A Taste of Gypsy Cafe in Sebastopol
Of all the eclectic dining destinations in Sonoma County, Gypsy Café in downtown Sebastopol is one of the most playful. The menu ranges from an earthy “Sebastobowl” packed with garlic braised greens, new potatoes, eggs, and toasted hemp seeds ($11), to a classic comfort pot roast brimming with red wine-braised natural chuck roast over creamy parmesan polenta and garlic braised greens ($18).
Restaurateur Shawn Hall named her business Gypsy, she says, because her mother was adopted and never knew her own background. Hall, herself, feels like a nomadic, free-spirited person, and is someone who loves to roam the world for its many culinary styles.
She leaves the actual Gypsy cooking to chef German Bacho, and it’s clear from the mouthwatering dishes he sends out, that he loves what he does.
The look: Hall also owns Shawn E. Hall Designs, a Santa Rosa-based interior design company specializing in restaurants and wineries. When she took over the former Pine Cone Café in 2011, she morphed the humble 70-seat diner into a cozy showplace of exposed brick walls brightened with antique mirrors, antique food and drink signs, European inspired art, and lots of fresh flowers.
To eat: The claims to fame are breakfast and lunch, though locals know to come on Friday nights, too, for the once-weekly suppers that often showcase live music, too.
Breakfast is served all day, and fills us up with signatures like the “house stack” of a plump, crisp-crusted potato cake drowned in housemade chorizo, two eggs, avocado, and chive cream alongside sourdough toast ($12). I get it when I can sneak in a nap after – the same for the excellent chicken fried steak swimming in sausage or mushroom leek gravy alongside a potato cake, two sunny side-up eggs, and sourdough toast ($14).
As is Hall’s style, there are always terrific vegetarian choices, as well. I particularly like the veggie rice breakfast bowl with organic brown rice and kale in a sweet coconut peanut sauce ($12).
At lunch, vegetarian winners include the roasted beet salad ($12), in a toss of baby spinach, arugula, roasted beets, candied walnuts, shaved onion, goat cheese, and sherry vinaigrette that’s even better when I add tofu ($3). A moist mix keeps the lentil-veggie burger ($12) almost as satisfying as the beef model ($11), dressed with romesco sauce, pickled onion, leaf lettuce, and toasted almonds on a potato onion bun alongside a big pile of crisp fries, coleslaw, or salad.
They have one of the best roasted turkey sandwiches in town, too, in a Southwest Melt layered with caramelized onion, tomato, and plenty of jack cheese melting into the spicy poblano aioli on toasted sourdough ($11.50).
Several of the lunch specialties make it to Friday dinner, including my all-time love, the pork and beans ($13), and my runner-up, the pot roast ($13). The meats in both are braised to fork tenderness, with the pork shoulder served in a savory natural jus broth with bitterish garlic greens, Rancho Gordo yellow eye heirloom beans, and sweet yellow onion, with a dash of Parmigiano-Reggiano.
Pot roast ($13) arrives in a rich soup of tomato and wine studded with big chunks of chuck roast, potatoes, carrot, onion, and celery, all nesting around a hearty slab of firm, golden seared Parmesan polenta.
Fridays also mean an array of specials. One recent night it was spaghetti and meatballs, draped in thick sugo marinara, sparked with fresh shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano and sopped up with housemade focaccia ($11).
To note: The place is super popular, often with waits on weekdays, and a wait list for weekends. For dinner, you must make reservations, or find yourself standing a long time on the sidewalk.
Dessert: Beignets are puffy, light, and addictive, dusted in powdered sugar ($5).
To drink: The wine and beer list is brief, but the bar now serves terrific craft cocktails. Try the West County with a tongue tingling mix of vodka, Carpano Antica vermouth, Peychaud's Bitters, and Luxardo cherry ($10).