Food & Wine ~ Sonoma Valley Sun


The People’s Pub: Palooza Gastropub

Posted on March 20, 2015 by Sonoma Valley Sun
Patio at Palooza
The chill patio at Palooza makes for an excellent, sunny wine country respite

It’s Saturday afternoon and the patio is packed. It’s sunny, 75 degrees, and “chill” is the only way to describe Palooza. A contingent of retirees from Oakmont hold court in one corner, drinking beers, many of which are seasonal and brewed in Sonoma County. A couple from San Francisco bath in the sun and enjoy a bottle of local sauvignon blanc next to a family enjoying scotch eggs, burgers and brews. Inside, a winemaker and beermaker share stories at the bar over fish and chips, while watching soccer on TV. When Jeff Tyler started selling hot dogs on the side of the road in Kenwood to tourists in 2010, little did he expect that four years later he’d own a successful catering business and his own restaurant.

Tyler and Suzette, his wife and co-owner of Palooza, were hit hard by the recession in 2008: he was a general contractor and she a real estate appraiser, having had successful businesses in Southern and Northern California. Work opportunities declined and savings dwindled. Tyler had to take action. He Googled small business ideas and stumbled across hot dog stands. With little effort, and a “why not?” mentality, he made an unexpected leap into the culinary world, making Chicago style hot dogs and peddling them across the street from Swede’s Feeds in Kenwood. “Getting into the culinary world is like starting in construction, you dig a ditch,” says Tyler, “That ditch in the culinary world is often culinary school, but, if you don’t want to go to school, you can start with the hot dog. The only way you can screw one up is by dropping it on the ground!”

That’s the way Tyler goes about things: a gung ho attitude for trying anything once and the ability to put two and two together in a way that only a 20+ year general contractor can. His persistence in selling hot dogs paid off and Paradise Ridge invited him to start selling dogs outside its Kenwood tasting room. He got creative, making hot dogs infused with local wine, such as the Kenwood Dog: an all beef Vienna dog infused with Kenwood Pinot Noir and served with mushrooms, garlic aioli and mushroom pinot reduction. The hot dog stand became a must visit for wine tours and Tyler started catering dogs at wineries throughout the valley.

Palooza interior

The demand for his American comfort food skyrocketed, and Tyler took a few culinary classes at Santa Rosa Junior College. That led to buying a food truck in 2012, serving hot dogs, Asian and Spanish cuisine, and BBQ. Palooza was born: a whole bunch of different tasty things coming together to make everyone happy. An everlasting food party. He hired 20 employees and was catering 30 events a week. Suzette came on board and started handling financials and legal components of the business, and the Tyler’s decided to dig a deeper ditch: to open a restaurant.

They took over the site of the former Doce Lunas restaurant in Kenwood. They renovated the kitchen and interior, and built an outdoor patio in the courtyard, with a primo view of Sonoma Mountain. However, Palooza struggled to find itself as a restaurant. Tyler was working with a local chef who brought gourmet dishes like bone marrow and monkfish fish and chips on the menu. It didn’t take off: locals weren’t impressed, Yelpers delivered serious blows, and the Tylers were frustrated. That’s when Tyler took serious measures: he took over as chef. He redesigned a menu fit for a pub with gourmet leanings: filling organic salads, sandwiches topped with Mary’s organic chicken and locally grown veggies, risotto with seasonal wild mushrooms, quinoa burgers, in-house smoked ribs, and the best deviled eggs in Sonoma Valley (on my visit, the eggs were topped with in-house smoked wild salmon using methods Tyler learned from his time growing up on Vancouver Island in British Columbia).

Palooza Taps

One year later and Palooza still stands. Locals have declared it their own and tourists consider it a respite from wine tastings and at-times stuffy wine country affairs. Beer is the big seller here, with over 15 on tap, the majority from the surrounding area. Cask beers from Berryessa Brewery and new brews from Sonoma Springs make appearances, and beer dinners start this spring. Beers rotate daily: when a keg is out, a new beer takes its place. There’s something for everyone, including a cider called Zombie Killer that puts a dry rose wine to shame with its light tartness, pink shade thanks to cherry skins, and effervescence. On Tuesdays, five Olympic style ping-pong tables are set up and for $5 locals battle it out for prizes and beer. Once a month, an international line up of comedians perform outside, under the Kenwood moon (starting with Punchline Palooza this weekend).

The Tyler’s have successfully filled their ditch, and are now building on top of it with the blue prints for a successful mini-food empire. “It’s only been two weeks since I have accepted being called chef. I’ve just always been a cook, but, now people are calling me chef,” he smiles, almost blushing as he talks about Aventine’s Chef Adolfo Veronese assuring him to “Own up to it, you are a chef!” He’s also working on expanding his own culinary skills, trying to improve upon classic comfort foods with new techniques, such as Scotch eggs with mustard foam (you’ve got to eat it to believe it, it’s delicious), all with reasonable price points for every wallet. “We’re not here to be Michelin, we’re here to be the Big O Tires” which perfectly summarizes the Tyler’s desire to bring good, simple food and good times to Sonoma Valley.

Palooza is open 7 days a week, 11:30AM-9:00PM, 8910 Sonoma Hwy, Kenwood, 833-4000,

2 thoughts on “The People’s Pub: Palooza Gastropub

  1. Some amazing food is coming out of that kitchen! I’ve had the deviled eggs and they are the best I have ever tasted anywhere! Completely different! These are not your grandma’s deviled eggs!

    The food at Palooza is awesome! It is not your standard pub grub. There is some delicious creativity going on!

    Their beer selection is good, too. My husband has discovered at least two new favorites there.

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