Kathleen Hill: ‘American Pickers’ picks Sonoma, new juice bar, Costeaux coming?

Contributing food and wine editor Kathleen Hill offers up the tastiest news in town.|

“American Pickers” stars Mike Wolfe and his brother Robbie recently filmed for 12 hours at Raff Tomsett’s hanger at Sonoma Skypark and landed firmly at the Swiss Hotel for sustenance.

Tomsett has a huge collection “full of plane stuff, movie props, and so much more,” according to Sharon Ivanoff, proprietor of Reclaimed Antiques on Eighth Street East.

Ivanoff has served off and on as a scout for Antiques Roadshow and has visited many collections (including my Kathleen Hill Culinary Collection) and connected Tomsett with the show.

Of course they ended up at the Swiss Hotel where bartender Tanya Lyons said “They are really nice guys!”

And then they moved on to film in Petaluma.

Martin Yan of M.Y. China sings happy birthday to Harriet Lee, left, 97, along with niece Christina Quong in 2013. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2013
Martin Yan of M.Y. China sings happy birthday to Harriet Lee, left, 97, along with niece Christina Quong in 2013. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2013

SIFF to bring Martin Yan to film festival

Last year the Sonoma International Film Festival launched its Culinary Excellence Award by bringing the great chef, instructor and television star Jacques Pépin to Sonoma via a $10,000 donation to his Jacques Pépin Foundation, which trains people who need help to learn an art and trade in the culinary field.

This year, SIFF is bringing Chef Martin Yan to star at their “Chefs & Shorts” dinner, in partnership with their Nova Scotia friends of “Devour!” food film festivals.

According to SIFF, Yan, star of the “Yan Can Cook” television series, will prepare “one plate” of the multi-course meal to take place at Hanna Center on March 23.

Many of us know of Yan from his PBS show where he entertains viewers and usually a live audience which laughs at his humor thrown in with the food. Last year Yan received the 2022 James Beard Lifetime Achievement Award, won a few years ago by former Sonoma resident Paula Wolfert who has returned to her roots in New York. Yan has also appeared on nearly all food networks and has taught loads of classes with his boundless energy.

Tickets to the “Chefs & Shorts” dinner total close to $360 when tax and fees are added to the $350 base price. If you are a pass holder to SIFF check the website to find out if the dinner will be included. Sonomafilmfest.org.

As well, Chef, PBS host and restaurateur Joanne Weir will return this to host a luncheon as she did last year.

Is Costeaux’s considering a Sonoma spot?
Is Costeaux’s considering a Sonoma spot?

Costeaux, Mattson, Tia Maria?

Rumors have swirled in “bomb cyclone” circles since a “Sold” sign went up on the old Happy Dog building.

Who bought it was and is a hot topic locally and on social media. Everyone thought they had the exclusive answer.

The listing agent swore to me that it was not developer Ken Mattson, but its vacancy and lack of activity has made some people think it just might be they.

The other strong, and possibly true, rumor is that Costeaux French Bakery of Healdsburg had bought the triangular property, although the same empty beer bottle and cleaner sprayer remained on a table inside for months.

There were other unrelated and specific rumors that Costeaux was looking for a Sonoma location, although we already have Scandia Bakery, Basque Café & Boulangerie, Sweet Pea, Baker & Cook and Little Maya bakeries here.

Then suddenly many of us read online and in the Sonoma Index-Tribune that there would be a one-day popup by a bakery called Tia Maria at Happy Dog’s little parking lot to bring “Roscas de Reyes” to celebrate the Epiphany as if no one else here bakes and sells Roscas and Mexican pan dulce. Roscas are like small “Kings Cakes.”

The popup would be, and was, across Highway 12 from local favorite Little Maya Bakery located in the same strip mall where Golden Springs is and Palms Grill was.

Little Maya’s baked goods are also available at Iniguez and El Coyote and other local carnicerias and markets. And they make exquisite and exquisitely decorated wedding and other celebratory cakes, and tortas as well.

In fact, Little Maya has just expanded from two storefronts to add the previous Enterprise Rental office to their bakery, complete with tables and chairs so guests can sip drinks and enjoy pastries right there. Little Maya spun off several years ago from Maya Bakery in Vallejo.

Tia Maria is owned by Costeaux. Surprise.

There is some speculation that this popup was a marketing test. If so, it’s questionable whether it worked. I drove by three times, only to observe a woman with a sign waving to drivers passing by to tempt them to make a last instant right turn into the Happy Dog parking lot, if you dare. As one who was majorly rear-ended recently while stopped at the Verano Avenue stoplight, I couldn’t think of it.

For the10 years prior to the pandemic when I gave tours of our carnicerias, we began each tour either stopping at Little Maya for coffee and pastries or I purchased them and met my guests at Ramekins Culinary School & Inn for pastries, coffee and orientation. Ramekins is now the Mattson’s Seven Branches.

Mary’s Pizza Shack in Boyes Hot Springs on Wednesday, August 3, 2022.  (Christopher Chung/The Press Democrat)
Mary’s Pizza Shack in Boyes Hot Springs on Wednesday, August 3, 2022. (Christopher Chung/The Press Democrat)

Mary’s Pizza Shack closes three restaurants

Mary’s Pizza Shack, definitely a Sonoma and Boyes Hot Springs original, expanded in its heyday and now meets the times by reducing its number of locations.

Years ago the Albano family franchised some of the restaurants (I refuse to call them “stores”) and then took them all back.

Now as part of their long range “succession plan” the family is closing its Napa, Novato and Dixon venues and will let us know of the four siblings who will take what responsibilities in the future.

In the meantime, let’s support them as they have supported many Local sports teams and organizations for decades. Let them know any changes or improvements in the menu that you might like to see. Personally, I would like them to ditch those hard-to-open plastic containers half full of whipped non-butter with some Clover Sonoma real butter. For some reason the Sonoma French or Basque sourdough bread with real butter always tasted better at Mary’s than even at home.

While they have raised prices, so have most other restaurants. It’s a fine line between what owners need to charge as their suppliers’ prices increase and what their customers can feel comfortable paying.

Peggy Albano died at age 85 on Jan. 11.
Peggy Albano died at age 85 on Jan. 11.

The loss of Peggy Albano

Peggy Albano of the Mary’s Pizza Shack Albano family, passed away this month after a happy adult wife of raising four kids and helping Mary Fazio develop the family restaurant’s recipes and business.

Peggy married Mary’s son Toto and started out in the business as Mary’s first bookkeeper at the original Shack in the Springs and eventually filled in wherever she was needed, thereby learning all facets of the business. The photos and memories of Mary Fazio brewing her best sauces with Peggy almost at her side are classic.

She evolved into the leader of Design & Décor, a job Peggy passed on to her daughter Nanette Albano-Lane when she retired in 1990. Nanette now also runs the Boyes Hot Springs Mary’s and has recently redesigned the interior décor of all Mary’s.

But Peggy also had a major role in the writing, development and publication of the “Mary’s Italian Family Cookbook,” which still makes a great gift to generations of Mary’s fans and customers. Our kids received them for a recent Christmas and are still trying to make that blue cheese dressing.

According to the Mary’s website, Peggy’s favorite specialty at Mary’s was spaghetti with clams, which I also love and will order on my next visit.

In place of the “specials” boards at the entrances to both the Mary’s on Sonoma Plaza and Mary’s in Boyes Hot Springs, guests were greeted last weekend with elegant mourning wreaths of white and purple flowers honoring Peggy Albano.

The girl & the fig founder Sondra Bernstein is focusing less on food and more on AI art these days. (Erik Castro / For The Press Democrat)
The girl & the fig founder Sondra Bernstein is focusing less on food and more on AI art these days. (Erik Castro / For The Press Democrat)

Where has Sondra Bernstein been?

An artist by nature, the girl & the fig “girl,” Sondra Bernstein, stepped back from managing the restaurant of which she is proprietor last year and has returned to her love of creating art.

After graduating with bachelor’s degree in fine arts from the Philadelphia College of Arts, Bernstein worked in a TGIFriday restaurant, wearing the uniform and all, and that is where and when she decided she needed to feed people, which is an art in itself.

Also usually ahead of everyone else on the art of tech, or the tech of art, Bernstein dove into the mind-blowing world of AI (artificial intelligence) driven art. She has been so successful and innovative at this new endeavor that some of her work has appeared on the bright light screens around New York’s Times Square.

On Sunday, Jan. 15, Bernstein and girl & the fig staff opened the first showing at the restaurant of a selection of four of her latest collections with prints of more than 60 of her digital images.

Some people have oohed and aahed at her work on social media, and this is a chance to see in person the art framed and hanging at the girl & the fig.

All of the art is for sale. Each piece will be printed on demand, with a limit of five prints of each work. And 25% of all sales will go to the Sonoma Fig Foundation, which has supported such endeavors as the Sonoma School Garden Project and the new Culinary Center at the Sonoma Community Center among other nonprofits.

Final Ramen Night coming to Suite D

Next Wednesday, Feb. 1, will be the last Ramen Night this “season” at Suite D, but watch for super Valentine’s and Mardi Gras special menus to come soon.

Murphy’s Irish Pub to open Sidecar Juicebar

Dermot Coll and friends will soon open their Sidecar Juicebar in the Place des Pyrenées walkway that runs from First Street East beside the Basque Boulangerie back toward Coll’s Murphy’s Irish Pub and Taste of Himalayas.

The Sidecar will take the space once filled by the Briar Patch, which sold tobacco, coffees and teas. Later Taste of Himalayas tried a variety of expansion efforts, and Coll says there was even an attempt at a whiskey tasting room.

Assessing what might work around Sonoma Plaza, Coll and partners settled on a juice bar with their characteristic “charming Irish spirit and familial vibe” in their own words.

Watch for fresh-pressed juices, chia pudding and lattes, and eventually Irish oatmeal and other breakfast items. Hopefully Murphy’s will allow seating on their terrace as there is little seating space on the Sidecar side of the alley.

The green sidecar of their new logo was designed and water colored by artist Emaline Reinsimar. It is pleasing indeed, and also looks like it might give someone an idea for a potential entry in one of Sonoma’s two zucchini races.

Lou’s Luncheonette and Little Lou’s updates

Erika Harris, co-owner of Lou’s Luncheonette and Little Lou’s, announces that Lou’s Luncheonette on Fremont Drive now serves breakfast from 8 to 11 a.m. Wednesday through Sunday specializing in smoked brisket hash, biscuits and gravy, and chicken and waffles and much more, with lunch following from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

She and Chad Harris have now also opened Little Lou’s, the food truck at their Jack’s Filling Station on Broadway at West MacArthur in Sonoma, which is now open 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. serving Sightglass coffee, breakfast tacos and sandwiches, and their quickly famous Stemple Creek grass-fed burgers and fries.

Erika says they are still working on the menu and the space at what most recently was Reel & Brand on Grove Street. We will keep you posted.

El Huerto is back in business with its myriad health food options.
El Huerto is back in business with its myriad health food options.

El Huerto reopens

Susan and Adrian Olvero are back working hard at their El Huerto Super Foods Bar in Maxwell Village shopping center.

El Huerto is wedged between Great Clips and Little Caesar’s Pizza to the left of Rite Aid.

The Olveras are back with their same menu featuring super food juice blends, bowls, salads, sandwiches and coffees, with new items expected toward this summer. Lots of fans are thankful that the Olveras are well and back in the saddle again.

A flooded vineyard on Broadway. Heavy overnight rain brought flooding to some areas of Sonoma on Monday morning, Jan. 9, 2023. (Robbi Pengelly/Index-Tribune)
A flooded vineyard on Broadway. Heavy overnight rain brought flooding to some areas of Sonoma on Monday morning, Jan. 9, 2023. (Robbi Pengelly/Index-Tribune)

Vineyard flooding? How bad?

Curious and concerned about the status of our Sonoma Valley vineyards and the livelihoods they support, I invited La Prenda Vineyards Management guru Ned Hill to come on my KSVY radio show on a recent Friday morning.

Sharing his tremendous knowledge and lifelong experience from the gooey mud up to the bottle, Hill (no relation) taught us all lots.

Sonoma Valley Vineyards are handling this just fine, according to Hill.

Lots of water usually improves the grapes for the current year. But if this is all the rain we get, Hill said growers could be back to irrigating by April or so.

If enough rain falls at once, there could be some runoff, but often that flows south, taking valuable silt to the south end of the Valley and enriching the soil there. That would be toward Sangiacomo, Larson and even Cuneo and Leveroni properties.

Ned Hill also said that the richness of Sonoma Valley soil is historically due to silt moving around the Valley naturally.

Why don’t vines fall over in saturated soil? Mostly because they are tied together in various ways.

What about the workers? Hill said they can’t work at the various tasks they would be now so workers are mostly not getting paid. SOS has reached out to ask vineyard management companies to tell their workers that they are welcome to go to the Grange Hall across from Mary’s Pizza Shack in the Springs Monday through Friday to get some warm food.

Apply now to sell at the Tuesday Night Market from May to September. (Robbi Pengelly/Index-Tribune)
Apply now to sell at the Tuesday Night Market from May to September. (Robbi Pengelly/Index-Tribune)

Get Tuesday Night Market applications

Applications are available for all sorts of vendors at the Tuesday Night Market sponsored by both the city of Sonoma and the Sonoma Valley Chamber of Commerce.

The market will again take place in the “Horseshoe” in front of City Hall from 5 to 8 p.m. on Tuesday evenings “starting in May,” with the actual launch date not yet announced.

In addition to nonprofit “free speech tables,” you can get applications as vendors of agricultural products, artisan and hand-made items, and packaged or prepared food purveyors. Some food trucks will be allowed as well.

Get applications and info at sonomatuesdaynightmarket.com and send or take in the $45 application fee to city of Sonoma at City Hall.

Apply as soon as you know you want to because space should go fast in this slightly freed-up year.

Kathleen Thompson Hill's Kitchen Memories Collection at the Elizabeth Spencer Winery is a worth the drive to Rutherford for a wonderfully unique wine and museum experience.  (Darryl Bush / For The Press Democrat)
Kathleen Thompson Hill's Kitchen Memories Collection at the Elizabeth Spencer Winery is a worth the drive to Rutherford for a wonderfully unique wine and museum experience. (Darryl Bush / For The Press Democrat)

Kathleen Thompson Hill Kitchen Memories Collection update

When many locals read or heard that my antique kitchen collection has taken up residence at Jean-Charles Boisset’s Elizabeth Spencer Winery in Rutherford, even I was surprised to read that it cost $65 for wine tasting and admission to the exhibit. I did not like that.

As of last week, it now costs $15 to see the collection and get “a splash” of wine, or you can spend more for charcuterie plates and more wines. With the $15 you also get to listen to all 28 QR codes that I wrote and filmed for each section of the room. Have a great time – I do every time I visit my Kitchen Memories.

Chinese food for Christmas?

Apparently it’s at least an American Jewish tradition to go out for Chinese food over the Christmas holiday, since most other restaurants are closed and some people don’t celebrate Christmas.

Cookbook author Paula Wolfert and her crime novelist husband Bill Bayer used to drive from Sonoma to San Francisco on Christmas to dine at their favorite Chinese restaurant.

Well the fine members of Sonoma Congregation Shir Shalom decided to bring in catered Chinese food for a pre-Christmas dinner and retained Golden Springs to cook the food, which included lemon chicken, broccoli beef, fried rice and much more.

Maite Iturri, co-founder of Food For All/Comida Para Todos, spoke to the Sonoma Springs Rotary Club about food insecurity in the Valley. (BETH SCHLANKER/ The Press Democrat)
Maite Iturri, co-founder of Food For All/Comida Para Todos, spoke to the Sonoma Springs Rotary Club about food insecurity in the Valley. (BETH SCHLANKER/ The Press Democrat)

Rotary of Sonoma Springs food talks

Recently the newish Rotary Club of Sonoma Springs hosted dinner from Spread Kitchen along with two speakers related to Sonoma food needs.

Maite Iturri spoke on behalf of Food For All/Comida Para Todos on how it grew from delivering bags of toiletries and other necessities during and after the fires to now distributing fresh foods appropriate for the population they serve and whoever else needs help.

Iturri is co-founder of Food for All, is formerly principal of El Verano Elementary School, now assistant superintendent of Petaluma schools, and hopefully will return to Sonoma, where she lives, as our superintendent of schools

Duskie Estes, well-known chef, restaurateur, and competitor on the Food Network and other food channels, is executive director of Farm to Pantry, a group that gleans and distributes foods to people in need throughout Sonoma County.

They will pick your whole apple orchard or the plum tree in your back yard, and even leave you the ones you want. Currently they distribute hundreds of pounds of food in Sonoma Valley to SOS, Food For All, FISH and to several Burbank Housing communities. To grow, donate food or money, help pick or glean vegetables and flowers, or deliver to those in need, visit farmtopantry.org.

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