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Sweet or savory, Petaluma’s Simply Strudels satisfies


When Jarret Dennis first started making strudel, an idea struck him. With such strong Eastern European influence in traditional American cooking, Jarret saw no reason why strudel could not take off just like cupcakes had years earlier. Moreover, strudels are available in both savory and sweet varieties, making them quite diverse, and deserving of a more prominent spot in American cuisine.

In 2012, Jarret and his chef father, Alan Dennis, started “The Strudel Guy” to try to make this happen, and chose Petaluma as their home base.

I first discovered strudel as a child, usually around the apple harvest, when a friend’s German grandmother would make us a special treat of “Apfelstrudel.” And of course I was familiar with Pillsbury’s Toaster Strudel, which are more like overstuffed Pop-tarts than actual strudel. As an adult, I would rediscover strudel while visiting Eastern Europe, but what with all the other great pastries, strudels were lost in the mix.

Technically, a strudel is any type of filling, rolled in dough. Currently, a distinct part of Austrian cuisine, strudel traces its roots to similar rolled pastries in Hungary and Turkey. It reached its peak of popularity through the influence of the Habsburg Empire, which at various times spanned from Belgium to Italy, and from Spain to Hungary. The oldest strudel recipe dates to a 1696 handwritten cookbook and are still quite popular throughout Austria, Germany, Poland, Czech Republic, Romania, Bosnia, Serbia, Slovenia, Slovakia, Croatia, and Italy. The word “strudel”, which can represent both the singular and the plural, is borrowed from the Germans, where it literally translates to “whirlpool” or “eddy”, clearly referencing the mixed filling, wrapped in layers of dough.

It was not until tasting the Strudel Guy’s offerings a couple years back that I started to gain a real appreciation for strudel. My mother had picked up an array of strudels from the local farmers market for a family dinner. Laid out on the table in front of us was a feast for the senses, with a large variety of ingredients, from local meats and veggies, to deserts filled with cream cheeses and local fruits. They were not only attractive to gaze upon, but filled the room with an overwhelmingly enticing bouquet. We thoroughly enjoyed every bite.

Jarret grew up in New Jersey, cooking alongside his Culinary Institute of America trained chef father, in the family’s kosher catering business. As a young adult, Jarret attended the Art Institute of Philadelphia to study advertising, as a bit of an escape from the kitchen, but after moving to Northern California for a change of pace, found himself drawn back into the galley.

“I truly believe the universe put me here in Northern California for a reason. The flavors are so abundant and people have an appreciation for good quality food,” says Jarret. “As a passionate artist, I wanted to do something different. Nobody was doing strudel, but it has such a great heritage, so I wanted to see if I could help make it great again.”

“Simply Spectacular Strudel” was Jarret’s first idea for a name, because Jarret wanted to highlight the simplicity of the product, as well as how spectacular he and Alan’s version was. However, his father had built a name for himself and wanted to highlight the chef, in addition to the product they hoped would take off. Alan named the business the “The Strudel Guy.” “I thought that was a bit odd,” chuckles Jarret, “because there were two of us strudel guys working in the kitchen.”

Eventually, differences in opinion on how to run the company would drive the two apart. However, even then, they still worked together in a roundabout way, with Jarret purchasing strudels from “The Guy” and selling them at music festivals around the state. In typical son-versus-father fashion, Jarret named his business “The Strudel Dude.” It was a case of the younger, hipper chef thumbing his nose at the senior Strudel Guy. Wanting to set up a brick and mortar location, as well as to expand into grocery stores and direct sales, Jarret would rejoin his father in the Petaluma kitchen and at farmers markets around the Bay Area.

Near the end of 2014, Jarret recognized that they had been doing things Alan’s way for a while, and so he asked to take over the reins. He wanted to shake things up, in an attempt to bring strudel to the masses. Respecting all the hard work his son had put into the business, Alan acquiesced, and in an almost prophetic move, started to step aside.

Without any hint of trouble, within months of his decision, Alan was diagnosed with terminal cancer. “Eight weeks later we lost ‘The Guy’,” says Jarret. “He was so much more than just my father. He was my business partner, my mentor, and my most importantly, my best friend. We wanted to start a strudel revolution, breathing fresh air, and new ideas, into an old-world classic. I know he would be proud of what I am trying to do, which is bring our shared vision of making ‘strudel’ a household name, a reality.”

As Simply Strudels, Jarret is working diligently to do just that. “I’m focused on one thing - the strudel, so that’s why I went with that name.” However, Jarret still pays homage to his mentor, by not only hanging his dad’s old Strudel Guy banner along with his own at farmers markets, and also chose a photo of his dad’s hand and tattooed forearm as Simply Strudels’s logo.

Jarret’s wares are loosely based on the Hungarian cheese strudel, using as many local ingredients as possible. “Often, what shows up in my strudel are ingredients I picked up fresh from the same farmers markets that I sell at,” continues Jarret. Earlier this year, Jarret took over the old Millie’s Chili Bar building, at 600 Petaluma Blvd S, across from Charley’s Wine Country Deli, where he makes small batches of strudel by hand.

“Plans are to open a strudel tasting room and retail shop at our kitchen location by this fall,” says Jarret. “I want people to have a place to try all the different strudel without having to wait for the farmers market.” Until then, customers can order online and pick up at the kitchen, or buy some of the more popular flavors at Charley’s across the street. “We’ll always have three or four sweet and three or four savory options, with seasonal specials, depending on what is ripe on the vine or being harvested from the fields,” continues Jarret.

For those looking to sample before buying, Jarret will be at the following farmers markets on the following dates: Walnut Park (8/12), Lucchesi Park (8/15), Theater Square (8/16), and in Santa Rosa at the Vets Center (8/19) and West End (8/20.) Once into September, Jarret plans to have tasting room hours Thursday to Sunday from 8 A.M. to 2 P.M.

However, after baking and eating three of the savory strudels last weekend, as well as three of the sweets, my suggestion is that you simply order a few, and try them out in due course around your own dining room table.

We tried the Sweet Potato & Pulled Pork, Garlic Spinach Potato, and Bacon Cheddar Potato savory strudel. We were quite pleased with the flavors but it was the balance of textures from the meats to veggies to crispy crust and had us pleasantly surprised. We were also thoroughly impressed with the list of ingredients, which were limited to basically what was in the title, plus phyllo dough, butter, and a bit of seasoning, including salt, pepper, paprika, parsley, onions, and panko bread crumbs, depending on the strudel.

We finished out our meal with three of the sweet strudel, which are cream cheese filled rolls of deliciousness. A pleasant surprise was that they changed in flavor and texture over the hour or so that they sat on the counter, after being removed from the freezer. While frozen, they are like dough wrapped ice cream, but then slowly take on a more creamy texture, with their flavors gaining boldness as the strudel warmed up towards room temperature. We had the Vanilla Bean and the Chocolate Peanut Butter strudel, which are staples on the Simply Strudel menu, along with an excellent seasonal specialty - the Double Chocolate Chip Port strudel, which is infused with port from nearby Sonoma Portworks.

Because they are fully cooked, and then frozen prior to sale, the sweets will keep in the freezer for up to six months, which makes them great to have on hand for the occasional unforeseen party, wayward visitor, or random sweet tooth. The savory strudels require 45 minutes of cooking, and are best consumed within about two weeks of purchase, or else the dough starts to lose its integrity.

Jarret is currently working on a vegan and gluten-free strudel, which he hopes to roll out once his tasting room is open.

“I feel fortunate to be here doing this at this time,” says Jarret. “People are more experienced and experimental when it comes to their culinary choices. They know more, are always looking to try new things, and seem to genuinely appreciate the local touch.”

www.SimplyStrudels.com

600 Petaluma Boulevard South

(844) STRUDEL - Customer Service Hotline

(530) 448-2795 - Mobile