I ordered a glass of wine. What? Yes, I was at a brew pub, but thankfully it was a ‘beercentric’ spot that was born in Wine Country and just so happens to have a very nice selection of wine, thank you very much. I was checking out Hopmonk Tavern’s newest outpost in Novato. Most diners might be skeptical of a restaurant located in a strip mall, but not me. Sandwiched practically right in between Target and Marshall’s, I couldn’t think of a more perfect location for a good eating and drinking spot. I have been known to base my shopping excursions on where we might just so happen to grab a bite to eat. While we’re in the area you know. We have to eat. and shopping just makes you hungry don’t you think?
My standard go-to is a run to Napa for “essentials” from the Target there and a few dozen, also very essential, oysters from Hog Island while we are over there. My allegiance can most certainly be swayed by an affordable glass of wine and a big salad, and certainly a large, sunny patio most easily convinces me. Hopmonk Novato has that and so much more.
Hopmonk Novato has many of the same thoughtful sensibilities as our local Hopmonk — repurposed building materials, wide flat screen televisions to watch the game, tons of natural light, fresh, modern pub fare, and plenty of interesting beverage choices.. although, it somehow seems a happier culmination here. The dining room is long with high ceilings, wide doors open onto a sizable patio that will simply be divine come spring. We chose comfy stools at the wide reclaimed wooden bar. Here, as in Sonoma, fun vintage bleachers make up the top.
The service was sweet and exceptionally attentive, greeting us with big smiles and knowledgeable suggestions for both food and drink.
I adore a tiny burger, maybe two or three bites, really pink and slathered in copious quantities of homemade mayonnaise, even better if it is garlicky. I rarely eat one, but when the craving comes, I will satisfy it. Two tiny burgers arrived, nestled between their fluffy, white buns, not much else for the exception of an interesting, sweet-sour tomato-ey compote, prepared with the whisper of Indian spice.
An order of pulled pork sliders arrived, hunks of wonderfully saucy and tender meat spilling from those same pillowy buns. I like the unexpected hints of Indian flavors lurking here and there. Something, maybe toasted cumin, added an appreciated element of playfulness to the barbecue sauce that can often just be simply boring and wildly sweet. We resisted the sweet potato fries, although I happen to know from past experiences (notice the plural ‘experiences”) that they would have been a heavenly accompaniment to our perfectly teeny sandwiches.
Still reeling from holiday and vacation excess, we opted for main plate salads. A mountain of baby arugula held a massive slab of buttery brie, soft, roasted chunks of butternut squash, and a sprinkling of walnuts. All were nicely dressed with a red wine vinaigrette. The traditional Caesar salad, also epic in its proportions, was cool and crunchy, and thankfully not swimming in its yummy, parmesan-laden dressing. Each salad was delightful. I was only moderately depressed that I wasn’t digging into the more decadent sounding beer sausage and mustard mashed potatoes that will certainly be on the ticket on my next visit.
Even though the food, atmosphere, and service succeed in outshining its Sonoma sister’s, the real draw at Hopmonk Novato is their live music space. Separated nicely from the main dining room and bar, the cavernous venue — it can hold more than a hundred revelers — is flanked by a full bar and peppered with bistro-style seating and low, leather stools. Don’t worry, there is also plenty of room to dance or mingle during any of the tavern’s varied music events. From national acts in all genres, to DJ dance parties, and open mic nights, there is definitely worthy cause most nights for making the easy, twenty-five minute drive for a fun, music-filled scene that Sonoma tends to sometimes lack. Visit hopmonk.com/novato for more details regarding their music calendar, address, phone number, or to make a reservation.
On the Menu
Cochon Volant’s Annual “Mardi Gras Gumbo Dinner” at the Valley Wine Shack is this Friday, February 22, with seating beginning at 5:30 p.m. Chef Rob Larman celebrates Mardi Gras with a feast of southern cooking. Diners will enjoy a menu of New Orleans favorites including seafood gumbo and more, all for a mere $35. Call the Wine Shack at 938.7218 to reserve your table.
Plenty of deliciousness from baker Mike Zakowski [the bejkr]! In addition to his to-die-for breads available at each Friday Farmer’s Market, he hosted a “pop-up” bakery last week where several fun, new breads were available and an opportunity to witness just where his yeasty magic happens. Sign up for his email alerts for future pop-ups! If you live within city limits, rejoice — he is now offering a weekly bread delivery via a funky green bike, kitted out with baguette-sized panniers, until the Tuesday Market begins. Imagine, beautiful, fresh bread delivered just in time for dinner.
Speaking of bikes, Mike is a big cycling advocate. Join him in promoting the two-wheeled cause in Sonoma with a group bicycle ride leaving from the Plaza horseshoe this Friday, February 22, at 4:20 p.m. Lastly, sign up for Mike’s baking class at the Sonoma Community Center on March 2, where students will learn his techniques for award-winning flatbreads. For more information on this class or other [the bejkr] happenings, visit the SCC’s website at sonomacommunitycenter.org or email him directly at mzsnail.gmail.com.
Hosted by Sheana Davis of The Epicurean Connection, the “Tenth Annual Sonoma Valley Cheese Conference,” this Saturday, February 23 through Wednesday, February 27, is an annual gathering of American artisan cheesemakers, retailers, distributors and food writers. Conference festivities kick off in San Francisco with Cheese Plus hosting a Winter Artisan Cheese Fair. The conference proper begins Sunday, at MacArthur Place, with an additional Cheese Fair, a Mac & Cheese Cook-off, and then two days of seminars and networking sessions. The conference wraps up with a special one-day ZingTrain session led by Ari Weinzweig of Zingermans. To register, or for complete details, email Sheana at [email protected] or call 935.7960. You may also visit theepicureanconnection.com to learn more.
Spiced Tomato Jam
Inspired by Hopmonk Tavern
I love this jam on everything from toast to fried eggs, and with roast chicken or grilled pork chops…or like at Hopmonk, slathered on a burger.
Makes about 2 cups
Purée garlic, ginger, and 1/2 cup vinegar in a blender. Heat oil in a 2- to 3-quart heavy saucepan over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking and add mustard seeds. When seeds begin to pop, stir in fenugreek, cumin, and fennel. Add garlic mixture, then cook over moderate heat, stirring, 1 minute. Add tomatoes (with juice), remaining 3/4 cup vinegar, sugar, salt, and cayenne and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer chutney, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until thickened, 1 1/2 to 2 hours (lower heat as necessary). Transfer chutney to a bowl. Cool, uncovered, then chill, covered, at least 1 week to allow flavors to develop.
Kristin Jorgensen is one of Sonoma’s most passionate, food obsessed residents. In this weekly column, she covers all the delicious happenings, foodie events and restaurants in Sonoma, the rest of Wine Country and beyond. Email her with comments, questions, or your food related events at [email protected]