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New ownership at Hallie’s in Petaluma

HOUSTON PORTER, BY HOUSTON PORTER

Roughly 10 years ago, after returning to my beloved Petaluma, I described in an online restaurant review my favorite thing about Hallie’s Diner. I wrote that you don’t know who owns the place, because everyone who works there seems to care about what they are doing just like an owner would.

Well, that hasn’t changed one bit over the past decade, which helps explain why people are willing to wait in long lines for a shot at weekend brunch inside Hallie’s hallowed door.

So, it was with great pleasure that I learned that long-time server and Petaluma native Jenn Braga has purchased Hallie’s. I was passing by during brunch on Sunday and had to poke my head in to congratulate Jenn. She was serving up coffee and handling tables, all with that same warm and friendly smile, just like always.

Jenn insisted that I mention her parents, Nancy and “Jimmy,” as my mom calls him, who are Jenn’s partners. Not a bad pair of backers considering Jim and Nancy spent a lot of years catering events around the North Bay, so they know a thing or two about the food business. I’m hoping to get more details, that is if I can even get a seat in their always jammed-packed dining room.

Charley’s

We recently attended an after-hours business gathering in Charley’s back bar area and were thoroughly impressed. Although limited to just a few taps, everything they had was something special, and with such a great deli, you will never run short on great food options. If you want the feel of an old-timey back-of-the-grocery-store watering hole, this is definitely it. If you are looking for a great place to have an intimate holiday happy hour gathering, I highly recommend contacting Charley’s.

If that wasn’t enough, they stock a real Portuguese port which I had never heard of. With so few port lodges to begin with, and even less making it into the U.S., I haven’t seen a lodge I’m unfamiliar with in several years, so discovering a bottle of “Porto Gloria” was a special treat.

Then again, Charley’s prides itself on having hard to find items, and although most of those are local, this port certainly caught my attention.

Yanni’s Sausage sandwich

Special thanks to Francesca of Yanni’s Sausages of Penngrove for responding instantly to my email inquiries, otherwise I might have missed out on announcing that the December sandwich special is the Italian Christmas Sausage Sandwich. They take Yanni’s Hot Italian Sausage, wrap it in sweet Italian bread from Penngrove’s Full Circle Bakery, and then top it off with basil parmesan pesto and red chili blackberry glaze for good measure. I could eat one of these every day of the week, and twice on Sunday, just to honor my in-law’s Italian heritage.

We are also been huge fans of Yanni’s Greek fries, and see that they now offer a variation for those who want to enjoy Yanni’s sausages without the bread that comes with the sandwiches. They top their Greek fries with feta cheese, grilled onions, roasted peppers, fresh squeezed lemon juice and your choice of Yanni’s sausages, cut into coins.

Yanni’s gift certificates are a great holiday gift, but check with Yanni’s before heading out to Penngrove because their hours are a bit limited until the second week of December as Francesca and Johnny are vigorously working on the retail side of their business by getting their great sausages into as many local grocery stores as possible.

Zywiec Baltic Porter

After last week’s find of Praga – Premium Czech Pilsner at BevMo, I figured we’d go through another dry spell before discovering something new that caught our fancy. We switched it up by moving into a darker beer category in our never-ending quest to work through more than 100 categories of beer in the Beer Judge Certification Program and by and large were disappointed with what we found.

That was, until we stumbled across the Baltic Porter from Zywiec. I have never been a huge fan of porters, which I know is odd given my last name, but had read about Baltics and needed to give them a try, you know, because I’m studying. However, Baltics are relatively hard to find in the U.S., so we were pleased to see this one on the shelves at our local BevMo.

A Baltic Porter is basically a porter, but with a Baltic twist. It traces its roots to English porters, but has influences of Russian stouts, such as rich and complex malty sweetness, and yes, a higher than normal alcohol content. But, unlike Russian stouts, which I often find bitter and over-powering, Zywiec’s is a real smooth drinker. It is from Poland, which I recently learned is pretty much the epicenter of Baltic Porters these days. And, coming in a 500ml bottle, which is just a hair over a pint, one is usually enough to round the edges off even the hardest of days.

Although there aren’t a lot of U.S. producers of Baltic Porters, if you come across a bar or store serving up Turlock’s Dust Bowl “Public Enemy Baltic Porter,” please let me know as I know the brewer, and am dying to try this one, which I understand is a very limited edition winter brew.

Costco beer advent calendar

As long as we are talking about beer, I must admit that I’m thoroughly impressed with the 2017 Brewer’s Advent Calendar currently available at Costco. In this version of the advent calendar, a different German beer is hidden behind each of the 24 doors. On top of that, it was a pleasant surprise that we didn’t recognize even one of these beers, meaning each night is going to be a new tasting experience.

Many of you may already be aware of this advent calendar from having to steer your beer-loving bride or beer-guzzling buddy away from that particular Costco end-cap, but after tasting the first three, I highly recommend caving in and buying one for the holidays. We haven’t started ours yet, but once Dec. 1 rolls around, you will be able to read about each day’s beer on the Petaluma Foodies page on Facebook, and I’d love to have others’ beer tasting feedback too.

So, how have I already tasted the first three? We gifted one to my mentor and beer buddy co-worker Beth, who cracked into hers early. Beth is going to be out of town for the first three days of December, so she insisted that we get a jump-start on the holiday beer tasting.

For me, the first two were real drinkers, representing their respective Pilsner and Festbier categories well. The third was a rarity in the U.S. – a Hefe-Weisse Dunkel, and although not my cup of tea, was appreciated by the Dunkel drinkers at the table. Then again, making beer for the past 500 years puts Germany in a good position to produce a high quality sampler out of what otherwise could easily have been a kitschy holiday gift.

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