West Sonoma has always been a culinary highlight full of all the raw materials you could imagine which overwhelmed the actual restaurants. Little sparks have always existed like West County’s Freestone Bakery, Graton’s Underwood, Sebastoplol’s own K&L but that side of the equation has always lost out to the apple orchards and sundry other growers and ranchers. Somehow the area always managed to stand outside next wave culinary innovations and the tourist supernovas just a few miles to the east in Sonoma and a bit further on in Napa.
That seems to be changing with the new Barlow development that might eclipse old downtown Sebastopol in square footage, definitely in star wattage. A visit this weekend felt disturbingly empty because most of the space is yet to be occupied, it’s like one of those shots of a developing suburban development with wide streets and empty buildings. But the chunk that is occupied is pretty impressive. Zazu is already open which should mean big things for them and Sebastopol. While it’s always been a great restaurant its country location made it a tricky visit and probably prevented the owners from reaping deserved financial rewards. We’ll see, they were serving brunch Sunday which is anathema to me so I tried WoodFour Brewing Company across the street instead.
While not a revelation it’s an instant addition to the eating list on the strength of its brews and culinary sensibility. The space is all new California, spacious with a view into the kitchen and brewery, lots of concrete and sprays of color on the cabinetry fronted by a patio. The beer is a real challenge to Californian sensibilities. The day we visited they didn’t feature a single house brewed IPA nor anything approaching the hop arms race that has dominated craft beer in this country. Whoever is brewing loves Germany’s beer culture, they feature everything from the traditional sour and appropriately low alcohol Berliner to a Dunkelweizen or a Roggenbier. There’s also a English trend visible in their Wheat Stout and ever so creamy Coffee Porter. When you’re done move onto the the guest list which features other Californian beers of distinctive character that won’t destroy your taste buds like the delightfully spiced Almanac Flowering Gose. Everything on draft is offered in 8 or 16 ounces so take advantage of those smaller pours to experience more of the menu or take a ride on their full tasting experience, it’s a bit overwhelming and I wouldn’t do it because it warms up so fast but the comparative aspect is compelling.
The food side of the operation surprises with what’s not on the menu. While there are plenty of items that are completely normative like charcuterie and cheese platters, you won’t find a burger or other entrees that dominate the gastropub scene. There’s a nice variety of fish and vegetables and a great variety of snacks like their own version of corn nuts which are perfect matches for the beer.
My only quibble is that the Barlow project is just too car-centric. It should have been structured around pedestrian zones to encourage walking and all the fantastic economic and social interactions that get unleashed in those spaces. While WoodFour’s patio seating is great it’s also a few feet higher than the sidewalk which really separates it from the casual street level interactions. It gives you a great perspective on contemporary West County hairstyles but being at street level would make the entire experience so much more vital.
View Max’s Restaurants in a larger map
Woodfour Brewing Restaurant
6780 Depot Street
Sebastopol, CA 95472