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Tip of My Tongue: See which delicious Petaluma dishes broke food writer’s diet

After the incredible Passover family meal from Penngrove Market last Friday night, including my favorite matzo ball soup of all time, we planned to take it easy with our eating for the rest of the weekend, in large part because I am in pre-travel diet mode, knowing I usually gain roughly half a pound for each day we visit Europe, which is where we will be shortly.

However, the diet had to be put on hold as soon as we saw the return of Butcher Crown Roadhouse’s famous street corn to its menu, but also the new brisket sandwich and a couple of other additions to the new menu, including several handmade local desserts and possibly best tacos I have ever had.

In backwards order of the meal, BCR has added a couple of new gluten-free desserts from Mad Batter Cakery, a major winner at last year’s Harvest Fair. Both are single-serving size, although, as Bill Murray says, “Every pizza is a personal pizza if you try hard and believe in yourself.” The first is banana cream, which I cannot talk about because I do not believe in or support bananas, and the second being Mississippi mud pie. Admittedly, from afar, through the foggy glass of the cooler door, the mud pie sure did not look like much, but upon closer inspection, we were intrigued. This is in large part because I never quite remember what a mud pie is, but seem to always enjoy them. In fact, I almost passed on it, still trying to keep my caloric intake to a minimum but ended up giddy with our simply excellent choice.

Without getting too technical, for I am an eater not a cooker, the pie consists of a brownie hidden by a crumbled chocolate crust and topped with some sort of chocolate sauce, which is itself topped with some sort of whipped cream, sprinkled with chipped chocolate. And although gluten-free, you would never know it - it is truly divine. But do not take my word for it. Brooklyn, Pete’s daughter, appears in a short video on BCR’s Facebook page and the genuinely surprised look on her face after taking the first bite, and her abandoning of the utensil for a full front face assault on the little pie, says it all.

Our new Mississippi Mud Pie by Mad Batter Cakery Co is Brooklyn approved! Come and get it!

Posted by Butcher Crown Roadhouse on Wednesday, April 13, 2022

Newly discovered desserts aside, what brought us out to Butcher Crown was a new sandwich owner/chef Pete Schnell calls the Bourdain, paying homage to one of his favorite chefs, Anthony Bourdain. The Bourdain is a bit of a mix between a Cubano sandwich and a Chivito, which is the national sandwich of Uruguay, but they added Argentinian just to keep things interesting. As with Bourdain himself, there always seems to be something unexpected around each corner of this sandwich, but everything works together robustly, yet elegantly.

The Bourdain appears unassuming at first, with its simple ciabatta roll hiding the true genius of its flavors. The bulk of the sandwich is smoked brisket, of which Pete’s is some of the best around. Added to that is griddled ham, pepper jack, arugula, green olive spread and chimichurri sauce. The combination is excellent, with no one flavor overpowering any other. The perfectly smoked flavor of the beef brisket handsomely holds its own. I particularly like the green olive spread, which is rare to find on a sandwich, and reminded me the flavors of one of Bourdain’s favorite food destinations, Spain. It worked so well, that it has me thinking what other sandwiches could benefit from green olives. Just to wrap up on the sandwich, the Bourdain is a true work of culinary art and now ties for our favorite sandwich in the shop, and possible in all of Petaluma, with the Point Reyes Blue cheese and bacon topped Dusty Baker Burger.

Due to the pandemic, we have become more accustomed to ordering take-out, and Butcher Crown’s food certainly has enough great flavor to be able to stand up to a lot of travel, but some dishes simply need to be enjoyed fresh off the grill in order to be their best, and one such item is Pete’s Smoked Brisket Dip Tacos. In fact, this item is normally not available for take-out, so put on your sunscreen and head over to try these out on the BCR’s back patio with a tall cold one. Luckily, I received special permission to take two of the three tacos home because Pete knows the rest of our family loves his brisket so was hesitantly okay with them trying this dish a few hours old. That said, it was very hard not to devour all three and simply order up another set, but I was short on time. These are, without a doubt, the best tacos I have ever had.

There is something extra special about a cheese skirt, and Pete picked a great cheddar and jack combo for this one, which adds some nice saltiness, as well as a crunchy texture to his brisket tacos, but does not overwhelm the rest of the taco’s great flavors. For those who do not know, a cheese skirt is created when the chef lets melted cheese ooze out onto the griddle, forming a thing slightly crispy crust around whatever sandwich the cheese has melted off of, and ends up looking a bit like a skirt. Rumor has it the cheese skirt was invented in Sacramento, which makes me wonder why we do not see more of them locally.

The brisket base of these tacos is phenomenal, the pickled onions, jalapeño and sauce all do their part, and the cheese skirt brings these tacos to the pinnacle of perfection. The dipping sauce is wonderful too, but I ate the tacos straight and loved every bit. And for the record, when the wife and mother tasted these hours later, although the cheese skirt had lost a bit of its crunch, both were blown away by the flavors and textures and insisted we return to Butcher Crown soon so that they could try them fresh.

There is nothing quite like a Stellina Sunday

On Sunday, Stellina Pronto again put my pre-vacation starvation diet to the test. We were there at the bakery to simply grab a couple of Easter treats for the in-laws - I had no intention of ordering anything, knowing that once I ordered one thing, I would want them all. All I wanted to do was pop in and say ‘hi’ to the owners, who I got to know quite well while interviewing them for last year’s feature article.

When I am in final pre-vacation diet mode, I am pretty hard to break, however, the smells emanating from Stellina as we stood in line slowly broke me down.

As always, the bakers at Stellina Pronto hit it all out of the park. Our order included our go-to orange olive oil mini cake, some incredible focaccia, possibly my second favorite cookie ever (chocolate chip), topped only by possibly the best cookie I have ever had – a lemon cornmeal cookie.

It is not as sweet as my sweet tooth usually craves and might be considered an acquired texture to those who prefer smooth dough cookies, but Stellina’s lemon cornmeal cookie has become my favorite cookie of all time. I simply love the slightly gritty texture and slightly savory flavor of cornmeal and when combined with the lemon flavor and glaze over the top, makes for something quite special. (I also prefer cornmeal pancakes to all others.) If I can ever get one of these cookies to last until we get home, I am going to see how it tastes when sandwiched around some Straus vanilla ice cream.

Additionally, we picked up a sampler of rare Portuguese fish pates from Stellina’s interesting “Conservas” section to share with friends we travel regularly to Portugal with. (Conservas are exquisite canned seafood, usually from the luscious waters of the Iberian Peninsula).

The owners of Stellina Pronto, Katrina Fried and Christian Caiazzo, really do set the tone for their bakery. One of my favorite things about Stellina is the mix of calmness and excitement that pervade the place. Even when there is a long line and the joint is packed, people are just plain happy, even while having to wait for their order.

Email houston@avantlard.com with questions/comments.

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