A Taste of Gator’s Rustic Burger & His Creole Friends
Down home Southern cooking is a thing of beauty, when it’s done with love, lots of spice and usually tons of butter. Yet at Gator's Rustic Burger & His Creole Friends near Petaluma’s Theater District, chef-owner Glenn “Gator” Thompson accomplishes something amazing. His Cajun and Creole cuisine takes a healthier, California-inspired approach, and still manages to capture decadent flavors.
For that, we can thank the layered, quality ingredients, and his high-end training. Even though this an order-at-the-counter spot, Thompson previously worked at the acclaimed Oliveto in Oakland, and then as chef-owner at Alcatraces in Noe Valley.
The look: I admire how the décor manages to be fun, but classy. There are the expected colorful, whimsical notes, including an alligator statue at the front counter decked out in chef whites, a toque, bright red apron and Mardi Gras beads. A bright purple wall sparkles with gold Mardi Gras masks, another wall features a floor-to-ceiling French Quarter mural, and near the cash register, a line-up of wine and beer bottles is capped by three small, grinning alligator heads.
The silliness is tempered by elegant touches, though, such as a reclaimed wood bar in front of the peek-a-boo kitchen, rustic chic yellow and white metal chairs, industrial fabulous pendant lighting, and an antique Coke machine.
To eat: It’s easy to eat a lot, given the multi-page menu temptations. I like starting with golden brown fried black-eyed pea poppers that I dunk in chipotle tomato and Creole mustard ($5.99/$9.99). Wildflower honey-jalapeño wings ($10.99) are excellent, too, brightly seasoned and lacquered in sweet-fiery, bronzed red glaze over a bed of sliced English cucumbers and pickled red onion – dunk in spicy bleu cheese dressing and you’ve got a bold bite.
There are good salads, like the farro tossed with dried cherries, toasted pecans, feta cheese and green beans in wildflower honey and balsamic vinaigrette ($12.99). Thompson also opened a Gator’s Rustic Burger food truck and catering company in Petaluma when he relocated to the North Bay, and you can find those burgers here, including grass-fed model mounded in a delicious mix of lettuce, tomatoes, caramelized onions, grilled zucchini, roasted red bell pepper, mozzarella and pesto aioli ($9.50).
Except it would be wrong to miss out on the stars, the Southern dishes. Standouts include jambalaya of seasoned brown rice simmered down in red gravy with chicken, hot sausage, and lots of holy trinity (onions, bell peppers and celery) ($11.99 half order /$17.99 full), crawfish étouffée simmered in its own “mud bug” juices ($13.99/$18.99), and barbecue shrimp over a bed of buttery Anson Mills grits ($13.99/$18.99).
And while this dish sounds weird, it’s actually very tasty - Cajun Bubble & Squeak of crispy potato cakes topped in poached eggs over garlic spinach and wild mushrooms smothered in jalapeño-jack cheese sauce ($15.99). If you can cool your heels for a 20-minute wait, get the fried-to-order chicken, too, served with a waffle infused with cinnamon and vanilla ($15.99).
To note: Check for alligator specials, such as an alligator burger, or fried alligator over rice and beans.
Dessert: Grandma’s peach cobbler ($7.99) is moist and not-too-sweet; top it with ice cream drizzled in caramel (add $1.50). Or go completely crazy and get the rich, creamy peanut butter pie of PB mousse atop house made chocolate fudge on a graham cracker crust, drizzled with caramel and chocolate sauce, and topped with toffee peanuts ($7.99).
To drink: Louisiana beers on tap, oh yeah.
Details: 5 Petaluma Blvd. S., Petaluma, 707-658-1845.