Spring (and beyond) restaurant openings in Sonoma County

Thursday, March 1st, 2012

O'Connors City Tavern burger

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.

Santa Rosa
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.

Ari Weiswasser

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.

Author: biteclub

Food Dining and Restaurants in Sonoma County and beyond, BiteClubEats.com is Wine Country dining with Drive-Thru Sensibility.

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  1. Wanted to give an update on John and Zekes bar in Healdsburg the bar has relocated to 420 Healdsburg Ave. I do not know what the owner of the previous location is doing but he is not part of the 420 Healdsburg location at all and John and Zeke”s will carry on with the same great vibe it has always had.

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  2. O’Connor’s didn’t last even a year.

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  3. After a few brews…I like to undress women with my eyes, at BJ’s Restaurant and Brewhouse in Santa Rosa, California! I wonder why they call it “BJ’s”?

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  4. Flipside had signs up that they were going to open on 4/20 but just checked with someone at Rendezvous. Delayed until at least next week. Too bad. The weather is perfect for an opening day!

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  5. Went to Conner’s a couple of weeks ago. It’s in a very popular strip mall so finding a parking space took a while. We were seated quickly however the waitress is also the bartender (at least on that day and I’m not sure if she is always). We had to wait almost ten minutes to get a menu. While looking over the menu she seated a party of six and I overheard her tell them they didn’t have any hamburger. Some of the other dishes on the menu looked good but I had my heart set on the hamburger pictured…we left.

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  6. “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…”

    “Carvery?” “after a losing his lease?” “legal tousles?”

    “Gail, I gotta say that part of my schtick is making up words. I’ve always done it, and as a “real” reporter, that stuff usually gets cut. Frankly, it makes me happy and I find that making up words sometimes better explains things. Plus, yeah…it gets old using the same words all the time.”

    Gimme us a break. It’s sloppy writing and sloppier editing (or sloppy writing and NO editing). Since you write about meat on occasion, perhaps you’re entitled to BUTCHER the language but…if you want to call a legal tussle “legal tousles,” call it what it is…..word BUTCHERY. If you a-want to a-show off your Italiano
    accent, you a-do well by telling us how he’s “a losing” his lease.
    True, it gets old using the same word all the time, but when it SUCKS, it SUCKS.

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  7. it’s good food, but when you can easily drop $75 for a pizza, couple salads, couple glasses wine…….
    the frequency of ‘eating out’ might tend to drop for a significant number of co$t-con$cious diners…

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  8. “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.” The one dollar ‘surcharge’ goes into a bail fund for those who drink a couple quarts of discounted beer and then try to d..r..i…….v…….e…….hiccup……..home.

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  9. Re: Sprengers

    What exactly is a “12-ounce pint?”

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  10. Also just opened, The Athenian on E. Washington across from Whole Foods in Petaluma. Its the same folks who originally owned Papa’s Taverna.

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  11. BJ’s in late fall early winter? I thought they were hiring already.

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  12. Any info on the Petaluma Rosso?

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  13. Thanks Heather! I really appreciate this new-on-the-scene list, even thought I’ve barely been to half of the restaurants on my existing must try list!
    Also, wanted to mention that King Falafel has just opened in Sebastopol where the former under-served Brown Street Grill resided. Will be trying it this Friday, hope they have better luck than BSG… hate seeing well-intentioned eatery’s go under!

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  14. Finally!!I can get my gumbo/poboy/beignet fix without flying all the way to NoLa:-P

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  15. Wow. Lots happening here in Sonoma County! Good thing I am always hungry….

    There is also the HopYard by D’Argenzio Winery and Santa Rosa Vintners Square on Cleveland!

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  16. Is Ozzie’s Grill open yet???

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  17. Please; enough with adding “ery” or “ichery” as in “burgery” or “sandwichery”; those are not WORDS; also the use of “tuck into” used by you and Jeff; very annoying phrase; otherwise, like to stay in touch with the latest in food in SoCo.

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    • Geez, Gail. Do you prefer writers that use the exact same terms in every article, without any thought to creating an authorial voice or using a varying mix of idioms and colloquialisms? Not only is that boring for most readers, but I appreciate that it’s difficult to write about the same subject everyday (in Heather’s case, food) and still keep a fresh writing style.

      Also, if you’re going to be a grammar pedant I’d advise you to look towards your use of semicolons. They have their own purpose and aren’t meant to be sprinkled throughout a single sentence like shrapnel.

    • I rarely use “tuck into”. If ever. Ick.

      Gail, I gotta say that part of my schtick is making up words. I’ve always done it, and as a “real” reporter, that stuff usually gets cut. Frankly, it makes me happy and I find that making up words sometimes better explains things. Plus, yeah…it gets old using the same words all the time.

      I won’t be changing that anytime soon, and i won’t stop using terms like SoCo and Hburg and Ptown and resto. Sorry. That’s who i am. But i do appreciate that there are good grammar police out there. I just chose to jaywalk with my verbiage.

  18. Enough with the “eatery” suffix on EVERTHING; (i.e. burgery, sandwichery); those are NOT words; also use of the phrase “tuck into” is just not tolerated (both you and Jeff); otherwise, love to keep up on the current scene in SoCo.

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  19. Is it just me or are all the new offerings in Santa Rosa pretty much the same thing?? Burgers and sandwiches / pub food. Could we PLEASE get a little diversity in the restaurants up here???

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    • I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again….

      We are not an especially welcoming environment for people to take risks.

      Between the ridiculous parking enforcement and now having to pay at the mall, parking will continue to drive away business from downtown. It’s easier to go somewhere else. That’s a fact.

      Then there are the myriad permitting and business start-up costs. One that comes up a lot are requirements for accessibility. While no one disagrees with inclusion and accessibility, the fiscal reality is that making historic and pre-accessibility buildings come up to current codes is frequently cost prohibitive for someone with an “untested” restaurant concept. People just give up when they hear that putting in a handicapped restroom is going to cost them $30,000 out of the gate. The only ones who can do that are chain restaurants.

      Aside from the gauntlet of permitting and inspection from the city and county, Sonoma County itself can be very fickle. While there is a very vocal and active foodie population, the truth is that we live in a primarily rural area with a lot of families and people on fixed incomes. That means chains are popular. And simpler fare is also popular. I admit to the fact that when I’m taking young kids out to eat, I don’t want to sit around for an hour. I just want to eat and get out. That also frequently means chains…or just eating at home.

      I have had many chefs tell me that they want to do more interesting dishes, but that they just can’t sell it when they put it on the menu.

      We have an older demographic and the cost of living is also high here. That means young, hip chefs who are willing to try interesting new concepts have a limited audience and can’t afford to take risks here. It means really anyone in the restaurant biz isn’t going to take a risk on something unproven. it’s too dangerous.

      We’ve seen so many “diverse” restaurants fail in the last few years. Until the economy gets better and some of the hurdles to starting a restaurant ease up, we will continue to see things like pubby, comfort food and chains crop up.

      It breaks my heart, too.

    • Restaurant-goers are very fickle and don’t always follow through and buy what they claim they would like to.

      I think your observation of the Sonoma County restaurant market is dead-on. I would also add the wide availability of “daring” and “trendy” concepts in the San Francisco / Berkeley /Napa triangle makes it tough going for new restaurants in that segment, particularly where population density is a low as it is in a rural / suburban area like ours.

    • Excellent points, Heather, and I agree with much of what you say. But do we all believe that being the same as the other guys is the way to succeed? Restaurants must compete for customers, and how do you differentiate your place if you’re not very different?

      We actually have a pretty high ratio of restaurants to population here, so it’s a tough business. A little web research shows there are 458 full-service restaurants in SoCo for a population of 485,120. That’s one restaurant for every 1,036 people, not counting fast food. In comparison, Santa Clara county, where I’m from, has one restaurant for every 1200 people. Meaningful? Maybe not, but it at least it means that there aren’t that many customers to go around up here. Or too many restaurants for the population, which is why they seem to turn over at such a high rate.

      One more point: Being retired and on a fixed income simply means you can’t go out for dinner as much as you used to. It doesn’t mean you want boring, predictable food. For some of us, it’s quite the opposite. What’s the point of going out for dinner if it’s something I can make at home? But food of a different country or region is worth going out for, or just something I have no idea how to prepare (Glen Ellen Star is sounding really good…).

  20. What about the Stark’s take over of Ravenous?? Dying for more info on that!

    Looking forward to all the new places popping up!! Thanks for the info!

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    • They’re not talking. I tried. I’d say that it’s not going to be spring.

  21. so excited to sink my choppers into a po’boy! @ Louisiana Legacy

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  22. Looking forward to Maria’s Pop up dinners & John’s Chosen Local spot Dinners & Flipside Down Town Burgers on the Patio. cheers Ray

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    • Woop! I’m looking forward to chowing down at your place. I hear John’s doing some dinners there!

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