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The Block a creative addition to Petaluma food scene

Just as the weather starts to warm up, and we break out our shorts and flip-flops, The Block — Petaluma gives us a perfect excuse to get out, grab an ever-changing selection of food truck delicacies, and enjoy a beer or two while visiting with friends in an inviting setting with an iconic view.

Food trucks have come a long way since the chuck wagons of the Old West and the big city lunch carts of the late 1800s. Even in the last 20 years, these gourmet meals on wheels put to shame the “roach coaches” which used to offer mere subsistence menus at construction sites and manufacturing facilities.

With cuisine as diverse as their names, trucks like “I Dream of Weenie,” “Grillenium Falcon,” “The Wurst Wagon,” “Grill Em All,” “Burger She Wrote,” “Eatsie Boys,” “The Blaxican” (Mexican Soul Food), and thousands more across the U.S. have been satisfying roving foodies with culinary delights that their hometowns may not offer as a regular restaurant option.

Food trucks offer such a diverse experience that most now rely on social media and smartphone aps in order to draw their fans to them at set locations and times. What has not changed over the years are concerns about traffic safety, food safety, and a lack of restroom facilities when food trucks set their parking brakes and start serving.

However, the Block has addressed these concerns by not only offering off-street parking and restroom facilities, but its static location makes it easy for the health department to track down these normally nomadic food trucks for their regular inspections, ensuring that diners receive the same quality of food handling that is required of normal restaurants.

Of course, no discussion of food trucks is complete without addressing the concern that they may have a negative effect on local restaurants’ bottom line. But, unlike other Sonoma County cities, where food trucks are regularly driven off by jealous restaurateurs, Petaluma stands by its reputation as a culinary destination, inviting the diverse dining options that food trucks add to our community.

There certainly may be outliers, but from day one, Petaluma’s restaurant owners have been excited about and supportive of the idea of the Block. This, in large part, is because restaurant owners tend to love food, and food trucks often offer cuisine that a town of Petaluma’s size may not be able to support in a brick and mortar location.

“Although this was the first time the city addressed a project like this, they were supportive since day one,” says the Block’s founder, Charles “Cody” Hildreth. “And the restaurant community as a whole has been supportive.” It also does not hurt that Cody is a life-long local, so he understands how to fit in to Petaluma, and that the Block is already employing 10 to 15 residents.

It is also interesting to note that industry experts have found that food trucks tend to attract a different clientele than restaurants, and in many cases lure patrons from their homes on nights that they may not have otherwise dined out.

There are three constants at the Block: The bar, Firetrail Pizza’s permanent kitchen and an ever present El Roy’s food truck. No matter what other food trucks are on scene, there is always a line at Petaluma’s iconic El Roy’s truck, and based on all the delicious tortas, sopes, gorditas, plantillos, tostadas, quesadillas, tacos, burritos and Mexi-Dogs we have devoured from their trucks over the years, there is no wondering why.

Another crowd pleaser is recently launched Petaluma’s Which Cheese, which specializes in, you guessed it, grilled cheese sandwiches. We have tried most of their menu, thoroughly enjoying their Mill Mack (grilled mac n’ cheese sandwich), Grilled Chicken Pesto, B Street Basic, and P-Town Pulled Pork.

The veggie in my crew reports that Which Cheese also makes a mean tomato soup, which may not sound appetizing during the warm days, but will really hit the spot alongside a grilled cheese sandwich during Petaluma’s cool evenings.

Other regular food truck visitors include the Fig Rig, from Sonoma’s Girl and the Fig, Fuel (waffles, sandwiches, and coffee), QCraft (BBQ), Trader Jim’s (whips, floats, and soft-serve), Tips Tri Tip trolley, Tacos Los 3 Hermanos, Caribbean Spices, and Got Balls Meatball Co., and Gators Rustic Burgers, which just opened a brick and mortar location here in Petaluma.

Tuck Box (Indian), and Mai Thai Kitchen also make frequent visits, and now that the Foodie Farmhouse owners are back from their honeymoon, they too will be in attendance from time to time.

Sure to be a hit, the Bodega CA just rolled out its food truck a few weeks ago and is already gaining critical acclaim, in large part because Chef Matthew Elias has a special way with food. Elias was the chef at Inverness’s Saltwater Oyster Depot, before leaving to start his own catering company. By chance, we stumbled across his catering at several local events and his cuisine certainly caught our attention.

We went out of our way to visit Heidrun Meadary on Mother’s Day in order to sample Bodega CA on its maiden voyage and cannot wait to dine with them whenever they make an appearance at the Block.

Trucks looking to capitalize on the crowds of visitors looking to try their great food can contact the Block at trucks@theblockpetaluma.com in order to secure their position in the rotation.

When food trucks are light, Firetrail Pizza easily fills the gap with great wood-fired pizzas. Cody crossed paths with Firetrail right when the city and the California Alcohol Beverage Control informed him that the Block would need a permanent kitchen with regular menu of food items.

Firetrail’s Dustin Wallstedt has managed pizza kitchens all over the Bay Area but told me that nothing prepared him for Petaluma. “The hustle and bustle of the city is great, but people are always on their phones and never really talk to you about the food you are offering,” says Wallstedt. “Since day one, Petalumans have been super friendly and engaging. They are always asking how I like Petaluma and are curious about the wood-fired oven. I love it here.”

The Block’s great beer list offers more than just a bunch of similar tasting IPAs.

“So far, the only surprise has been the amount of beer we are going through,” says Cody. “We start with a full beer cooler on Friday and by Sunday night, we have already shut down a tap handle or two.”

Additionally, the Block hosts legitimate tap take-overs, often with a Q&A session with the brewer on opening night.

“Local brewers seem to like our spot,” continues Cody. “We see brewmasters visiting regularly, and they like seeing their stuff on tap, so we are getting access at some pretty special beers that you won’t see elsewhere.”

During a recent visit, we were not only able to try some never before seen beers among Hen House’s current tap take-over, but were witness to the holy grail of cream ales — Anderson Valley’s Summer Solstice Cream Ale on Nitro. Using nitrogen instead of carbon dioxide to push the beer from keg to glass, Nitro taps give beer a creamier texture and sweeter flavor, and elevate AV’s Cream Ale to a realm of its own.

Along with the standard set of locals, like Lagunitas, Petaluma Hills, 101 North and Hen House, the Block also carries crowd favorites like Ballast Point, macros, like Pabst, and a few bottled beers, like Chimay.

The Block also has a healthy wine list and will be adding wine on tap shortly. And in an effort to be as family friendly as possible, they offer sodas for a very reasonable $1 a piece, and always have bottled water for free.

Located behind the Washington Street Autozone (across from the Grocery Outlet), the Block is open weekdays, starting at 3 p.m., with a new set of food trucks each night. On Saturday and Sunday, they are open for lunch and dinner, with a different set of trucks rolling in for dinner after the lunch trucks move out. This means diners can actually hang out all day enjoying a plethora of great beer while their dining options change throughout the day.

With both indoor and outdoor seating, heat lamps, a fire pit, a kids play area and a view of the historic Dairyman’s grain elevators, the Block — Petaluma is positioned to contribute greatly to the downtown food scene. But, it is the Block’s excellent selection of beer, ever changing option of food truck choices and owner Cody’s respect for Petaluma’s culinary scene that is sure to keep customers happily returning for years to come.