Tucked away in the hamlet of Graton in western Sonoma County, two restaurants have been reviewed by Food & Wine, Wine Spectator, and the San Francisco Chronicle (to name a few), and have earned "Best of" awards into the double digits.
Guided by owner and chef Matthew Greenbaum, the Underwood Bar & Bistro and the Willow Wood Market Café offer delicious food and a delightful small-town vibe. Here locals mingle with tourists — including day-trippers who drive all the way from San Francisco for a single meal —and you might catch sight of a nationally recognized winemaker taking a break from his or her vineyards.
At Underwood, co-owner Matthew Greenbaum sends out European-style food from tapas to an excellent Niman Ranch hamburger gooey with Gruyere. This place purrs with relaxed sophistication, from the milk-glass pendant lights, to a nickel-topped saloon-style bar, red vinyl banquettes, and zinc accented tables. It’s a taste of big city style in what used to be a simple little apple cannery town and is now the gateway to some of Sonoma County’s best vineyard areas.
On every table you’ll likely see something different, selected from the broad menu with temptations such as roasted local beets tossed with endive, walnuts, and feta cheese; a small plate of Korean barbecued beef dressed in lettuce leaves, shiso, housemade kimchi, Napa cabbage, and Asian pear slaw; a pizzetta topped in Serrano ham, arugula, Manchego cheese, and farm-fresh egg; or Catalan fish stew brimming with prawns, clams, mussels, and calamari.
Pair your meal with a classic Negroni, a lively pisco sour, or a glass of Frei Brothers Reserve Pinot Noir — and you might even see winery proprietor Gina Gallo enjoying a glass of her own at the next table.
Underwood Bar & Bistro (9113 Graton Road, 707-823-7023)
Every town needs a gathering spot, and for Graton it’s Willow Wood, which doubles as a general store and a café/soda fountain.
The order of the day is breakfast, lunch, dinner, and Sunday brunch, from omelets to grilled steaks. Willow Wood caters to visitors, families, and anyone looking for an honest roast chicken and garlic mashed potatoes dinner.
As owner, Greenbaum stocks the market with local food items, Sonoma County wines, and souvenirs like novelty toys and knickknacks. As chef, he rivals mom for big breakfasts of eggs Benedict and Monte Cristo sandwiches, and lunches like a hot Black Forest ham and Brie sandwich, or smoked trout and spinach salad studded with walnuts, apples, and blue cheese.
Part of the trick here is keeping the nostalgia old, but the menu fresh, such as huevos rancheros in a traditional recipe of two corn tortillas topped with black beans, poached eggs, Manchego cheese, avocado salsa, and sour cream, but tricked up with creamy polenta.
Willow Wood Market Café (9020 Graton Road, 707-823-0233)
After you're eaten, you'll want to discover other treasures in this fascinating little town and the surrounding area. For ideas, read Graton: A California Artist Community, Guide to Wine Tasting in Graton, and Cruising the Back Roads of Western Sonoma County.