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New restaurants abound in Petaluma

Last year was a stellar one for Petaluma’s food scene, providing more writing material than even the current president has bestowed upon the writers of Saturday Night Live. Along with a slew of great new restaurants, we also had to say some hard goodbyes to old friends.

In 2016, my food crew and I had more than our hands full trying to hit all the new places, while always being drawn back to our old favorites.

At the end of 2015 Louise, the former owner of Thai Bistro, opened her new shop, Thai River on Washington Street, just east of the river. We dine here regularly and enjoy the bold fresh flavors and warm service.

Another restaurant that opened just prior to the 2016 New Year was Brasil BBQ, which has quickly gained quite the loyal following, with regular lunch guests making the trek from all over town in order to enjoy Cristina’s great Brasilian dishes. The Rodizio (all-you-can-eat meat dinner) is the star of the show when it comes to the dinner menu.

Quinua Cocina Peruana opened its doors to great fanfare, in large part because owner Juan went out of his way to make sure he was reaching out to the community. We dine here regularly because we not only admire Juan’s love of Petaluma, but also appreciate his humble approach to offering flavorful and visually pleasing dishes from his home country. Not surprisingly, Quinua took home the coveted “Best New Restaurant” at the 2016 Petaluma People’s Choice awards. His clientele also appear to be quite loyal, and at the same time he is introducing Petaluma to great new Peruvian dishes, he is also working with local nonprofits to make sure that he is giving back to the community.

The Shuckery filled an obvious gap in Petaluma’s restaurant scene by opening an oyster bar and seafood restaurant at its Hotel Petaluma location. Oysters are an integral and historic part of our coastal economy so it is great to have them well represented downtown. The rest of the menu is chalk full of great seafood items, and clearly fills a void, because the Shuckery’s dining room is constantly packed.

Kitty corner from the Shuckery, Velasco’s closed up shop after nearly two decades, and was replaced by the produce-driven Drawing Board. Well worth the almost year-long build-out, the Drawing Board has a great bar and cocktail menu, along with locally-driven dishes, including the best duck cassoulet I have had this side of Portugal. The Drawing Board has seriously raised the bar for Petaluma’s farm-to-fork dining.

Crocodile opened its doors in the Theater District space formerly occupied by Bistro 100. I was skeptical when I first heard of Crocodile because it seemed quite similar to Bistro 100, starting with its French cuisine, but has turned out to be a whole different tasty beast, which was evident after our very first meal. We have been enjoying Crocodile’s approachable French cuisine ever since and love hearing from readers how much they too love Crocodile.

Brewsters Beer Garden opened in a blaze of glory with an incredible selection of craft beers, cocktails and some of the best barbecue I have ever had. But Chef Beerman’s cuisine goes well beyond his southern-inspired cooking, and we have had nothing but spectacular meals every time we visit, which is often. We look forward to the coming spring and summer when this beer garden will really be able to stretch its legs.

Next door to Brewsters, Supreme Sweets opened a bakery and coffee shop, although they are best known for their cake making. Recently, a friend was in dire need of a last minute custom cake and Supreme Sweets was the only place that gladly took on the challenge, and did a fantastic job making a kid’s birthday memorable.

SlamBurger has really come into its own since opening a few months ago next to Sugo Trattoria. Owner Maurice chose Petaluma to launch his SlamBurger chain because of its community vibe and proximity to quality ingredients and has been on site every day since to make sure that guests are getting only the best. With an impressive list of local, organic, non-GMO and gluten-free options, SlamBurger is so much more than just a burger joint. Although I have to take my food crew’s word that the salads and veggie options are excellent, I can speak with authority that the frickles (fried pickles) are some of the best on the planet.

Down the Boulevard, Charley’s Wine Country Deli re-opened. The original Charley’s daughter Stacy and her husband Ron have done a great job stocking their shelves with great local wines, beers and spirits. They also turn out great sandwiches and lunch specials that have certainly put Charley’s back on the map, just as it was when I visit regularly as a kid.

Although it was with great sadness that Bovine Bakery closed its doors, Bright Bear Bakery + seems to have filled the void, at least for those willing to make the short drive down Lakeville Street. Although different in many ways, Bright Bear is also quite similar to Bovine in that the owners are passionate and knowledgeable about what they are doing. They are also turning out pastries and lunches that have people driving in from miles around. But their coffee is what really sets them apart, with a lot of innovative offerings.

Bump City Bakery also opened this year, in the American Alley space formerly occupied by 2 London Foodies. They have fairly limited hours, mostly on the weekends. Their main focus is supplying Bay Area restaurants with gluten-free cookies, drunken cupcakes and boozy pies.

O! Sushi rebranded itself after making the move all the way up McDowell Boulevard from the Casa Grande shopping center, to its current location in the Orchard Shopping Center. I have yet to try them, but local sushi lovers seem to be impressed.

Alfredo’s Italian opened on the East Side, behind Staples, and has been a hit for that neighborhood. With plenty of dine-in customers, as well as a healthy take-out business, Alfredo’s doubled its space within months of first opening.

Just down the street on East Washington, Fantasy Restaurant Hong Kong Style BBQ opened in the old Round Table Pizza location. Unique from other Chinese restaurants in town, you can get some interesting and tasty meats here, as Hong Kong does it different than other parts of China. Do not be surprised to see ducks hanging from a rack when you first walk in the door, and delicacies such as tendon and tongue on the menu.

Then there are those that we lost in 2016. Native Kitchen tried their hand at vegetarian and vegan cuisine (along with some meat dishes) at their location in the downtown block of Petaluma Boulevard, but to no avail. The owners were very nice, but the food simply never lived up to expectations and the space still sits vacant.

Across the street, Hiro’s Sushi closed its doors after a long run in downtown only to be rumored to be replaced with another high-end sushi restaurant, slated to open later this spring.

The much loved Teriyaki Bowl closed its doors kitty corner from Whole Foods, citing family health issues. We hope they are doing okay, and look forward to seeing what is going into their space, where construction is currently underway.

East Side favorite Zee’s Diner closed up shop in the Plaza South shopping center and relocated to Santa Rosa. Since that time, Acre Coffee has opened in its place, giving the East Side a much needed coffee and donut shop.

Faron BBQ holds the distinction of being the only restaurant to both close and re-open this past year. After being shut down at Mario & John’s for not having a permanent kitchen, Faron switched over to pop-up catering, before finding a permanent location at the end of the year.

But it was also bittersweet because his new spot was only available because Chef Brenda had closed down her wildly popular Secret Kitchen. She is still involved in the Petaluma food scene, both as a caterer, under the new name Trade Secret, but also as a kitchen and restaurant consultant. We look forward to seeing her next project get underway because nobody made a Banh Mi sandwich quite like chef Brenda.

Three Petaluma food companies deserve special mention, even though one has been around for a couple of years, and the other two do not actually make food. The first is Bellyfull Dinners, which does a great job of delivering delicious and hearty meals directly to your doorstep.

The second is Road Butler, which is a flat-fee based service that delivers take-out orders from any restaurant in town. We use this service regularly, not only because of the convenience of not having to run all over town, but also because owner Mark Urenda is an absolute pleasure to work with and picks up from restaurants that might not otherwise offer delivery.

Finally, there is Petaluma Food Tours, which offers a variety of culinary walking tours of downtown Petaluma. Even one as entrenched in the Petaluma food scene as yours truly had a great time and learned a lot of Petaluma’s history on the tour I attended.

North Bay foodies are finally taking notice of what Petalumans have known for years, which is that Petaluma’s restaurant scene is amazing, not only in its quality and diversity, but also in how it integrates into our community. The Press Democrat’s Bite Club column listed Petaluma as the “Most Interesting Town for Restaurant Openings in 2016” and 2017 promises to be even better.

With the anticipated openings of places like The Block Petaluma, 256 North, and the recently opened Sarah’s Eats and Sweets, along with many more surprises on the horizon, Petaluma is destined to garner even more attention for all of its diverse culinary choices.