Spring brings with it the promise of new hope. And that’s good news in the restaurant world. As buds begin to break, a fresh crop of chefs and restaurateurs are putting the final touches on local eateries and watering holes featuring everything from haute burgers and bacon-wrapped tater tots to Cajun po’ boys, wacky sandwiches and New Orleans-meets-Lebanese dining.
Here’s the tally of restaurants and bars bursting onto the spring and summer scene, and beyond.
Now open, O’Connor’s City Tavern: Just in time for St. Pat’s, the former John Barleycorns got a facelift and a new menu that’ll have Irish eyes a smilin’. Owner Dan O’Connor continues his mom’s much-loved local cooking traditions with made-to-order burgers (his secret is a mix of pork and beef); tasty sandwiches, fries, bangers and mash and bacon-wrapped tater tots. Don’t miss Mom’s Potato Salad, a much-coveted recipe he won’t reveal. O’Connor plans to start a weekly Irish Sunday supper in the coming weeks. Kids are welcome in the restaurant area, but the vibe is more pub than cafe in the later evening hours. 2700 Yulupa Ave.
Flipside Bar and Burger: This hotly-anticipated burger bar from the owner of Rendez Vous Bistro in Santa Rosa is in private previews for the next several weeks but should finally open to the public in late March. Located next to Third St. Ale Works, restaurateur Nino Rabbaa has been perfecting the menu — focused on gourmet-style hamburgers — with his new staff. Rabbaa said he plans to invite 50 of the restaurant’s Facebook fans for preview dinners. The space is likely to be a summer favorite, with a newly constructed patio and large glass panels that open the front to the outside. 630 Third St.
Ike’s Place: The popular SF sandwichery best known for their “dirty sauce” creatively-named sandwiches (the Lizzy’s Lips, Spiffy Tiffy, Fat Bastard, Pizzle) has been “coming soon” to Santa Rosa since sometime in 2010. But just when we thought all hope was lost, they’re fast-tracking it to opening at the at the gated-off S&S Market spot at 1780 Mendocino Ave. Look for a spring opening as soon as March.
Sprenger’s Tap Room: In the grand tradition of many a pub, Sprengers is selling Mug Memberships. For $125 (until March 10), members get a personalized 28oz mug (left at the bar) refilled throughout the year for the price of a 12-ounce pint plus $1. Expect 32 beers on tap when the Brickyard Center hangout opens in mid-March, along with burger and fries-style pub fare.
Mr. Hofbrau: Narsi Samii takes over the former Santa Rosa Junior College Cafe and Bakery at the Brickyard Center, continuing the tradition of his former carvery and sandwich spot at Coddingtown. He shuttered his Narsi’s Hofbrau in March 2010 after a losing his lease. After two years of legal tousles with mall owners, he and his brother, Sam Samii, hope to open their new venture by mid-March.
Under construction, BJ’s Restaurant and Brewhouse: Late fall or early winter is the anticipated opening date for BJ’s at the renovated north entrance of Coddingtown Mall. The national chain eatery will have a capacity for approximately 280 guests, and feature signature deep-dish pizza, handcrafted beer and of course, the Pizookie. Whatever that is.
In development, Boudin/SF: A 4,000 square foot restaurant and bakery is slated for construction at Montgomery Village, replacing the former Copperfield’s bookstore. The SF-based bakery and restaurant chain, Boudin/SF will move into the newly constructed location, along with a 1828 square-foot ACRE coffee shop. A heat patio and covered patio are part of the designs.
Louisiana Legacy: Popular Cajun cook and farm market staple Rob Lippincott is planning a brick and mortar at 60 Mill St., the former Johnny’s spot. He’s hoping to serve up everything from his signature beignets to po’ boys and gumbo at the off-Plaza location. Look for a late spring or early summer opening.
Now Open, Bergamot Alley: Former flour + water sommelier Kevin Wardell recently opened a combination wine shop/wine bar in a former antique shop just off the Healdsburg square that’s anything but stuffy. Featuring (gasp!) only wines from Italy, Spain, Morocco, France and Greece, Bergamot pays homage to locals with a variety of California craft beers on tap or in a cooler. Peek into the Wine Porn room, featuring a swoon-worthy collection of rare wines, listen to some vintage vinyl, and expect a nibbling menu to debut in early March with bites from local restaurants including Scopa, Zazu and Diavola. Open until 1am Monday through Saturday. 328A Healdsburg Ave.
Now Open, Healdsburger: Recent purchase by sports exec David Alioto has this former A&W Drive-in charming locals with made-to-order burgers, freshly cut fries and homemade milkshakes. Aluminum serving trays and neatly-dressed staffers are reminiscent of St. Helena’s Gott’s Roadside (formerly Taylor’s Automatic Refresher). 48 Healdsburg Ave.
Shuffles and Changes to Come: Staff change-overs at Spoonbar bar have the town atwitter. Rumors of a forthcoming chef from San Francisco are swirling, but Hotel Healdsburg General Manager Aziz Zhari isn’t talking yet. He has confirmed that the new toque starts in late March, so expect news of exactly who will be taking over the Mediterranean-themed menu in the next few weeks. Meanwhile, Scopa’s Ari Rosen is still remaining mum on his new restaurant concept, though a toque has been hired. And the new owners of John and Zeke’s Bar say they’re not planning to make any changes to the popular watering hole. The bar lost its lease earlier this year.
Sonoma & Glen Ellen
Glen Ellen Star: Ari Weiswasser, an alum of French Laundry, Daniel and Picholine, is finalizing the menu for his wood-fired oven, rustic Italian-style restaurant. Preview dinners are impressive, including dishes like wine-braised short ribs with mustard flowers and ricotta gnocchi with orange blossom honey and pine nuts. Look for a spring opening, 13648 Arnold Dr., Glen Ellen.
Crisp Bake Shop: The big buzz around Sonoma (other than Lady Gaga’s recent sighting) is this forthcoming bakery and cafe in the old Artisan Baker’s space at 720 West Napa St., Chef Moaya Scheiman partners with pastry chefs Andrea Koweek and Christina Strickland to create “modern renditions of classic American baked goods.” Slated for a mid-March opening, they’ll be open from 6am to 2pm daily with morning pastries, lunch sandwiches, cakes, cookies and confections as well as offering specialty wedding and occasion cakes.
Pop-ups and trucks
There’s no slow-down in impromptu dining around the north bay.
Area food trucks continue to pull into weekday locations around Santa Rosa and Sebastopol (Truckin’ Thursday at O’Reilly Media, 1005 Gravenstein Hwy North), but will become increasingly visible as the weather warms. On the horizon: Wheel Food and Family Fun at Finley Park. Beginning March 15, the trucks pull up to the park from 5-7:30pm (third Thursday of the month) for dinner and music, with portions of the proceeds going to Santa Rosa Parks and Recreation programs.
March also marks the anticipated return of Park-n-Eat at Sonoma County Regional parks. Tuesday evenings, a group of trucks will pull up for al fresco dining at Spring Lake. On Thursday they’ll be at Ragle Ranch Park. Stay tuned for more truck sightings, including news of several new trucks on the horizon.
Chef Maria Vieages and her crew are working on a top-secret pop-up dinner slated for late March inside a local restaurant. We can’t say where just yet, but she’s planning a combination New Orleans and Lebanese-style dinner. King of the SoCo Pop-Ups, Chef John Lyle, has secured the Luther Burbank Home and Gardens for another series of his “Chosen Spot” dinners, anticipated for later this spring.