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Petaluma chili tasting with a side of beer and spicy salsa

The Great Petaluma Chili Cookoff, Salsa, and Beer Tasting celebrates its 20th anniversary on Sat, May 6. With more than 50 chilis, 30 salsas, at least two dozen microbreweries, live entertainment and a panel of local celeb judges, this event has been a Petaluma icon for two decades now.

The most amazing thing is that it is not uncommon for non-restaurant teams to take home top honors, so anyone with a decent chili recipe should nab one of the few remaining competitor spots. Proceeds help fund Cinnabar Theater’s Young Rep program. Visit www.greatchilicookoff.com for more info.

Craft Beer Appreciation

There are still a few seats remaining in SSU’s Craft Beer Appreciate certificate program. The “Business of Beer” segment starts on March 22, with classes meeting every Wednesday through April 5, from 6 to 9 p.m. at Lagunitas Brewing. Other upcoming courses include beer appreciation, beer making and how to start a craft brewery.

Herlinda Heras runs the program, as well as being a local homebrewer, beer expert, writer and judge, and hosts KSRO’s weekly Brew HaHa radio show. More info at www.sonoma.edu/exed/beer

Greek Independence Celebration

Yanni’s Sausages of Penngrove honors Greek Independence Day, March 25, by offering their Spartan sausage sandwich as March’s special. The Spartan is Yanni’s Greek Sausage served with grilled onions, spinach feta pesto and red chile apricot glaze, all wrapped in bread from Full Circle Bakery.

Upcoming food events

Petaluma Hills Brewing Company kicks off its 2017 Homebroots program with the unveiling of Bob Peak’s black lager “Dark Energy.” An homage to “Death and Taxes” from Moonlight Brewing Company, both Peak and JJ Jay, Petaluma Hill’s owner/brewer, brewed Peak’s recipe side-by-side on their respective homebrew kits, using identical ingredients, yet I can guarantee that there will be enough subtle differences that you’ll want to taste them both.

Both beers will be tapped on Thur, March 9 at the Petaluma Hill’s taproom, and because these beers usually sell out within the evening, I recommend getting there early. You can learn more about the beer, the brewers and the Homebroots program at Petaluma Hills’s website. A portion of the proceeds will be donated to Peak’s charity of choice, which is Cinnabar Theater.

Della Fattoria will host a special Cassoulet dinner on Saturday, March 11, with 5:30 and 7 p.m. seatings. To-go dinners are also available. Cassoulets originated in France but have become popular throughout the world. They are named for the vessel they are cooked in, which is usually a “cassole.” Cassoulets are a rich slow-cooked casserole, usually of meat and white beans, but that’s just a starting point.

Dinner will include a citrus salad, cassoulet, and a tarte tatin, which is an upside-down pastry in which the fruit is caramelized in butter and sugar before the tart is baked. Having had only the best of dining experiences at Della, I’m ecstatic to see what Chef Weber’s take is on the traditional cassoulet and tarte tatin.

The Penngrove Social Firemen will hold their annual Corned Beef and Cabbage dinner on Sat, March 11, from 4 to 7 p.m., at their Penngrove Community Clubhouse. Having grown up in Penngrove myself, we attend as many PSF events as we can, and this dinner is no different. This event is quite informal, with guests showing up and eating whenever they want, so take the whole family for a relaxing Saturday evening.

Bud’s Meats supplies the corned beef and along with raffles, Penngrove 4-H will be selling dessert, which in the past has been $1 for a piece of cake or pie. We usually slap down a $10 bill, and take good selection of desserts back to our table to share. Tickets are available at the door or from Stanley Pronzini (217-7161), with the $15 ticket price (under 12, $7.50) going to help maintain the Clubhouse, Penngrove Park and for the benefit of the community.

Pints for Paws is on Tue, March 14 from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. and is your chance to help raise funds to save orphaned baby wild animals. Tickets are $15 ($5 for kids), can be purchased at scwildliferescue.bpt.me or at the door at the Lagunitas Taproom, and help Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue. The event will include live music, chips and salsa from Nopalito (tacos for purchase), as well as a silent raffle.

The California Artisan Cheese Festival rolls back into town March 24 to 26 with farm tours all over the North Bay and Sacramento, as well as a plethora of seminar and tasting events at the Petaluma Sheraton. After attending the past few years as part of the media, I figured it was time to put my local cheese, history and ag knowledge to use, so this year I’ll actually be volunteering on one of Friday’s tours.

After the Friday tours, guests can choose to attend Friday night’s “Ultimate Best Bite Competition” at the Sheraton, which includes wine, beer, and cider to help wash down all the great California cheese dishes. Saturday morning and afternoon are all about seminars, pairing demonstrations and book signings.

In the early evening, there is a cheese and cocktails event, highlighting local distilleries, followed by the Wine & Dine with the Cheesemakers dinner. Sunday starts with the “Bubble Brunch” before kicking off the Artisan Cheese Tasting and Marketplace. Visit artisancheesefestival.com for more info and to see the unbelievable list of wineries, breweries, cideries, distilleries and cheese makers who will be in attendance. This is the artisan cheese event that all others are measured against.

St. Paddy’s Day

Stemple Creek Ranch has their incredible grass-feed corned beef back in stock for St. Paddy’s day, both at the Ferry Building and Marin Civic Center farmers markets, as well as directly through their website. They also currently offer an elixir to cure all, their Beef Bone Broth, which is slow simmered for 48 hours with fresh organic herbs and veggies in partnership with Mama Tong Soups.

Restaurant Updates

256 North should be open as of March 8. Since the last column, I have been lucky enough to dine at 256 North twice, once for co-owner Joe Castro’s birthday and again this past weekend for another “friends and family” soft opening. Knowing co-owner Jan Rosen’s proclivity for great dining establishments it should have been no surprise that the food would be delicious but it was perfectly prepared, which is incredible considering they were still testing things out when we visited.

The ambiance has a metropolitan vibe, but somehow retains the comfort we expect from local restaurateurs. And to say that Jan and Joe are great hosts would be an understatement. Those two are about as warm, friendly and inviting as any restaurant owners I’ve ever met.

The Shuckery is currently remodeling the bar inside the Hotel Petaluma and after talking with owner Jaz, it sounds like it is going to be a true pearl, just like her seafood restaurant. Stay tuned because Jaz’s plans are truly unique and are going to add a whole new level of culinary sophistication to our downtown.

I spoke with The Block – Petaluma owner Cody Hildreth and learned that, weather permitting, he plans to open his food truck round-up behind AutoZone by April.

LaLa’s Urban Farmstand will move into the small building next to Lumberjacks at 720 E. Washington in the next couple months, with plans to open both a small retail shop and a commercial kitchen. Leslie Goodrich (owner) creates local small batch jams, jellies and marmalades, so this move will mean more great jams not only for us consumers but also for all the local restaurants that incorporate LaLa’s into their menus.

The wait for The Patio is finally over, but not in the way you might have anticipated. The restaurant/bar, which was supposed to take over the space vacated by Social Club, appears to have abandoned ship. Local real estate listings have the building back on the market both for sale, and for lease for the restaurant space. I think this is a wise move by the San Diego based restaurant group because I feared that without a better idea of what Petaluma is all about, they were going to end up wasting a lot of money, only to end up closing up shop like Social Club did.

Restaurant Week

Sonoma County Restaurant Week is upon us, and as always, our Petaluma restaurants are well represent. Running from March 6 to 12, participating venues offer specially priced prix fixe menus. This is a great way to try a new place, as well as visit old favorites. The 2017 Petaluma class includes the Quinua Peruvian, The Shuckery, SlamBurger, Luma, Petaluma Pie Company, Seared, TAPS, Shree Indian, Palm’s Grill, Applebee’s, Sauced, City Limits and Cattlemen’s.

(Contact Houston Porter at houston@avant-larde.com.)