Kathleen Hill: Wrapping up 2022 in food and drink in Sonoma

Great openings, sad closures, wonderful parties and so much more tasty tidbits of the year.|

Editor’s Note: Kathleen Hill shares her thoughts on this busy year in food and drink as a New Year’s treat.

Everyone knows COVID-19 changed many or most things for all of us, including food producers, food workers, our dining and eating patterns, and certainly prices of food either in grocery stores and restaurants.

Some restaurants are getting stronger, occasionally thanks to temporary parklets, while others floated into the sunset.

The folks behind Lou's Luncheonette took over the former Reel & Brand site in the Springs. (Photo by Robbi Pengelly/Index-Tribune)
The folks behind Lou's Luncheonette took over the former Reel & Brand site in the Springs. (Photo by Robbi Pengelly/Index-Tribune)

Reel & Brand

Kevin Kress closed Reel & Brand after running it for four years and functioning as a primary live music venue in Sonoma Valley. Having worked hard while short staffed, Kress accepted an offer he apparently couldn’t refuse. He keeps busy otherwise raising and judging pygmy goats and running a gun shop in Petaluma.

Kress always supported lots of community endeavors such as Sonoma Soccer, Lacrosse, flag football, Sonoma Little League and other school events, as well as donating to food justice organizations, all while earning several “Best of Sonoma” awards for what he calls a “Sonoma style Locals Joint,” which indeed it was.

Erika and Chad Harris are taking over the Reel & Brand location and liquor license. Max Young still owns the property and building.

The Harrises already own Lou’s Luncheonette on Fremont Drive and Jack’s Filling Station at Broadway and West MacArthur. It took the Harrises three tries to get the Fremont Drive location right, morphing from Fremont Diner to Boxcar to Lou’s Luncheonette which seems to always have a lineup for fried chicken and other “Southern” roadside specialties. Jack’s Filling Station seems to have been a hit from the start with gasoline prices a little lower than competitors’, and wine, vinyl, and candy sales, along with their food truck that serves as a billboard, as many of them do.

The Harrises did not respond to email by press time and Kress said he has no idea what their plans are.

Kristen Dunlap Schantz has taken the helm of her family’s iconic Swiss Hotel, pictured on Wednesday, August 3, 2022.  (Christopher Chung/The Press Democrat)
Kristen Dunlap Schantz has taken the helm of her family’s iconic Swiss Hotel, pictured on Wednesday, August 3, 2022. (Christopher Chung/The Press Democrat)

Swiss Hotel

Kristen Dunlap Schantz has taken over the iconic and historic Swiss Hotel from Hank Marioni.

At least a fourth-generation restaurateur from the Marioni-Dunlap clan, Schantz has been working at the Swiss for several years and has learned from grandparents including the late Helen Marioni Dunlap and cousin Hank Marioni, who retired this year.

Proprietor and chef Josh Smookler debones a turbot on the opening day of the restaurant Animo on Wednesday, Feb. 2, 2022. (Robbi Pengelly/Index-Tribune)
Proprietor and chef Josh Smookler debones a turbot on the opening day of the restaurant Animo on Wednesday, Feb. 2, 2022. (Robbi Pengelly/Index-Tribune)

Animo opened

Joshua Smookler and Heidy He quickly opened their innovative Animo restaurant at the site of the old Moosetta’s next to McDonald’s. The couple appear to be repeating the success they enjoyed with their ramen restaurant in New York, although many guests report easily spending $200 per person for the innovative Korean-Basque specialties and wine. 18976 Sonoma Highway, Sonoma.

Adrian and Susan Olvera prepare El Huerto's Shredded Vegetable Salad with Avocado-Lime Dressing. The restaurant recently closed.. (Chris Hardy)
Adrian and Susan Olvera prepare El Huerto's Shredded Vegetable Salad with Avocado-Lime Dressing. The restaurant recently closed.. (Chris Hardy)

Delicious Dish and El Huerto close

Lauren and Charles Cotner closed their Arnold Drive roadhouse, Delicious Dish, again, shortage of staff, leaving them cooking in the kitchen more hours than humans can stand up. The Cotners have not disclosed their next steps but have donated loads of goods to Sonoma Overnight Support (SOS) in their closing. Valley Bar + Bottle is taking over the location.

El Huerto, wedged between Great Clips and Little Caesar’s Pizza in the Maxwell Village shopping center, closed without fanfare due to “personal matters.” The owners had originally wanted to offer healthy smoothies and crepes. The crepes never happened but they added salads and sandwiches.

The wet supreme burrito in Suiza salsa, foreground, and Baja fish tacos by Chef Efrain Balmes at Sonoma Eats on November 22, 2022.  (Chad Surmick / Press Democrat)
The wet supreme burrito in Suiza salsa, foreground, and Baja fish tacos by Chef Efrain Balmes at Sonoma Eats on November 22, 2022. (Chad Surmick / Press Democrat)

Sonoma Eats reopens

Efrain Balmes bought and sold two food trucks, closed his restaurant in Boyes Hot Springs, and reopened this year at the Barking Dog site across Highway 12 from the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn and what used to be the Big 3. Barking Dog still serves coffee there but be sure to try Balmes’ Oaxacan food, especially the mushroom enchiladas.

Cristina Topham opened Spread Kitchen in Boyes Hot Springs. (Robbi Pengelly/Index-Tribune).
Cristina Topham opened Spread Kitchen in Boyes Hot Springs. (Robbi Pengelly/Index-Tribune).

Spread Kitchen opens

Cristina Topham, drawing on her mother’s Lebanese heritage cuisine, worked her everything off by renting a catering kitchen in Napa and delivering food from San Francisco throughout the North Bay. This year she took over the space Sonoma Eats vacated as her first “brick and mortar” and now has even expanded the kitchen and her to-go deli and sit-down healthy and colorful menus.

Bob Cannard of Green String Farm in Petaluma (ERIN SCOTT/ Farmsteads of the California Coast 2016)
Bob Cannard of Green String Farm in Petaluma (ERIN SCOTT/ Farmsteads of the California Coast 2016)

Green String Farm closes

With some sadness among customers and former interns, Fred Cline and Bob Cannard closed their farm, farm stand, and Green String agricultural institute at the corner of Frates and Old Adobe Road in Petaluma. Cannard, who brought the concept of having sheep eat ground cover in the vineyards, taught many of us sustainable, organic and biodynamic growing. Cline goes back to vineyard, wine and olive oil businesses, and Cannard is buying property in the Chico area.

Fried chicken at Folktable in Sonoma, which was named Bib Gourmand by Michelin this year. (Photo: Heather Irwin, Press Democrat)
Fried chicken at Folktable in Sonoma, which was named Bib Gourmand by Michelin this year. (Photo: Heather Irwin, Press Democrat)

Sonoma’s Michelin Bib Gourmand awards

El Molino Central, Glen Ellen Star, Valley Bar + Bottle and FolkTable again received Michelin Guide’s Bib Gourmand recognitions, while no Sonoma restaurants achieved a star for 2022.

According to Michelin, Bib Gourmand signifies excellent food at an establishment where you can get two courses, plus a glass of wine or dessert for $40 or less. Good luck with that!

Duck Fried Rice of duck confit, kimchi, scallops and fried duck egg and, top right, Sticky Riblets with roasted peanuts, cilantro and green onions from Noodle Spring. (Photo by John Burgess/The Press Democrat)
Duck Fried Rice of duck confit, kimchi, scallops and fried duck egg and, top right, Sticky Riblets with roasted peanuts, cilantro and green onions from Noodle Spring. (Photo by John Burgess/The Press Democrat)

Noodle Spring opens at Suite D

Sondra Bernstein and John Toulze of the girl & the fig opened Noodle Spring, their ramen-based fusion experience that grew out of their pre-pandemic Wednesday Ramen Nights.

Noodle Spring now has a home at their Suite D, attached to the girl & the fig catering kitchen. It is open for in-person and take-out on Wednesdays from 5 to 8 p.m., with delivery via Doordash.

They had planned to open a Noodle Spring restaurant in Ken Mattson’s container development in Boyes Hot Springs that never happened.

The menu ranges from two of everyone’s favorite Ramen Night specials including Cloudy Day and Spicy Tan Tan with an added coconut red curry ramen, angry shrimp noodles, crispy Brussels sprouts, sticky riblets, crispy chicken wings, edamame, salads, and for the less adventurous among us: a Furikake Wagyu burger or a fried chicken sandwich. ($8 to $23) 21800 Schellville Road, Sonoma.

Burnt Basque Cheesecake from The Mill at Glen Ellen. (Photo by John Burgess/The Press Democrat)
Burnt Basque Cheesecake from The Mill at Glen Ellen. (Photo by John Burgess/The Press Democrat)

The Mill adds space

Dana Jaffe and Sanjeev Kumar have redecorated upstairs at the Mill in Glen Ellen’s Jack London Village, adding indoor space since the popular deck can get wet in the winter, if we are lucky. Expect casual elegance but the upstairs is not wheelchair accessible.

As the COVID pandemic eased mandates, the parklets were removed from the Plaza. (Photo by Robbi Pengelly/Index-Tribune)
As the COVID pandemic eased mandates, the parklets were removed from the Plaza. (Photo by Robbi Pengelly/Index-Tribune)

Parklets removed

Parklets, which offered lots of positives and some negatives (like taking up parking places) have been removed by a vote and order of the Sonoma City Council. All that remains is Café La Haye’s walk space apparently required by the city for owner Saul Gropman to keep tables and chairs on the sidewalk.

Parklets were allowed and encouraged during the pandemic to help restaurants stay alive when they weren’t allowed to serve indoors. Some were attractive and added to Sonoma’s ambiance and some turned unattractive as they weathered. But it is nice to have the parking spaces back, although some people still find a way to complain that the parklets are gone or that there isn’t enough parking.

The Depot Hotel was rebranded The Depot in 2022. (Robbi Pengelly/Index-Tribune)
The Depot Hotel was rebranded The Depot in 2022. (Robbi Pengelly/Index-Tribune)

Depot Hotel reopens?

After Ken Mattson bought the Depot Hotel & Restaurant in 2021, he announced plans to reopen it in 2022. As regular customers know and passersby observe, it is not open to the public.

The Mattsons have renamed it The Depot, which it never was. It was never a depot. That was across First Street West where the Sonoma Valley Historical Society’s Depot Park Museum is now.

Other former food establishments purchased and shuttered to the public by the Mattsons include The General’s Daughter, Ramekins, CocoaPlanet and Little Peter’s Melody Club (which was torn down).

Lauren Kershner and her new event venue Songbird Parlour offer new events in Glen Ellen, pictured on Friday, July 15, 2022. (Robbi Pengelly/Index-Tribune)
Lauren Kershner and her new event venue Songbird Parlour offer new events in Glen Ellen, pictured on Friday, July 15, 2022. (Robbi Pengelly/Index-Tribune)

Songbird Parlour

Lauren Kershner opened her Songbird Parlour as an ambitious event space and catering kitchen in Glen Ellen’s Jack London Village in the spot that had been vacant for several years since the revered chef Catherine Venturini took her Olive & Vine restaurant and catering business elsewhere, ostensibly due to rent increases.

Creating a large image to fill, Kershner calls her endeavor “a modern Victorian event parlour and dining experience reimagined for the modern day …with a glimpse into the grand Victorian era when the social elite would gather in salons to discuss art and culture.” We shall see. 14301 Arnold Drive, Glen Ellen.

A community party to celebrate longtime Valley food writer Kathleen Hill took place at the Sonoma Community Center on Sunday, Oct. 16, 2022. (Liberty Olhava/for the Index-Tribune)
A community party to celebrate longtime Valley food writer Kathleen Hill took place at the Sonoma Community Center on Sunday, Oct. 16, 2022. (Liberty Olhava/for the Index-Tribune)

KTH’s Community Center party

“Stunned” is the only word I could or can think of to react to the food and wine event to say “thank you” to me for chronicling our food goings on for nearly 20 years at both the Sonoma Index-Tribune and the Sonoma Sun.

Sondra Bernstein of the girl & the fig thought the whole thing up, and got caterer Elaine Bell involved, along with Elise Gonzalez-Sahota. Bell, the Sonoma Community Center’s 2022 Muse, kind of took over the food part and, between the two of them, they rounded up an unprecedented food and wine “festival” as our daughter Erin Hill Freschi called it. And everyone donated their food, their time, their wine, and their staff to make it happen. Wow!

Bell herself made and served lamb mini dawgs on her ciabatta buns with sunflower sprouts and sundried tomato relish with brie; Boar’s Head mini dogs, and Mt. Lassen trout with beet tartar and pea shoots with sushi rice and nori chips. Don Landis served his whole Olive Bar and Wild Thyme chef Keith Filipello made pissaladière with and without anchovies, knowing my love of the little fish, and Joanne and Justine Filipello created huge gorgeous flower bouquets to flank my “throne.”

Rob Larman of Il Fuoco brought his meatballs, which he knows I love, and the girl & the fig brought cheeses and housemade charcuterie.

Cristina Topham contributed a spread of her Spread Kitchen cookies and mezze board, Mike the Bejkr offered cookies, and Les Pascals Patisserie provided Madeleines and fondant chocolates.

Michele Heston personally brought one of her famous cakes, Harvey’s Donuts brought his yummies and a full range of toppings, while Delicious Dish made ceviche verde, watermelon and jicama ceviche, and tortilla chips in balsa wood boats.

La Hacienda made chicken taquitos and steak and chicken fajitas, and Aunt Momo (Mara Roche) brought her dad’s buttermilk chicken waffles, smoked salmon bites, and pinot noir chocolate tartlets.

Abundant wine was donated generously by Kivelstadt Cellars, Saul Gropman of Café LaHaye, Roche Winery, Idell Family Vineyards, Bob Rice, and Kevin Kress then of Reel & Brand.

Elaine Bell Catering supplied her staff and all of the pop-up tents, tablecloths, umbrellas and a kitchen prep stove for everyone to use.

While I didn’t get a chance to taste everything, I have heard from many of the 500 attendees that the food, while free to all, combined for “the best Sonoma party ever.”

An enormous hug, kiss, and thank you to all who participated and donated in every way possible. And to Rep. Mike Thompson, Supervisor Susan Gorin, and now-mayor Sandra Lowe for bringing resolutions from Congress, Sonoma City County Board of Supervisors, and the Sonoma City Council.

Messing up a recipe

Since our mother, Emily McKelligon Thompson, passed away in the 1980s, I have looked for her Cowboy Coffee Cake recipe in all of her cookbooks and recipe cards every single Christmas and never found it to honor her by reprising her breakfast that everyone showed up for.

Finally I gave in this Christmas Eve day and looked for the recipe online. One of the sources who made it nearly impossible to print out their recipe, mentioned that the original recipe was in one of the old red and white checked Better Homes & Gardens cookbooks. They also stated that no-one has those books anymore and the recipe is no longer in newer Better Homes & Gardens cookbooks.

But guess who happens to have three of those cookbooks, all from different vintages?

In the 1945 edition of the cookbook the recipe for Cowboy Coffee Cake calls for flour, brown sugar, salt, shortening, baking powder, “soda,” cinnamon, nutmeg, sour milk, and well-beaten eggs.

Let’s see. I had flour and used Gold Medal since I don’t think my mother used organic flour. I had brown sugar, salt, baking powder, cinnamon (organic), and eggs (organic, free-range).

For “soda” I assumed they didn’t mean sparkling water and meant baking soda, of which I was clean out. And I couldn’t find my nutmeg. Shortening? Later editions specify Crisco, and I never have that. (My mother used to fry chicken in Crisco.) But I had extra virgin olive oil, so I used it.

Sour milk? Nope. Later editions say buttermilk. Didn’t have that either, and I can’t imagine how my mother used to drink that stuff. But you can make whole milk “sour” by squeezing lemon juice into it. I squeezed some juice from Sandra Otter’s organic lemon tree and watched it curdle for a few minutes - perfect.

Maybe the challenge of stirring it all left handed with a Velcro brace on my right hand after carpal tunnel surgery was too much to ask, but it was sure worth a fun try.

Well, if you need a 9-inch strong-flavored Cowboy Hockey Puck to sober up on New Year’s Day, go for it. I couldn’t get the kids to take any home and I haven’t seen the neighbors since I gave them some for Christmas morning. It must have been the EVOO or lack of “soda.” Oh, oh!

Sous chef Dawn McIntosh carves a turkey for the Thanksgiving dinners that will be distributed on Wednesday by Sonoma Overnight Support (SOS) at the Sonoma Springs Community Hall. Photo taken on Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2022. (Robbi Pengelly/Index-Tribune)
Sous chef Dawn McIntosh carves a turkey for the Thanksgiving dinners that will be distributed on Wednesday by Sonoma Overnight Support (SOS) at the Sonoma Springs Community Hall. Photo taken on Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2022. (Robbi Pengelly/Index-Tribune)

Please remember …

All food relief organizations have seen large increases of people in need of food. Last year Sonoma Overnight Support (SOS) served 50,000 meals. This year they served 61,000 meals.

And according to acting City Manager Wayne Wyrick the few days’ warming center at the Veterans Building served primarily “hyper local individuals who grew up here in Sonoma Valley.” Please help our neighbors in need in any way you can.

Happy New Year to all, with prayers for good health and an end to all suffering, particularly among migrants and in Sonoma’s Sister City of Kaniv and all of Ukraine.

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