Until Big Bottom opened last fall in this Sonoma County “neck” of the redwoods, Guerneville was mostly known for steak-and-potatoes cuisine.
Although the Michelin-star Applewood Inn, Restaurant, and Spa (13555 Highway 116, Guerneville, 707-869-9093) lies just over the Russian River, most locals spent their time at places like Main Street Bistro & Piano Bar (16280 Main St., Guerneville, 707-869-0501), enjoying thick crust pizza, pot roast, lasagna, and meatball hoagies alongside live Celtic music and weekend cabaret dinners.
Trivia: Guerneville’s nickname used to be “Big Bottom.” This seeming silliness actually referred to the alluvial flood plain that Guerneville rests upon. It was called Big Bottom in the 1860s until it was retitled Stumptown because of its redwood logging.
That’s good information to have as you’re wandering Main Street today, and come across Big Bottom Market (16228 Main St., Guerneville, 707-604-7295). The storeowners have a sense of humor, and as the newest restaurateurs in town, they decided to play on history.
Main Street still draws its crowds, but with the entry of Big Bottom, Guerneville’s dining scene has stepped up. It’s a change that really began when boon eat + drink (16248 Main St., Guerneville, 707-869-0780) set up shop several years earlier, next door to what’s now Big Bottom. The two businesses are both owned by Crista Luedtke — who also owns the nearby boon hotel + spa (14711 Armstrong Woods Road, Guerneville, 707-869-2721) — and both serve Cal-bistro cuisine.
Big Bottom is the more casual option, centered around a gourmet grocery and upscale deli complete with curated wines; it’s become a cherished community hangout for local musicians and artists, too.
Chef Tricia Brown focuses on breakfast and lunch, plus a selection of cheeses and charcuterie for evening snacking in the wine bar. On Thursdays, Fridays and Saturday nights, diners can take a seat at the half dozen tables or the communal table next to the wine racks and dried goods shelves, and enjoy full dinners from a menu of quick bites, starters, entrees, sides, and desserts.
The menu changes weekly, but you can expect Cal-Mediterranean snacks like lentil-walnut paté smeared on crostini, and appetizers such as chilled cucumber soup spiked with mint and yogurt, or burrata cheese with arugula pesto, toasted pine nuts and crostini.
A handful of entrees might include wild salmon Niçoise salad, and green chile-cheddar turkey meatloaf over chipotle mashed sweet potatoes alongside arugula salad dressed in cumin vinaigrette with cotija and spiced pepitas. The flavors are big, bright, often kicked up with some delightful spice.
During the day, the signature biscuits are irresistible, featuring a Sea Biscuit, which is a cheddar-thyme biscuit stuffed with smoked trout, pickled onions, crème fraiche, chives, and a slice of lemon. Lunch also brings hearty sandwiches like The Parson Jones, a salute to one of the largest trees in nearby Armstrong Woods, layering turkey with Havarti, jalapeño jam, and arugula on a French roll.
At Boon, meanwhile, Chef Luedtke whips up specials such as beet salad, and braised pork shoulder over sautéed greens and ginger-orange zest black-eyed peas, using local ingredients and local wines and beer from the Russian River area. The setting is sleek and urban-chic with just two dozen seats and a mural of dogs catching Frisbees, in honor of “Boon,” Luedtke’s rescue pup.
One of the best items is the Boon burger, a knife-and-fork affair of grass fed beef, Fiscalini aged white cheddar and wild arugula on a toasted brioche with truffle fries and garlic aioli. It’s gloriously juicy, and big and rich enough for two meals.
At Boon, dessert is a must. The menu changes frequently, but a sample item would be the Boylan float, bobbing Humphry Slocombe Tahitian vanilla ice cream in orange, black cherry, ginger ale, or cream soda.
What a delicious evolution it all is.