Crispy chicken legs at Pizzando. Photo: © tablehopper.com.
The mega serving of moussaka at Taverna Sofia. Photo: © tablehopper.com.
The calamari at Bravas Bar de Tapas. Photo by Heather Irwin for BiteClub Eats.
Seating in the dimly lit Campo Fina. Photo: © tablehopper.com.
Funghi pizza at Campo Fina. Photo by Heather Irwin for BiteClub Eats.
Gumbo at The Parish Café. Photo: © tablehopper.com.
My comfy bed at h2hotel. Photo: © tablehopper.com.
Sweet suite at h2hotel. Photo: © tablehopper.com.
Healdsburg has always been my favorite Wine Country weekend destination—the food is so notably good; there are some nice options for accommodations; quality yet attitude-free wineries abound; and I usually pay at least a couple of visits to Flying Goat Coffee for espresso. Healdsburg can be a little bit of a schlep, but I think it’s totally worth it. So when I was invited with some fellow media types to come up for a night of tablehopping to check out the latest restaurants, I was like, uh, where do I sign?
Our first destination was ~PIZZANDO~, the offshoot from the Hotel Healdsburg and Spoonbar at the h2hotel (which is just across Matheson Street). It overlooks the plaza and has a contemporary-meets-rustic look, with just 18 seats. Chef Louis Maldonado is overseeing both kitchens, and you can order some bottled cocktails on the menu by Cappy Sorentino at Spoonbar (he’s a Scott Beattie protégé). While the primary focus is on pizzas, there are also some appetizers, a couple of pastas, and about four main dishes, all featuring Maldonado’s creative touch. The dish that I would drive back to Healdsburg for (seriously) was the crispy chicken legs ($16), which are brined and then cooked like Korean fried chicken, with just enough spice (from Aleppo pepper). So juicy, and mega flavor. Bwok, majorly.
Pizzas have an elastic crust and come out of the wood-fired Mugnaini oven with some definite char and leopard spotting (Liza Shaw—previously A16—consulted on the pizzas). The burrata, arugula, and roasted lemon marmalade pizza ($16) was a favorite, until I tasted the special that night: finally someone did a porchetta pizza (it came with pickled and sautéed red onions, fresh arugula, garlic, imported mozzarella di bufala, and vinaigrette). Brilliant. Bonus: you can order any of these items for takeout (I would totally eat those chicken legs in bed in my hotel room, I am so not kidding).
You ready to hear about some of the best damn moussaka I’ve had in awhile? Dear lord, the moussaka at ~TAVERNA SOFIA~ was off the charts. We were served a family-style portion in a big clay bowl (see if you can get some friends together and pre-order this for a family-style meal—the individual size is $14). It sported a browned and beauteous topping of Kefalograviera cheese, with layers of eggplant (it’s grilled, so it’s not oily!) and ground beef in a superb béchamel. Just wow. Chef Sofia Petridis-Lim uses her grandma’s recipes, and the rustic Greek menu includes a gyro at lunch (the restaurant has a fantastic rotisserie for it). It’s a casual spot, and the outdoor patio is the place to be (the tiny dining room is very plain); perk up with a traditional Greek coffee made in a copper pot with your baklava.
Mark and Terri Stark (of Willi’s Wine Bar, Stark’s Steakhouse, and others) have opened a really fun addition to the Healdsburg scene in the former Ravenous space: ~BRAVAS BAR DE TAPAS~. The Barcelona-inspired menu is packed with tapas ($4-16, but mostly falling in the $7-8 range), from crisp patatas bravas ($6) to skewers of chorizo and shishito peppers ($7)—you’ll find plenty to pair with your wine, sherry, or cocktail (there’s a section dedicated to gin and tonics). There are tender calamari with salsa verde ($10), as well as more decadent choices, like Dungeness crab fideua ($10)—just spoon some of the excessive aioli off—and the Sebastopol maitake mushrooms ($10) cooked on the plancha with “goat cheese fluff.”
The space is stylish, with a bar and a couple of different dining rooms in the front and some cool art. Wait until the weather gets nice—the back patio is going to be the place to hang out with some sliced-to-order Fermin jamón Ibérico (for now, the covered deck with heaters is doing a great job). There’s a separate bar in the back too—just look for the clever “Jamon In” sign.
The owners of local favorite Scopa (Dawnelise and Ari Rosen) have opened another hip hangout, ~CAMPO FINA~. It has a welcoming and almost sultry vibe, with brick walls, cordovan banquettes and chairs, dim lighting, and Paolo Conte playing over the sound system (there’s also a bocce court and back patio). The rustic menu features standouts like Larry Pacini’s ciabatta bread ($3.50) and hard-boiled eggs with salsa verde ($5.50); an escarole salad ($9.50) with pecorino, white anchovy, and pine nuts was excellent. The pizzas from the wood-fired oven are so fantastico, with a nicely crisp crust. The pizza rapini ($15.50) was particularly memorable, with tomato sauce, mozzarella, rapini, black olives, the kick of Calabrian chile, and caciocavallo cheese. People also go nuts for the honey-roasted carrots ($7.50) with coriander and panko. This place has such creative aperitivi (all $8) by Erika Frey (previously at Cyrus), like the Piper’s Pick (chile-infused vermouth, Moretti beer, red pepper purée, lemon juice, and pickling foam) and the Shakerato Superiori (marsala, Allagash black stout, cherry pistachio syrup, Angostura bitters, and espresso).
A sunny yellow building in a nearby strip mall is where you’ll find ~THE PARISH CAFE~, pulling in a line of locals for its po’boys at lunchtime. Owner Rob Lippincott is from Louisiana, and you’ll feel a strong sense of hospitality here. I was sorry to just miss the breakfast cutoff, because a friend swears by the sublime shrimp and grits ($12) that are served until 11:30am. We veered for the chicken and andouille gumbo ($6/$9) instead (be sure to shake some hot sauce on it), and a fried shrimp po’boy ($11/$15), which had plump and tasty shrimp, but the bread was too crunchy for my liking, and I had to pull out the slices of out-of-season tomato. You can come by all day for café au lait and beignets ($5)—try to snag a spot on the front porch.
Looking for a spiffy place to stay? Even if money is tight, try to at least hunt down a deal here, because the ~H2HOTEL~ is such a pleasure to stay in. I was ready to move into my suite (it always feels good to step away from the clutter of our own homes). Eco-chic is the name of the game (the hotel was built to LEED Gold green building certification), and it has a very NorCal sensibility, with weekend yoga classes. You can even tool around for three hours on a PUBLIC bike for free.
My favorite feature was my suite’s Japanese deep soaking tub made with Heath tiles—I was getting over a cold, and that thing was pure heaven. The room was minimalist but still artsy-funky, and I left the hotel feeling relaxed and calm. My only quibble was there weren’t slippers provided in the room—the striped bamboo floors weren’t fun to walk on barefoot (brrrr). I’d come back in a heartbeat during the summer to take advantage of the solar-heated pool. Downstairs, you can dine or grab a cocktail at Spoonbar—and breakfast is provided.