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Savor Healdsburg Food Tours

Bravas Bar de Tapas

True aficionados of world's best fresh, local, seasonal, and exceptional foods, wine and refreshing fermented beverages consider historic downtown Healdsburg, heart of Sonoma County's Chalk Hill, Dry Creek, Alexander, and Russian River valleys, a veritable edible Eden. 

Healdsburg (with its friendly population of just over 11,000), provides a warm and refreshingly down-to-earth welcome to wine and food lovers from all over the globe. This five-star farm town is a jewel in the crown of Sonoma County, built around an inviting central plaza. Its walkability and diversity of wine tasting and dining options are unrivalled. In fact, Fodor's Guide names Healdsburg as "One of the 10 Best Small Towns in America."

With so many splendid selections of where to eat and drink, visitors and locals alike are truly spoiled for choice. With this in mind and not being one to miss out on the best of the West, Savor Healdsburg Food Tours — a three-hour, six-stop, seated, progressive dining experience, had me chomping at the bit for finding out what I've been missing around the town's quintessential plaza and neighboring boutique district.

Whether you are looking for expert local insight on where to eat and drink over a stay of a few days or, like me, eager to soak in all the latest and greatest of the town's tastes in a half-day gourmet tour, Savor Healdsburg Food Tours offer remarkable insight, first-class bites, sites, and sips for just $89 per person. 

I took a summer Saturday tour on a warm, late morning, led by Savor Healdsburg Food Tour owner and head foodie, Tammy Gass.

"Eat and drink like a local," Tammy promised and as seasoned a sampler of Wine Country fare as the best of them, by our sixth and final stop I was thoroughly impressed with how at home we all were.

This wasn't a typical tourist experience. Tammy's bespoke food tour style exceeded my expectations not only in fantastic, fresh, innovative food and drink — gracious hospitality and personal attention was the order of the day.

First stop, Healdsburg Shed. I'm a huge fan of The Shed, a modern day farming community “Grange,” a stylish and airy events space, market, café, and fermentation bar that, if I had a whole day to work my way around, would keep me enthralled for endless hours and multiple meals.

Tammy led the morning's group of six to a shaded, private outdoor dining area where we were served exquisitely prepared and presented Mezze platters of Beet Tzatziki, Sibley Squash Hummus, Quinoa Salad, served with Feta, olives and handmade crackers. The Shed (owned by Dry Creek farmers, Doug Lipton and Cindy Daniel) is all about its responsible farming methods, ingredient driven cooking and flavorful food. 

Our first taste of Healdsburg was paired with a selection of fruity Shrubs, specialty vinegar drinks made at the Shed with fresh quince, strawberry, blood orange and, on that particular day, kumquat with ginger and tangerine with clove.

I'm a fairly recent Kombucha convert, but this was my intro to the palatable pleasures of Shrubs. If you've yet to explore these healthy refreshers, made over a period of days, with white wine vinegar, rice vinegar, champagne, sherry, and apple vinegars, among others, I recommend you seek them out — or, as we learned, make them easily yourself.

The second stop was another first for me, a taste of the Azores, Portugal, at Cafe Lucia. This spacious and contemporary dining spot is tucked away off the plaza; its own sheltered outside eating area a plus on busy summer weekends.

Thousands of Portuguese, brother-and-sister owners Lucia and Manuel Azevedo's father included, came to Northern California over the past century and more to fish and dairy farm, bringing with them their delicious seafood recipes influenced by centuries of seafaring exploration.

A family recipe for freshly baked bread rolls proved a crowd-pleaser, served, typically, warm with a piquant chourico-crusted day-boat scallop and creamy leek confit and perfectly paired with a youthful, slightly fizzy pour of Pinto Verde.

The third stop, a conveniently located tasting room for Gustafson Family Wines, saved us a long, steep drive some 1,800 feet above sea level to the winery itself.  A special Savor Healdsburg Tasting Flight consisted of award-winning and rare to the Dry Creek Valley 2103 Riesling (made above the fog line and brimming with green apple and Asian pear), a 2010 Heritage Tree (deep blackberry and current) Zinfandel, and a 2010 (sweet oak, toast and clove) Petite Syrah, paired with cheese, crackers and dark chocolate.

Just enough of a walk away to work up an appetite to do it justice, Bravas Bar De Tapas presides over Center Street in a gorgeous, fully renovated and updated (in 2012) 1920s bungalow with impressive outdoor paella kitchen, patio, and bar.

Chef Cody Thomason and his talented and energetic team serve up scrumptious Spanish small plates and signature sangria like there's no tomorrow. Tastes kept coming and each with its own rich, spicy and distinctive set of surprises. San Francisco Chronicle food critic Michael Bauer placed Bravas in his coveted top 100 Bay Area restaurant list for top-pick for tapas.

I opted for a glass of White Sangria — a splendid blend of Encanto Pisco, Dolin Blanc, citrus zest, apple, and Spanish bubbles. Tapas featured in our taste at a comfortably secluded table in the front of house, ranged from savory Patatas Bravas (fried potatoes) in a spicy tomato sauce with aioli, creamy chicken, ham, and Gruyere cheese croquetas, house-braised Chorizo and blackened Padron peppers, and a goat cheese and onion tostada.

We were offered a fascinating insight into the world of teas on our fifth stop. The Taste of Tea owners Donna and Nez Tokugawa had a hunch that serious wine tasters and locals alike would find respite in their unique take on a retail tea store, tearoom and spa.

We sampled and learned about three teas during our refreshing taste, an astringent Japanese steamed cut green tea, a lighter, milky Taiwanese Oolong, and a Chinese black tea called "Golden Monkey."

The last stop on tour was super-stylish, sweet little Moustache Baked Goods, a hipster's haven and macaroon, cookie, and cupcake-lover's delight. How to resist a cupcake collection with names such as The Farmer (my choice for just the right amount of fresh carrot cake with cream cheese frosting), The Butcher, The Local, and The Milkman? Sonoma County natives, Ozzy Jimenez and Christian Sullberg are making waves as savvy young entrepreneurs behind a business enjoying a nationwide buzz.

Take a tour and taste for yourself with savorhealdsburg.com. Telephone 707-385-9811.

Wait a few hours to pace yourself for more of Healdsburg's offerings. I suggest a casual dinner at Willi's Seafood (great selection of sharable small plates).

If fine dining fits the bill, you'll be spoiled for choice with several exceptional eateries right in the heart of town. My favorites include seasonal menu specialties at rustic-chic Barndiva, at cheery, classic French/American Bistro Ralph or stylish, super-tasty new-kid-on-the block, Valette's.  A full day and evening out on the town begs for an ice-cream finale. One last pit stop, a must for completing a full-day gastronomic adventure, Moustache sister-store, Noble Folk Ice Cream and Pie Bar.

Looking for a Victorian bed and breakfast stay in the area? Historic Madrona Manor Wine Country Inn and Restaurant is located amidst eight acres of wooded estate land in the scenic hills above Dry Creek Valley. Also in Dry Creek, the Irish Rose Inn provides premium accommodations in a classic 1912 Craftsman-style vintage home.

Make yourself at home for a few days in one of a selection of four riverfront vacation rental cottages at the confluence of Dry Creek Valley, Alexander Valley, and the Russian River Valley. Wine Country Lodges provides the perfect Healdsburg getaway to fully experience life in wine country as a local.

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