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Sarah’s Eats and Sweets is Petaluma’s next hot spot for lunch

From the unassuming corner of Casa Grande and South McDowell boulevards, comes a true neighborhood deli. Born from a passion for food and a desire to be an integral part of the community they fell in love with, the owners of Sarah’s Eats & Sweets have raised the bar, not only smoking their own meats, but also preparing just about everything from scratch, in-house. And the items they do not make themselves, they source from local food purveyors.

Sarah’s Eats & Sweets is the collaboration of the wife and husband team of Sarah and Emery Meeks. They initially started their business by selling at Petaluma’s three farmers markets, although Emery called them “farmers marketing” because he knew that the relationships they were forging with vendors and customers would pay dividends once they finally opened a brick and mortar location.

Sarah grew up in Manhattan and on Long Island before attending Cornell University in order to study hospitality administration. After graduation, Sarah worked for the Four Seasons in Philadelphia where she put her studies to practice. After a visit to California, Sarah relocated to the West Coast, choosing the North Bay so she could attend the Culinary Institute of America.

It was at the CIA where Sarah met instructor and mentor chef Brenda La Noue, who lives in Petaluma when she is not traveling the world on her food adventures. Chef Brenda became a Petaluma food icon when she opened Petaluma’s Secret Kitchen and continues to wow her guests through her catering company Trade Secret.

She is also a huge supporter of local food purveyors, along with any new restaurateur who asks for help. While teaching at the CIA, chef Brenda took food field trips to Petaluma, which is how Sarah learned about, and fell in love with the community.

“We’re grateful with how welcoming and supportive our new friends and neighbors have been and appreciate every single person that walks through our door,” says Sarah.

Sarah would later go on to train at Yountville’s Michelin-starred Redd restaurant, where she credits her proficiency in speed and organization in a working kitchen. While studying and working in Napa Valley, Sarah met her husband Emery, who was working at a wine tasting room and handling customer service for a friend’s company.

“Emery is a natural at handling our guests,” says Sarah. After moving to Petaluma, Sarah started working for Park Avenue Catering in Cotati, which is owned by Executive Chef Bruce Riezenman, who among other projects, used to own Petaluma’s Buona Sera Ristorante.

Riezenman’s current ventures include Cotati’s Park Avenue Catering, Sonoma’s Park 121 Café & Grill and Glen Ellen’s Stellar Catering, while his former projects included Prospect Park Restaurant (Santa Rosa) and Buona Sera Ristorante. Sarah worked as Riezenman’s pastry chef, something she had never done before.

Never afraid of a challenge, she quickly honed her skills to the point where she was selling her own baked goods at Petaluma’s farmers markets while she searched for a space to call her own. “I am so thankful for Bruce’s support,” says Sarah. “He let us use his commercial kitchen to start our little business, and has been totally supportive ever since.”

Sarah’s tutelage en route to opening Sarah’s Eats & Sweets is clearly a who’s who of local culinary icons. Her education and training in all aspects of restaurant management put her in a great position to open her own place, which also fulfilled both her and Emery’s dream of working together.

Never ones to miss an opportunity to be part of their community, Sarah and Emery entered last year’s Great Petaluma Chili Cookoff, even before they opened their deli, taking home several awards for both their regular and veggie chili, as well as Best Chili Display.

“We love this community,” says Sarah. “We saw the Cookoff and thought it would be a great way to meet people and get to know our neighbors.” Sarah’s also took home a First Place prize at last year’s Petaluma Mac & Cheese Challenge, so clearly she knows their way around a wide variety of culinary offerings.

Sarah’s also participated in the Taste of Petaluma, where they forged several strong bonds with other local vendors, including Clover Sonoma dairy. “We learned about and now use Clover products,” continues Sarah. “And those folks have been super supportive, coming in for lunch regularly, all because we had such a great time working together at Taste of Petaluma.”

They also met the organizers of the Petaluma Shakespeare Festival while serving at Taste of Petaluma, and were invited to participate in the festival, which they did.

Wanting to get a full picture of Sarah’s offerings, we dove in head first, ordering just about everything that caught our eye on the menu. A huge fan of Reubens, we started with that. We also ordered the Veggie Reuben, partially because I like to let veggie readers know about those options, but also because I had never seen such a thing before. Spoiler alert: even the non-veggies in my crew were blown away by the Veggie Reuben.

The Reuben was excellent, and was served on Penngrove’s Full Circle Bakery marble rye, along with sour kraut from Sonoma Brinery, where Sarah also gets her pickles.

“I could easily make those myself, but I like to support other local food companies whenever I can,” says Sarah. She also sources her spices from Petaluma’s Sonoma Spice Queen, and veggies from both Green String Farms and a well-respected local farmer name Miguel, who my family also buys veggies from at the local farmers markets.

However, the star of the Reuben was the pastrami, which Sarah and Emery admit is a California version of Sarah’s favorite New York classic.

“We use tri-tip,” reveals Sarah. “It produces leaner pastrami.” Due to Sarah’s proprietary spice blend, and hours and hours of prep time, this pastrami is on par with any of the fattier pastramis that I usually enjoy. “We brine our pastrami for seven days,” says Emery. “Then, we smoke it here at the shop for about 8 hours.” The sandwich is flavorful, but is not so heavy as to leave one feeling bloated.

The roasted turkey and chicken noodle soup also receive special treatment in Sarah’s kitchen. The turkey gets brined, rubbed and roasted over a three-day period and the chicken stock for their noodle soup takes almost 10 hours to create.

The daily specials are listed on an unraveled roll of butcher paper hanging on the wall, and include a sandwich, “Hot Lunch,” and soup or salad. We ordered all three, which included a Chimichurri Tri-Tip Torta with cheddar, avocado, tomato, and onions on a grilled roll, a Green String Farm spicy veggie soup, and the “Hot Lunch” special.

I am a huge fan of Chimichurri and Tri-Tip, so naturally I loved the sandwich. However, the big surprise was Sarah’s hot lunch special of Creamy Penne Bolognese with Kale Caesar Slaw. The pasta was perfectly cooked, the meat sauce was savory, and the Parmesan gave it the appropriate amount of kick. But it was the kale slaw that threw me for a loop because I actually liked it, which was a first.

“I want to offer comfort food, but at the same time, I’m a chef, so I like to get creative,” says Sarah when I mention that the hot lunch special was a nice touch, and a change of pace from the normal sandwich shop special.

Along with “Sarah’s Specials,” a small counter sign announces supplemental specials, which in this case was a Monte Cristo. The American equivalent to the French’s Croque-Monsieur, this ham and cheese sandwich is grilled instead of fried, in part because Sarah did not want a deep-fryer in her kitchen.

During the drive over for our second visit, my mind was racing in anticipation of what the hot lunch special might be, and it certainly did not disappoint. It was Hoisin Beef and Noodles, with broccoli and scallion sesame cucumber salad. It was just as good and just as much of a surprise as the Creamy Penne Bolognese from the week before, and confirmed that I will likely always look to Sarah’s hot lunch special on subsequent visits.

Additionally, the board listed an Angus beef Patty Melt with Swiss cheese, Russian dressing, tomato and grilled onions, on rye, which was also excellent, and like its in-house cousin the Reuben, was flavorful but not heavy or over-filling. We missed the counter sign listing a Strata, which is an Italian-style breakfast casserole of sausage, provolone, arugula and sourdough, but will definitely order that the next time it is on the menu.

A visit to Sarah’s would not be complete without sampling their baked goods, which we did on both occasions. Her almond cookies are an accurate replication of the cookies offered by East Coast Chinese restaurants instead of the West Coast’s fortune cookie and the chocolate chip cookie was excellent too. Although we did not get a chance to try one, I have heard that the Snickerdoodles are a crowd favorite as well.

We also tried a lemon bar and a chocolate cake infused with Retrograde’s coffee. Both were excellent, and even this non-coffee drinker went back for seconds on the chocolate cake.

“The owners of Retrograde Coffee are vegetarians,” says Sarah, “and were pivotal in helping us develop our vegetarian items.” It should be noted that the veggie items are prepared using dedicated cooking vessels and utensils, and that many of the desserts are available as gluten-free and/or vegan.

Not surprisingly, Sarah’s Yelp reviews are quickly piling up, and at 27 reviews so far, they have a 5-star rating. In fact, there is only one sub-5-star review, but it is still quite positive, with an even more positive and attentive response back from Sarah.

Sarah’s Eats & Sweets has an ambiance that is simple and clean, and the menu is filled with a mix of old deli favorites, and new classics. However, it is more than the food alone that is ingratiating Petalumans to Sarah’s Eats & Sweets. Sarah and Emery’s attention to customers, which they refer to as “friends and family” is what truly sets them apart from others, and is reminiscent of a bygone era when it was not even called “customer service” but was just the way things were done.

Sarah’s anticipates adding more fresh salads as more spring veggies come into season. They also hope to offer some supper club type special events, as well as pick-up dinners in the near future.

Sarah’s Eats & Sweets is located at 1410 McDowell Blvd. On the web at www.sarahseatsandsweets.com. Hours are Tuesday to Saturday from 7:30 a.m.-3 p.m.