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.
Diavola Pizzeria & Salumeria, Geyserville
A growling, tusked pig sculpture tops the wood-burning oven in this Geyserville restaurant that celebrates the seasons of California with an Italian state of mind. The specialties of the house are Neopolitan style pizza, handmade pasta, house-cured salumi, and daily specials from that wood-burning oven.
Chef Dino Bugica hand-pulls the pizza dough, scatters on artisanal toppings, and then feeds them into the oven. They emerge charred and golden, crisp and pillowy, and generously decorated with housemade sausage chunks, red onion, and white pecorino cheese shavings, or juicy Lingurian clams, broccoli raab, parsley, tomato, pecorino, herbs, and garlic.
The rustic menu changes daily, and features carefully sourced meats, fish, and produce from local farms, ranches, and fisheries that are guided by the principles of sustainability.
Diavola Pizzeria & Salumeria, 21021 Geyserville Ave., Geyserville, 707-814-0111
Rosso Pizzeria & Wine Bar, Santa Rosa
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
Stark's Steak & Seafood, 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 Steak & Seafood, 521 Adams St., Santa Rosa, 707-546-5100
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.
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. Weiswasser previously worked as chef de partie at French Laundry, and cooked at Picholine, Daniel, Gilt, and Corton in New York. He 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. It celebrates authentic, rustic Italian food and showcases local, seasonal ingredients, often using 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, and taste a flight of wines served on a mini-surfboard.
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. Plus, several other restaurants feature wood-fired ovens:
- CIBO Rustico Pizzeria in Santa Rosa offers authentic Italian thin-crust pizza, made with local and organic toppings.
- 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.
- Central Market in Petaluma cooks up farm-to-table rustic California-Mediterranean cuisine, with bread baked daily in its wood-fired oven.
Written by Sonoma Insider Carey Sweet.