A Guide To The Town Of Healdsburg: Where Old-World Meets New
Nestled among three wine appellations in northern Sonoma County, and right at the corner where modern meets old-world, the town of Healdsburg is bit of heaven on earth for wine and food enthusiasts. It’s a country town with all the charm of a picturesque square and friendly gatherings among neighbors; yet it packs a sophisticated punch when it comes to food and beverage. Country it may be, but sleepy it is not. Healdsburg’s vibe is unparalleled with its unique blending of culture, cuisine , community, and commerce.
Wine is the top attraction for visitors and they certainly have many options to visit the tasting rooms in neighboring Alexander Valley, Dry Creek Valley, and Russian River Valley. But Healdsburg offers all this plus much more! It is Northern Sonoma’s epicurean epicenter. With most restaurants within walking distance of each other in the town center, it is anything but a casual stroll through town. Every storefront boasts the name of a first-rate tasting room or renowned restaurant or bar. A step inside any one of these numerous establishments will lead you to a lively expert who will whisk you away on a flavorful and educational journey of local offerings from old-to-new world. From here, you’ll certainly emerge with your appetite delightfully quenched in more ways than one.
Many visitors stay at Hotel Healdsburg and enjoy Chef Charlie Palmer’s contemporary American fare at the on-site restaurant, Dry Creek Kitchen. The seasonal menu offers plenty of options for both omnivores such as Liberty Farms Duck Breast with Peas, Carrots, Chickpeas in Port Verjus Natural, and non-meat eaters, including Front Porch Ancient Grains with Trumpet Mushrooms, Caramelized Turnips Castelvetrano Olive Oil, Bitter Greens and Tofu Aioli. The hotel’s American Continental breakfast features fresh baked breads fresh baked breads from Red Bird Bakery in Santa Rosa.
“Local” defines Chef Dustin Valette, a Dry Creek Kitchen alum, who grew up in nearby Geyserville. Ninety-five percent of the produce in his dishes at Valette is sourced from gardens located less than a single mile from the restaurant which was formerly a bakery owned by Dustin’s great grandfather. Our meal started with a shareable house-made charcuterie and cheese board and fresh Hawaiian Ahi Poke with Strong Arm Farm Kombu seaweed. As a veggie-centric eater, I always appreciate a creative approach to preparing plant-based dishes, and Dustin did not disappoint with his Tangerine Infused Beets en Papillote with Preserved Lemon, Farro Risotto, Baby Carrots and Laura Chenel Goat Cheese.
Allow plenty of time for your visit to Healdsburg SHED to browse around its store filled with kitchen gadgets, culinary gifts, a fermentation bar and bakery. Winner of a 2014 James Beard Award for restaurant design, SHED is a self-described grange hall, a cook’s market, café, and community gathering space The
menu changes daily, inspired by the SHED’s own farm and explodes with fresh flavors. I was in veggie heaven! Highlights from our dinner included Chilled Melon Soup Green Plums, Cucumber, Rhubarb, Opal Basil, Dry Creek Stonefruit Salad, Tinker Bell Peppers, Pennyroyal Goat Cheese, Za’atar Oil and a pizza topped with Spanish anchovies, Wild Nettles andParmigiano-Reggiano. If you go, consider the reasonably priced four-course tasting menu ($68). Also inspired by its family farm, BarnDiva delivers more locally inspired fare in its red barn with soaring ceilings located adjacent to its garden and separate gallery-bistro. The menu, like many restaurants in the area, is seasonal. During our dinner I
enjoyed Yellowfin Tuna Crudo with Sticky Rice, Avocado, Pickled Chile and Tamari Soy as a starter followed by Caramelized King Salmon with Yukon Gold Potato Rösti, Pickled Red Cabbage, Caviar Crème Fraîche, and Caramelized Cipollini Onions. BarnDiva also offers classes in pig butchering, cooking and cocktail making and a nice choice of prix-fixe French Country dinners in the gallery bistro on Sundays for $39.
Soothing tea facials and foot baths are an optional treat at The Taste of Tea, a small café specializing in Japanese teas that the on-site trained tea docents will inform you are functional with medicinal properties. The small menu offers a selection of bento boxes, udon, ramen and donburi dishes you can eat in or take out, which we did for a picnic. I chose the Hijiki Donburi made with house-braised seaweed. If you are mad for matcha, this is the place to go; there are many versions to try, and there are creative alcohol-free tea-cocktails.
In addition to the places I personally visited, we asked our local restaurant and wine industry friends where they go when they are off duty. Chef Charlie Palmer and Erin Hunt, who handles PR for restaurants and wineries in the area, mentioned Campo Fina for its wood-fired pizza, home-style Italian fare and Monday night bocce tournaments. Chefs Charlie Palmer and Dustin Valette admit to loving Negronis. Dustin
heads to Dukes Wine & Spirits, a local watering hole and restaurant since 1933. The location on the square may be historic but the cocktails, with a commitment to using local ingredients are decidedly modern. Charlie sips his at Spoonbar, a farm-to cocktail bar and restaurant whose drinks are made with locally grown organic herbs, fruits and vegetables and domestically produced spirits. Always attracted to anything that sounds a little sensual and somewhat healthy, I suggest the “Afterglow” made with Encanto Pisco, Apricot, Chamomile, Honey, Lemon, and Carpano Bianco.
One of the watering holes recommended by Lisa Mattson, Director of Marketing for nearby Jordan Winery, in her resourceful Wine Country Table is Alexander Valley Bar, a former country feed store dating back to the 1920s. The only cocktail bar licensed to operate on a winery, the small dimly lit building is tucked behind the tasting room at Medlock Ames Winery and offers a panoramic view of the vineyards.
After our jam-packed weekend visit, we promised to return for a longer stay. Like a fine bottle of wine or a great meal, a visit to Healdsburg should be savored slowly with no rush and plenty of time to enjoy all of its delicious offerings.
Healdsburg Tip Sheet
Dine and Drink:
BarnDiva. The family farm inspired this farm-to-table restaurant that includes a garden and gallery. Farm tours and classes in pig butchering, cooking and cocktails are offered. Address: 231 Center Street, Tel: 707-431-0100.
Dry Creek Kitchen. Locally inspired “Progressive American.” Address: 317 Healdsburg Avenue, Tel: 707-431-0100.
Valette. Locally inspired dishes and a killer charcuterie board. Address: 344 Center Street, Tel: 707-473-0946..
Costeaux. French bakery-café dating back to 1923 beloved by locals for its artisan and sourdough breads and desserts Address: 417 Healdsburg Avenue, Healdsburg 707.433.1913
Campo Fina. Homestyle Italian and wood-fired pizza. Address: 330 Healdsburg Avenue, (707) 395-4640.
Spoonbar. Locally sourced menu and cocktails with Italian influences. Address: 219 Healdsburg Ave, 707-433-7222.
Jimtown Store. Casual café and boxed lunches for picnics. Address: 6706 Highway 128, Tel: (707) 433-1212
The Alexander Valley Bar at Medlock Ames Winery. Address: 3487 Alexander Valley Rd. (707) 431-1904
Duke’s Spirited Cocktails. A self-described “locally cultivated cocktail bar” in an historic location dating back to 1933. Address: 111 Plaza Street, 707.431.1060
Numerous wineries in the area welcome visitors by appointment. Here are a few representing the three appellations around Healdsburg:
Jordan Estate Winery. (Alexander Valley) The stately estate surrounded by expansive grounds offers vineyard hikes, wine dinners and lunches paired with its award- winning Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon wines. Address: 1474 Alexander Valley Road Tel: 800-654-1213
Gary Farrell Winery. (Russian River Valley). Focusing on small batch Pinot Noir and single vineyard Chardonnays in a beautiful hilltop setting with a newly renovated tasting room. Address: 10701 Westside Road, Tel: 707-473-2909.
Seghesio Vineyards. (Alexander Valley) True to its Italian heritage, produces elegant wines from Italian varietals as well as lush Zinfandel that pair perfectly with a plate of salumi. The tasting room is in Healdsburg town. Address: 700 Grove Street, Tel. 707-433-3579.
Lambert Bridge Winery. (Dry Creek Valley) This family owned winery produces small-lot, artisanal Bordeaux-varietal wines. Address: 4085 Dry Creek Road, Tel: (800) 975-0555.