Fa Nino’s and 101 North pair tacos and beer in Petaluma

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Some of the tastiest food in town can’t be found at a restaurant, but in a new partnership between F.A. Nino’s and 101 North Brewing.

I discovered F.A. Nino’s years ago, when owner/co-founder Chuck Ross offered samples to taste at Petaluma Market. Not a fan of fire alarm level hot sauces, I was impressed with the depth of flavors of F.A. Nino’s hot sauces. They remain our favorite sauces because even the hottest one, which features ghost peppers, puts “flavor before fire,” as I like to say.

As I wrote in my 2015 article introducing F.A. Nino’s to Petaluma, “The name? ‘Nino’ is a slang for ‘Godfather,’ likely finding its way from the Greek’s ‘Nouno.’ Nino is a tribute to Ross’ actual godfather, while the silhouette on the label is Ross’ father. The F.A.? Well, Chuck’s father, godfather and uncle Frank were rather large fellas and liked to refer to each other’s “fat posteriors,” a term of endearment between the trio. The term ‘F.A.’ was a way to avoid offending anyone within earshot.”

I later discovered F.A. Nino’s barbecue sauces and dry rubs. The sauces come in an array of delicious combinations, including Bourbon, Sage and Tarragon BBQ sauce and Beer-BQ sauce, which incorporates Lagunitas’ Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’ Ale. And when it comes to dry rubs, I have found nothing better than the Jamaican Dry Rub for making the perfect barbecued chicken. The Citrus-Herb Dry Rub goes well on fish, too, and is the base for their fried chicken sandwich, which is what we were on the hunt for when we dropped in last weekend at 101 North Brewing Company.

Shawn Kaffun mans F.A. Nino’s griddle at 101 North. He met Ross when they were neighbors Ross’ uncle Frank. Like all members of the family, Frank always had a smile on his face. He passed away unexpectedly last year and is sorely missed.

Kaffun grew up in Fairfield, where he loved to cook as a kid. He is self taught, admitting that he was inspired by all the Food Network shows he watched as a kid. Kaffun has also always loved baebcue and set out to master the grill at a young age. He moved to Sonoma County 20 years ago and when F.A. Nino’s launched, he was there to help mix sauces, package bottles and pick up the cooking duties, when need be.

The idea for F.A. Nino’s food at 101 North was inspired by Frank’s regular visits to the brewery for a beer after a long day of making sauces across the freeway at F.A. Nino’s commercial kitchen and tasting room. For a while, 101 North hosted random food trucks, but those started to dwindle once the Block – Petaluma opened. Frank offered to start cooking up some of his excellent tacos on a semi-regular basis and a partnership was born.

During our visit, Kaffun was quite adept at answering questions while never losing sight of the many orders he juggles. He clearly takes pride in what he does and his food tastes as good as it looks. The crew uses local ingredients, sourcing products from Golden Gate Meats, Andy’s for produce, Petaluma Creamery for cheese and Golden State Pickle Works for toppings.

Kaffun cooks with all F.A. Nino’s sauces and rubs, as well as with 101 North’s beer. During our visit, 101 North’s beer was added to the pork tacos, the nacho cheese, the pretzel dipping sauces and as a starter liquid while grilling the taco meat. He tells me that 101 North’s Indio Pale Ale is a great cooking beer because it, too, is relatively mild compared to some of the hoppier beers at 101 and so it does not overpower the flavors of the food.

The menu changes every week, although there will always be a variation of a taco and a sandwich, as well as three Bavarian pretzels for $6. Accompanied by both amazing house-made mustard and sweet honey dipping sauces, the pretzels are a satisfying start to the meal. In the winter, Kaffun offers soups and chilis, while in other months you may see nachos on the menu. Past menus have included pork loin banh mi tacos, chicken and sausage verdi tacos, Beer-BQ pork sliders, Greek sausage sandwiches, corn chowder and even a vegetarian chili bowl.

During our visit, we ordered the pretzels to start, followed by the rojo pork and beef tacos and the fried chicken sandwich. We had to skip on the nachos because we’d already ordered too much, but they come in both meat and vegetarian.

The tacos are only $3 each, which is a great price considering how much meat they pack in, plus each was topped creatively with caramelized onions, roasted red crema and Cotija cheese. Next up was the chicken sandwich, but heed my warning because once you try it, the cravings for this sandwich will sneak up on you again and again. Petaluma makes a lot of great chicken sandwiches, but Kaffun’s is quite different.

The panko crust and citrus rub certainly help explain why I was craving another just hours after devouring the first. Kaffun cuts his chicken on the bias and then pounds it flat, which is why it is so dense and flavorful. Being thin, the chicken is easy to manage, even with a bun and tasty toppings. Always trying to keep it local, he uses Golden State Pickle Works’ pickled veggies to top his chicken sandwich, for a tangy finish.

F.A. Nino’s sauces can be found in most every Northern California grocery store, including Safeway, Lucky’s, Raley’s, Nugget, Oliver’s and all the local markets like Petaluma Market and Penngrove Market. You can also find the sauces for sale at local shops like LaLa’s Jam Bar, Petaluma Creamery and Charlie’s Wine Country Deli. You can buy directly from F.A. Nino’s tasting room at 1370 Industrial Blvd., suite D, but check the hours first at faninos.com.

Keep an eye out for “package deals” which include a couple sauces and rubs and make for great gifts. But if you want to try the food, you have to head to 101 North.

Tyler Terrell manages the bar at 101 North. She came by way of Griffo Distillery next door, right around the time of the fires, when she helped organize a donation drop-off at 101 North. In June of 2018, she put all her great organizational skills to good use by starting her own business called Events by Tyler, where she plans weddings, corporate events and more.

The brewery is a collaboration between brothers Joel, Jake and Joey Johnson, along with lifetime friends John Lilienthal, John Brainin and Anthony Turner. Joel is the brewmaster and started his career back in 1996 when he attended the Craft Brewers Apprenticeship Program of the American Brewers Guild. He would go on to spend nearly a decade with Bear Republic Brewing in Healdsburg collecting multiple awards, including the coveted gold medal at the Great American Beer Festival for Bear Republic’s Racer 5 IPA.

We ordered a flight of beer to go along with our food, of course. I personally prefer malt flavors to hops, so I found 101 North’s regular releases Naughty Aud Imperial Stout and Golden Naked Ale and the limited release Red Rye and Mocha Stout, to be a satisfying pairing with our food. The big winner for me was the limited release pilsner, which although slightly hoppier than a German or Czech pilsner, had a dry finish that was smooth and well-rounded.

The tasting room’s décor is eclectic and eye catching, with bright artwork and good lighting. Additionally, the tasting room is more comfortably laid out than one would expect from such a small space. The walls are covered with local artwork, which rotates every month. This month highlights local performance painter Neal Barbosa, who paints to live music. Stop in for the First Friday Artist Reception on May 3, from 5 to 8 p.m. to meet May’s artist Aspen Terrell, Tyler’s 11-year-old daughter.

101 North’s booty section is well stocked with glasses, growlers, clothing, canned beer to go and now sauces from F.A. Nino’s, including a Sonoma Sauce Mafia collection of three local award-winning sauces. It was first started to support relief efforts after our local fires in 2017, but now $5 of each purchase is donated to the Butte County fire relief.

The brewery also offers regular live music events as well as fundraisers, mostly related to animal adoptions. On Saturday, May 25, from 1 to 4 p.m., 101 North will host its May adoption event for the The Tiny Pitbull nonprofit. In the meantime, do not miss the Taco and Beer Pairing Flight event on Saturday, April 20, from 2 to 8 p.m., when 101 North will pair four beers with four tacos from F.A. Nino’s. The tacos will be the vegetarian Spanish pisto taco, coconut-chicken mole taco, pork chili verde taco and al pastor taco. Tickets are $23 on Eventbrite and are only sold in advance so they know how many tacos to make.

As a Penngrove native, I am always tickled to see 101 North’s gray windmill billboard out in front of the brewery. For those wondering, the sign pays homage to the windmill billboard, which is currently rotting away at the edge of the freeway, in large part because it is historic and so cannot be touched. The original windmill advertises Penngrove’s long defunct Green Mill Inn. The four arms of the old windmill blades read “Food – At – It’s – Best.” At 101 North, the windmill proclaims “Beer – At – It’s – Best.” (sic)

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