In the past decade, Petaluma has seen a renaissance in its food scene, bringing diners an excellent breadth of choices, from fun to fancy. It was a trend that continued in 2018, bringing a slew of delectable eateries to town.
Right off the bat, What a Chicken opened its doors in January, and not even the cold or rainy weather could keep fans away. Some Petalumans were already familiar with the wares through the Tuesday east side farmers market, but the expanded menu blew the minds of longtime fans’ — and palettes. With just one or two complaints from neighbors, the city took issue with the amount of beautifully delicious smoke What a Chicken created with its grills. The owners agreed to move the cooking offsite to a commercial kitchen close by, and the business went on to earn the coveted “Best New Restaurant” award at the 2018 Petaluma Peoples’ Choice Awards. What a Chicken was also one of the highlights in my recent fish taco guide, with an honorable mention going to all their tacos, especially the shrimp tacos.
Chef Glen “Gator” Thompson moved from his very successful burger food truck into the space formerly occupied by Slam Burger, next to Sugo Trattoria, in March. He expanded his menu deep into his Louisiana roots. As Chef Gator’s Rustic Burgers & His Creole Friends, Gator has been wowing guests, with a special nod coming from some native Louisianans who say this is as good, if not better, than what they would find back home.
In April, Pearl quietly moved into the Luma’s former space, offering what is described as Eastern Mediterranean food, with dishes ranging from Greece to Turkey to Palestine to Israel and then down around the Mediterranean into North Africa. I had never heard of most of the dishes on the menu and so I took an expert with me, who used to live in those areas, and he was duly impressed with what we tasted. With clean, fresh and healthy ingredients, Pearl is reintroducing their take on historic recipes, much to Petalumans’ pleasure.
Pearl also introduced something new to Petaluma in regards to tipping. Unlike when Sauced tacked on an additional service fee of 20 percent to every bill, Pearl simply prices each dish accordingly, and then does not allow tipping. Any change in the tipping scheme seems to get ruffle a lot of people’s feathers but the truth is that when I check my credit bill at the end of the money, my meals at Pearl, with no tip allowed, are no more expensive than comparable meals elsewhere, where tipping is expected. (See the recent article “Pearl in Petaluma has banned tipping in favor of living wage” at petaluma360.com).
After quite a few months of build up, Chili Joe’s opened in June in the space formerly occupied by Le Bistro. Not that anyone could fill Le Bistro’s shoes, but Chili Joe’s brings something totally different than fine French cuisine, but no less delicious. Owners Wendy and Mark passed up on other locations, waiting a long time to get this spot, because they just felt it was right for what they wanted to do. Diners seem to agree. Not only does the throw-back cuisine fit in well across the street from Sax’s Joint, but the owners have paid honorable homage to the famous chili bars of our past.