It’s been said that there’s something magical in the air around San Francisco that makes for our special sourdough. But it’s not just sourdough. The natural yeasts that have wisely settled in the North Bay make for truly great artisan bread, something that Bread Father Peter Reinhart of Brother Juniper’s knew well. The legendary baker who launched his bread business in Sonoma County (and has since moved onto national fame), set the stage for the dense, chewy, hearth and brick-baked breads that continue to grace our tables.
Throughout the county (and beyond), all you need to do is follow your nose early in the morning to find a fresh-baked loaf of Italian ciabatta, hearty wheat, French baguettes, Scandinavian smorrebrod and of course, our native sourdough, warm and ready to eat.
Wild Flour Bread
Make the pilgrimage to this funky Freestone bakery that’s become a must-stop for the bicyclists and the beach-bound. Follow your nose to where weekenders congregate around a communal table with steaming plates of sticky buns and fruit-studded scones or chase children through the garden. Don’t leave without tucking away a dense, seeded boule and an extra fougasse stuffed with savory cheese and veggies straight from the brick oven. There’s a catch, however: The bakery is only open Friday through Monday, they don’t take credit cards and speed isn’t a virtue here, so sometimes there’s a wait. Which only heightens the pleasure of finally getting that first bite. 140 Bohemian Hwy, Freestone, (707) 874-2938.
Full Circle Baking
The secret to this Penngrove bakery’s amazing bread is the flour. Owner Keith Giusto uses organic grains milled to his specifications for his coveted loaves, along with a nearly 20-year-old Zinfandel-grape starter. Sourdough is the bakery’s trademark, though fans also go nuts for their sprouted wheat. 10151 Main, Penngrove, (707) 794-9445 and at Santa Rosa farm markets.
Man cannot live on bread alone. But you know, add a little cheese, some crème fraiche, maybe a slice or two of jambon, and a person could survive in quasi-Parisian bliss for, gosh, days. Petaluma’s cozy Euro-style Della Fattoria Cafe is the best spot for quaffing espresso with thick slices of Meyer lemon rosemary campagne, baguettes and ciabatta served in top Bay Area restaurants. 141 Petaluma Boulevard N., Petaluma, (707) 763-0161.
Costeaux French Bakery
Healdsburg’s original boulangerie recently relocated its ovens down the street, which means no more sweet smell of baking bread — but a lot more room to eat it. The bakery has been transformed into a sprawling sit-down cafe all the better to pour over a morning coffee walnut sourdough baguette. Lunchtime’s sweet-savory Monte Cristo (turkey, ham and Jarlsberg cheese on cinnamon raisin bread) is a classic.417 Healdsburg Avenue, Healdsburg, (707) 433-1913.
Bennett Valley Baking
A high-end grocery staple, Bennett Valley Bread and Pastry are the masters of taste-bud busting breads including Garlic Jack, Kalamata Olive, and their award-winning Walnut Gorganzola. Available at G&G Market and Pacific Market.
Expect serious French breads, breakfast pastries and desserts from this secret culinary hideout. Located in a medical office park, Chloe’s isn’t easy to find, but Marc, Alain and Renee Pisan consistently create some of the best cafe cuisine in the North Bay. Alain mans the patisserie, baking up airy croissants, crispy palmiers, ganache pastry and of course, baguettes each day. 3883 Airway drive Suite 145, Santa Rosa, (707) 528-3095.
A touch of Scandinavia in Wine Country, including the acquired taste of dark rye smørrebrød, along with house made sourdoughs and baguettes. While you’re there, pick up a triple berry pie as well — they’re the best in Sonoma. 1445 Town and Country Dr., Santa Rosa, (707) 527-7654.
Downtown Bakery and Creamery
Healdsburgers know this is the best breakfast spot in town. Pull up a spot on the bench outside, sip your latte and munch on a pizzetta while the rest of Wine Country wakes up around you. 308 A Center Street, Healdsburg, (707) 431-2719.
Restaurants with in-house bakeries
The gold standard for bread in Wine Country Wine Country’s two toniest restaurants, Healdsburg’s Cyrus and Yountville’s French Laundry, both have their own bread bakers. Sadly, Cyrus is not offering a retail outlet for their carefully crafted breads yet, though The French Laundry’s Bouchon Bakery has everything from French baguettes to their signature shortbread available without a reservation. 6528 Washington Street, Yountville, (707) 944-2253.
Eat their homework
My secret source for tasting morning pastries and bread is the Santa Rosa Junior College Cafe and Bakery. The fun part is never really knowing what you’ll get — a rustic wheat boule on day, olive oily foccaccia the next. Re-opens June 24. Corner of 7th and B Streets in downtown Santa Rosa, (707) 576-0279