Sonoma County restaurants know that the sound and aroma of crackling wood on a fall or winter day is like magic, whether it’s coming from a fireplace, or a wood-burning oven leaving its blistering kiss on the food. The warmth makes you feel all cozy inside, and the flames – burning up to 900 degrees for a bubbly-crust pizza – impart extra delicious flavor.
The wood-burning oven is blazing at this delightful trattoria from chef Mark Hopper, sending forth gorgeous Neapolitan style pizzas, roasted vegetables, and ‘nduja flatbread topped with arugula, red onion, and grated grana padano. Hopper is a big name, formerly an executive chef of casual dining for the Thomas Keller Restaurant Group, then, most recently, as executive chef at Farmshop Marin. His 60-seat venture is built for relaxed happiness, set in a freestanding, industrial-modern barn building and patio, with a lovely picnic table set-up outside. You order your seasonal antipasti, craft beers and wines, and then wait the minute or so it takes for the powerful Stefano Ferrara oven to work its magic on pizza signatures like the meatball parm, or the Manhattan, a clam chowder inspired pie with San Marzano tomatoes, chopped clams, garlic, mozzarella di bufala, oregano and chili oil.
Vignette, 6750 McKinley St., Sebastopol, 707-861-3897
Rosso Pizzeria & Wine Bar, Santa Rosa, and Rosso Pizzeria & Mozzarella Bar, Petaluma
Think rustic Italian food, for stellar salumi, antipasti, salads, piadine (salad-topped flatbread), and nightly specials like oven-roasted Dungeness crab or risotto. But what brings in the crowds is the pizza, in crisp crust baked in a wood-burning oven to a puffy-edged finish, with toppings such as McEvoy Ranch EVOO, and Sonoma-grown greens and eggs. Inspired by the slow food movement of Italy and local Sonoma County farmers, the Santa Rosa pizzeria & wine bar opened in 2007, and proved so popular that the Petaluma pizzeria & mozzarella bar was added in 2012. The wine bar boasts more than 100 wines from around the world, and the mozzarella bar features fresh, hand-pinched, creamy mozzarella made to order.
Rosso Pizzeria & Wine Bar, 53 Montgomery Drive (in Creekside Center), Santa Rosa, 707-544-3221
Rosso Pizzeria & Mozzarella Bar, 151 Petaluma Blvd. S., Petalum
Stark's Steakhouse, Santa Rosa
This destination is a bit hidden away in downtown Santa Rosa on the edge of the railroad tracks, but it’s well worth seeking out for some of Sonoma’s best steaks. The red neon Stark’s marquee shines like a beacon, guiding your way to a dark, clubby, ultra friendly retro haunt that wows with a thoroughly modern vibe to the food and drink.
Choose your seat: maybe the polished wood and black leather-decorated front room with its cozy, roaring fireplace and busy bar, or the more formal dining room with red lamps, white linens, and high booths. Either way, you’ll eat well, with Prime steaks you can top with foie gras, bone marrow or truffled egg, ocean-fresh market fish like ahi, briny oysters, and truffle fries. Any meal is all the better, too, with a perfect, chilled martini.
Stark's Steakhouse, 521 Adams St., Santa Rosa, 707-546-5100
Peter Lowell’s, Sebastopol
The ingredients are so fresh here that they’re called “hyperlocal,” meaning they are sourced primarily from the Sebastopol purveyors right around the sleek, chic Cal-Italian café. Wood-fire pizza comes topped with artisan cheeses and goodies like wild arugula, wild mushrooms, mortadella, and olive tapenade, while panna cotta is made of Rainbow’s End goat milk, pure vanilla, and fresh-picked cherries. Seasonal specialties include summertime “Tomatoes Five Ways,” as oven-roasted, rosemary salsa, kale, and pinenut-stuffed Early Girl, cherry salad, and tomato marinated tofu.
Peter Lowell’s, 7385 Healdsburg Ave., Sebastopol, 707-829-1077
Glen Ellen Star, Glen Ellen
Chef Ari Weiswasser offers just 24 seats in his Cal-Mediterranean bistro, but the star is a big, fire-breathing wood oven. He previously worked as chef de partie at French Laundry, and cooked at Picholine, Daniel, Gilt, and Corton in New York, but perfectly captures the uncomplicated essence of Wine Country cooking with dishes like Brussels sprouts in brown sugar bacon marmalade; crispy spaetzle tossed with celery root, huckleberries and Parmesan; and exquisitely crisp and golden brick chicken paired with creamy polenta, lemon and Spanish caper jus. Reservations are a must.
Glen Ellen Star, 13648 Arnold Drive, Glen Ellen, 707-343-1384
Campo Fina, Healdsburg
Small plates are the backbone of this venture from Dawnelise and Ari Rosen, as a larger and more casual option to their Scopa bistro around the corner on the Healdsburg Plaza. Both restaurants celebrate authentic, rustic Italian food, and both showcase local, seasonal ingredients, but Campo woos with something extra: a wood-burning oven on the back patio. From its flaming maw come seasonal bites like beautiful roasted cauliflower sprinkled in pine nuts with currants and anchovies, and hand-crafted pizzas like pork belly topped in smoked mozzarella, squash, chanterelles and arugula, or pitch perfect Margherita laced in melty-pure mozzarella, fresh basil leaves, tomato and golden olive oil.
Campo Fina, 330 Healdsburg Ave., Healdsburg, 707-395-4640
Monti's, Santa Rosa
Located in Montgomery Village Shopping Center, Monti’s welcomes diners with its rustic Mediterranean ambiance. In addition to nightly specials from the large wood-fired rotisserie, there are small and big plates featuring fresh local meats and seasonal produce. Monti’s offers an extensive selection of wines, all available by the glass, as well as a full bar, Happy Hour, Sunday Brunch and patio seating.
Monti's, 714 Village Court, Santa Rosa, CA 95405, 707-568-4404
Gourmet au Bay, Bodega Bay
Part wine shop, part restaurant, and part gift shop, Gourmet Au Bay recently moved to much larger (but still waterfront) quarters and added a 900-degree wood-fired oven. The new seasonal menu can include wood-fired prawns, crab cakes, roasted mussels, creative flatbreads, and a rich and tasty house-made clam chowder. Check selections off on the deli-style menu, drop it off at the bar, and then take a seat at the comfy bar tables or on the protected outdoor patio.
Gourmet Au Bay, 1412 Bay Flat Road, Bodega Bay, 707-875-9875
Of course, this is Sonoma County, so there are always more delightful options to consider. Renowned for their breads and baked goods, Gold Coast Coffee & Bakery in Duncans Mills and Wild Flour Bread in Freestone both create their delights in wood fired ovens. And several other restaurants feature wood-fired ovens:
- Central Market in Petaluma cooks up farm-to-table rustic California-Mediterranean cuisine, with bread baked daily in its wood-fired oven.
- CIBO Rustico Pizzeria in Santa Rosa offers authentic Italian thin-crust pizza, made with local and organic toppings.
- Diavola Pizzeria & Salumeria in Geyserville features Neopolitan style pizza, handmade pasta, and daily specials from the wood-burning oven.
- Franchetti’s Woodfire Kitchen in Santa Rosa creates thin crust wood-fired pizzas that are properly moist in the middle and crisply bubbled on the edges, in addition to its full breakfast, lunch, and dinner menus.
- Luma in the Petaluma warehouse district serves urban comfort food created with local, sustainable ingredients in a wood-fired oven.
- Persona Wood Fired Pizza in Santa Rosa is one of six locations nationwide; this small chain gives guests the option of creating their personal blend of sauce, cheese, veggies, or meats, cooked in a wood burning oven.
Written by Sonoma Insider Carey Sweet.