is one of our favorites from Petaluma Market) to chicken to beef. Oh, the beef — their roast beef, corned beef, and pastrami put all other lunch meats to shame. And lets not forget their Italian specialities, like Pancetta, Pepperoni, Mortadella (with Pistachios), Prosciutto, Coppa, and their Spanish style Chorizo (a more well rounded, less “firey” old world version of latin chorizo.) There is simply no better choice for choice meats than Zoe’s Meats. (You can expect to see a full length blog dedicated to Zoe’s Meats just as soon as I get a break long enough to spend an afternoon with George rumaging through is stock.)
Taste of Petaluma is this Saturday, August 27th, from 11:30am-4pm. Presale tickets are still available through the website for $35, as well as by phone or in person at Cinnabar Theater. Prices go up to $40 on the day of the event.