In a county full of stars, Healdsburg shines bright for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the small-town glamour of the plaza that serves as the heartbeat of the enchanted town. On this plaza and the arteries that flow from it, a thriving food and wine scene flourishes alongside a range of quaint boutiques and upscale Inns that together confirm Healdsburg’s reputation as a “must-see” destination in Sonoma County.
With that in mind, I made Healdsburg the next stop on my LivingWells California itinerary with an eye toward sampling the fare at some of the newest eateries on Healdsburg’s most notable square, an adventure made particularly easy by the delightful Tammy Gass, owner and Head Foodie at Savor Healdsburg Tours. Take a walk on your own around Healdsburg Plaza and you’ll find yourself spoiled for choice. Take a tour with Savor Healdsburg and you’ll find that Healdsburg doyenne extraordinaire Tammy Gass has done all the guesswork for you.
Gass, like me, enjoys finding hidden, off-the-beaten path treasures which is exactly what she has done in what has frequently been ranked one of the top ten small towns in America. Hence the reason that the marriage of Gass’ tour and my own LivingWells California adventure seemed set in the stars before I even arrived. I opted to join the “Taste of Healdsburg” tour, which was one of several options Gass’ wildly popular foodie tour company offers, and from the first stop on the tour I knew I had made the right choice.
We began the epic three and a half hour epicurean journey at Shed, an extraordinary new space that combines a shop stocked with everything from organic vegetables and fruits delivered daily by local farmers, flours freshly milled onsite, farm fresh eggs, smoked fish, cured meats and farmstead cheeses to housewares and garden implements of every variety with a café that serves an every changing daily menu built on the principles of responsible farming and seasonal, ingredient-driven cooking. In the cavernous, impeccably curated space where one might quite easily imagine Ina Garten raving “How great is that?” at every turn, we sipped on a variety of shrubs and nibbled on a few items including a flavorful and colorful sampling that included beet tzatziki, goat cheese, olives, hummus and house-made crisps before it was off to our next stop, Café Lucia for a taste of Portuguese cooking, the highlight of which was a soul-satisfying plate of Chorizo Crusted Day Boat Scallops.
From there we headed to the impressive tasting room at Cartograph Wines which, in a refreshing turn, resembles an art gallery rather than a traditional wine-tasting venue, for a few sips of their equally impressive wines. Be forewarned, though the Pinots are clearly the stars at Cartograph, the dry Riesling and Gewürztraminer are standouts of equal note.
Bravas, a tapas restaurant that is one of the newest restaurants in the constellation of celebrated Stark Reality eateries, was our next stop. Here we sampled Champagne Sangria, croquetas and cider braised chorizo and padron peppers on the restaurant’s rustic back terrace, which I am told is quite the scene on weekends and gloriously sunny Wine Country afternoons and evenings. Speaking of sunny Wine Country afternoons, a cool, sweet treat from Noble Folk Ice Cream and Pie Bar was the final delight on my “Taste of Healdsburg” tour and what a spectacular end it was. After spoons of Noble Folk’s innovative ice cream flavors like Japanese Purple Yam, Almond + Cardamom and Roasted Pumpkin, I dived into a generous slice of Maple Walnut Chocolate pie with such zeal that I am grateful to know that it is only available hundreds of miles away from me rather than right on my own back doorstop because I am not sure I would otherwise have the willpower to resist daily indulgence.
After a brief respite in nearby Santa Rosa later that afternoon, It was on to more food on a return visit to Chef Duskie Estes’ Zazu Kitchen + Farm at its snazzy new location in The Barlow, the uniquely fabulous retail space in Sebastopol. A stark contrast to its former farmhouse-style location on dusty country road, the industrial, sleek new Zazu invites a completely different experience albeit with the same farm-to-table fare that made its previous incarnation such a hit. Beginning with Rodeo Jax, a box of black pig bacon caramel popcorn that could become yet another addition, and the ‘pigstrami’ with Johnny’s sauerkraut, the meal ended on a high for me with a heaping serving of the meaty Stemple Beef Chili and Cornbread which offered just the latest example for me of how Chef Duskie can take an everyday favorite and elevate it to a whole new level. Twas a brilliant end to a brilliant day of food and wine in Sonoma.
On Day 17 I head to Petaluma and a night at the casino but before that stop. here’s a look back at the best of Day 16 in pictures.
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(Additional photography by Rob Musick)