Weekending in Sebastopol

Vintners Inn's Italy-meets-California feel

Vintners Inn’s Italy-meets-California feel

Sebastopol is a laid-back town famed for Gravenstein apples and wineries. Over the years, many of the apple orchards have been replanted with vineyards, but there are a few left, with a growing number of artisanal hard cider producers preserving and showcasing the area’s apple wealth (see our recent feature on Devoto Cider), with an annual Apple Blossom Festival in April and Gravenstein Apple Fair in August. The hip, artisan “village” of The Barlow, a series of edible businesses from distillery and coffee house to restaurants, lines walkable streets just off of Sebastopol’s downtown in a series of warehouses. The complex has breathed new life in the town since opening in 2013.

Here is a range of recommends in food, wine, spirits, beer, coffee, juice and ice cream for year-round adventures in this part of Sonoma County.

Zazu's Rodeo Jax popcorn

Zazu’s Rodeo Jax popcorn

Cocktails and Pig Parts

A longtime Sebastopol favorite, Zazu is experiencing new life since it moved into its hip space in The Barlow, with a relaxed patio and an airy interior around a center bar. Cocktails play a big role here, including a barrel aged cocktail program and use of local spirits, like neighboring Spirit Works Distillery in their Spirit Works Sloe 75 ($11.50), a twist on a classic French 75 cocktail mixing the tart sloe gin, lime and Azzurro Frizzante Durello Prosecco — an ideal aperitif or brunch sipper. John Stewart, aka John the butcher, turns out quality house salumi/charcuterie ($11 each or 3 for $26), like a bright orange clove salumi or blissfully fatty, Italian-style culatello.

House Black Pig Bacon appears in numerous places, from sweet-salty Rodeo Jax popcorn ($3.50 – pictured) laced with bacon and caramel, to the The DIRTY burger ($18), with bacon in the patty, decadently slathered in Liberty Duck pate and caramelized onions. Southern delights shine on Chef Sam McKenzi and chef proprietor Duskie Estes’ menu, like a jar of Fiscalini pimento cheese ($9). Pastas are another highlight. Case in point: rye mostaccioli ($17/24) in savory, caraway-laced Stone Valley pork ragu, with nearby Petaluma’s HenHouse Black Lager beer adding depth to the sauce.

Walking Vintners Inn's jogging trail through the vines behind the hotel

Walking Vintners Inn’s jogging trail through the vines behind the hotel

Lodging in the Vineyards

With limited Sebastopol lodging options, Vintners Inn (about a 9 mile drive away on the edge of Santa Rosa) is one of the more pampering and romantic lodging options nearby. Besides being home to John Ash & Co. restaurant, Vintners setting amid a sea of vines, exemplifies quintessential Wine Country, while the architecture of the buildings grouped in a circle recalls Italy. A morning jaunt on the jogging trail through vineyards is an invigorating start to the day, and rooms are comfy with massive beds and vineyard views.

Stay tuned for The Barlow Hotel, opening in (you guessed it), The Barlow, in fall 2016.

A glowing dining room at John Ash

A glowing dining room at John Ash

Romantic Dinner and Bustling Bar Scene

So the address is technically Santa Rosa, but given the minimal hotels on offer in Sebastopol, John Ash & Co. is Vintners Inn’s restaurant, complete with lively, glowing bar packed with locals and visitors alike, and a romantic, multi-room restaurant with roaring fireplace, gazing out over the vineyards behind the hotel. Chef Thomas Schmidt has been helming the restaurant for years but also spent a couple decades living and cooking in Germany. The menu covers Californian-Mexican flavors (Tom’s chile relleno) to Californian-Asian (ahi tuna tartare with Asian pears in togarashi vinaigrette). If you’re lucky, you just might catch Schmidt’s off-menu specials like lush foie gras over a tart, stewed green apple and parsnip puree in a fantastic balsamic cherry jam and PX (Pedro Ximénez) sherry reduction.

Spirit Works Distillery

Spirit Works Distillery

Local Gin, Sloe Gin & Whiskey

You’ve not had a sloe gin quite like this one before: fresh, tart and not at all cloying or medicinal as many sloe gins can be. Husband/wife dynamo, Timo and Ashby Marshall, and their staff ensure a warm welcome at their shiny Spirit Works Distillery in The Barlow. Ashby distills vodka, gin and sloe gin from start to finish (grain to bottle), while their special barrel aged gin and sloe gin take it to the next level with woody notes and layered complexity. Stay tuned for their rye and wheat whiskies, aging now and hopefully about a year out from release. Their adorable Boston terrier, Bandit, greets visitors with enthusiastic cheer.


Vignette’s peperoni cruschi peppers

Neapolitan Pizza

Though Neapolitan pizza may be ubiquitous in big cities, Vignette brought quality pizzas to Sebastopol mid-2014, cooked until the crust properly blisters in their wood-fired pizza oven. Chef Mark Hopper’s Italian roots come through in the pies and in wine selections like a crisp 2013 Marotti Campi rosé/rosato from Italy’s Marche region. Try downright addictive starters like blistered peperoni cruschi peppers ($8 – pictured) drizzled with olive oil and sea salt. The expansive garage space opens onto a spacious, sunken lawn, an ideal gathering spot for local families, the kids playing on the lawn as the adults sip aperitifs over pizza.

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Fork Roadhouse

Fork Roadhouse

Countryside Roadhouse

Newcomer Fork Roadhouse (opened in January) is a good 10 minute drive from downtown Sebastopol, idyllically set amongst redwoods and farms with a backyard eating area marked by blooming tulips and blossoms in the spring. As a catering company and food truck first, Fork regularly feeds locals at weekly events, while the restaurant is open for breakfast and lunch Thursday through Sunday. They recently started doing Thursday night dinners. Look for NorCal locals like Bear Republic beers or County Line wines on tap and house-smoked bbq meats and fish, like wild black cod from Fort Bragg up the coast. The pork belly fried egg tacos ($6 for 1, $11 for 2) are rightly popular, packed to overflowing with meat, eggs, cotija cheese and vegetables.

BurtoNZ Bakery in Windsor

BurtoNZ Bakery in Windsor

New Zealand Savory Pies

In the neighboring town of Windsor, less than a 10 minute drive from Vintners Inn, BurtoNZ is a new bakery since December 2014 from husband and wife team, Warren and Bobbi Burton. Warren hails from New Zealand and in their cheery bakery they serve daily-baked breads, pastries, and, most notably, New Zealand-style savory pies and sausage rolls. Filling and hearty, most items range from $2-6. We love the mince (ground beef) and cheese pie, warm and oozing in flaky pastry, and on the sweet side, cinnamon roll-reminiscent Chelsea buns, a twist on a New Zealand classic, marked by currants, fresh orange and buttery cream.

Woodfour Brewery

Woodfour Brewery

Beer & Wine

Besides live music venue/beer garden/restaurant, Hopmonk Tavern (one of three locations), Sebastopol is also home to Woodfour Brewery, a brewery and restaurant that opened in The Barlow in late 2013. Locals gather on a festive front patio under brightly-colored umbrellas as Woodfour brews its own beers and hosts an array of guest drafts from the likes of neighboring Warped Brewery or the fantastic Tilted Shed Cider in the nearby town of Windsor (watch for rarities like Tilted Shed Barred Rock Cider aged in bourbon barrels). Though Woodfour’s Saison is a signature beer, try their funky, dry Sour Farmhouse Ale or crisp, refreshing Berliner Weisse at merely 3.6% ABV.

A number of wine greats from the region house open air tasting rooms in The Barlow, like cult favorite Wind Gap Winery (oh, that Trousseau Gris!) or Kosta Browne, producing wines from the Sonoma Coast, Russian River and Santa Lucia Highlands.

Blue Beagle Coffee

Blue Beagle Coffee

Coffee Fix

So hipster, sustainable and local, one feels as if they never left the city when grabbing coffee or working from laptops at Taylor Maid Farms in The Barlow. For an off-the-beaten path option — without a Sebastopol address but a short drive from Vintners Inn — is Blue Beagle Coffee (pictured), tucked inconspicuously in a strip mall but worth a detour for coffee geeks. With a logo hearkening heavily to Blue Bottle Coffee, this charming blue beagle painting oversees a cafe where house roasted beans are expertly prepared in espresso drinks from a La Marzocco espresso machine.

Peter Lowell's

Peter Lowell’s Pzza Primavera

Farm-Fresh Pizzas & Orange Wines

While dishes at Peter Lowell‘s can be uneven, their relaxed, farm-fresh approach appeals, alongside properly-prepared espresso drinks using SF’s Four Barrel Coffee and a savvy wine list covering everything from earthy orange wines to crisp Austrian Gruner. Pizzas stand out and are thankfully available from brunch to dinner. These aren’t classic Italian Neapolitan pies, but California-influenced, thin-crust pizzas, with farm-fresh toppings. Watch for specials like a Pizza Primavera ($17), savory and tasting of Spring with alliums (a type of onion), taleggio cheese, Parmigiano cheese and dollops of kale pesto.

The Nectary

The Nectary

Of Juice and Ice Cream

One immediately feels healthier sipping The Nectary‘s robust, cold press juices. There are crowd-pleasers like the probiotic lavender vanilla lemonade ($5) but we like the vegetal funk and Japanese flavor profile of Liquid Zen ($9) combining daikon radish, burdock root, cilantro, apple, lemon and ume plum.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, satisfy the sweet tooth at locals favorite Screamin‘ Mimi’s with scoops of ever-changing, house flavors, like lemon poppy or Maker’s Mark bourbon.