Is This the Best Restaurant in Santa Rosa?

The Spinster Sisters brings vitality to a liminal neighborhood in Sonoma's biggest city. And whoa boy, those chocolate doughnut holes.

Italian white beans (Peter Lawrence Kane)

Like pornography, “New American” food is a category best defined as “I know it when I see it.” You know there’s going to be charcuterie, and you know there’s going to be kale, and there’s almost always French toast.

But unlike the genteel smut over found surreptitiously hidden under a doily in some spinster’s house, what you’ll find at The Spinster Sisters in Santa Rosa is suitable to be seen in broad daylight. Chef Liza Hinman’s 4-year-old restaurant — open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner — is a paragon of the style, with a Sonoma County twist. A former Gourmet staffer who later helped open Santi Restaurant in Geyserville, Hinman’s kitchen churns out an impressive array of brunch dishes, here and there refracted through the lens of Mexican and Italian influence.

Chocolate doughnut holes (Peter Lawrence Kane)
Chocolate doughnut holes (Peter Lawrence Kane)

 

Sweet or savory, there’s a lot to love. While they’re technically called “chocolate doughnut holes,” it’s almost hard to find the chocolate under all the powdered sugar on these babies. (This is praise.) Rich and dark, they’re cakey without being leaden, such that you won’t object to finishing a plate of them as the very first thing you eat, as opposed to dessert. Dip one in blackberry sauce and you’ll see.

One way to measure a kitchen’s confidence is when a side dish has the legs to stand on its own, but it’s still kept right where it is. (It could always mean they don’t realize what they’ve got, I guess.) I doubt that’s true in this case of the Tuscan white beans (with garlic, heirloom tomato, rosemary, sage, and olive oil), which are elegant in their simplicity. This is a recipe that probably hasn’t changed much since the introduction of tomatoes to the Old World, and it’s near-perfect. Another side, the fingerling potato and vegetable hash, is nearly as good, a plate of home fries interspersed with eggplant and delicata squash.

Probably because I’ve grown used to sharing everything I taste and soliciting opinions from whomever I’m eating with, I seldom order soup these days. Not ordering the spicy sausage and lentil (with prosciutto, tomato, fennel, and olive oil) would have been a mistake, and I’m glad I didn’t err. As is the case with many soups, it’s not especially pretty, a bubbly brown bowl of rusticity, with gnarled lumps of sausage floating amid the lentils. But the flavor, deliberately uncomplicated, is a wonder, clean and nourishing.

Gravenstein apple fritters (Peter Lawrence Kane)
Gravenstein apple fritters (Peter Lawrence Kane)

 

If brunch isn’t complete without some version of a Benedict, Joe’s is your jam. A plate of prosciutto, red onion, arugula, avocado, and herb hollandaise over poached eggs, it’s a testament to competence over flash (although, to my knowledge, I’ve never had prosciutto with hollandaise, so let’s not overlook that bit of originality). Slightly more restrained is the South A Scramble (eggs, bacon, squash, caramelized onion, crimini mushrooms, and fontina) which is basically the Tex-Mex staple known as migas portioned out between two piles of three slices each of toast.

The Spinster Sisters has a beer-and-wine liquor license, and while the wine list is long and thought-out, brunch demands something a little extra — particularly if you tied one on the night before. A Kimchi Bloody Mary will help untie even the thorniest knot. And if the chocolate doughnut holes didn’t smother your sweet tooth, consider closing things out with Gravenstein apple fritters with caramel budino and apple cider caramel; it’s not nearly as sweet as it sounds.

Although Spinster Sisters is very close to Juilliard Park, this is not the most picturesque stretch of Santa Rosa, immediately northeast of the cloverleaf interchange of Highway 101 and Highway 12, and not far from Sears and the rest of the architectural mishmash that is downtown (most of which was destroyed in the 1906 earthquake). The sidewalk on South A Street ends abruptly, and Sebastopol Street dead-ends at the elevated highway. Because civic boosters turn everything into an acronym, it’s called SOFA, ostensibly for “South of A Street” — although there is a parade of actual sofas every winter.

Nobody’s quite reworking the street grid, but this state of affairs might not last. There are plans to build a fancy, condo-looking structure adjacent to Spinster Sisters, in a lot that errs on the side of weedy and detritus-filled — and rare is the good restaurant that doesn’t have some effect on its neighborhood. To break the monotony of traffic on trips north of the city, I usually hit up an iffy yet reliable taqueria in Marin — but assuming I can keep the hangry feelings in check, Spinster Sisters presents a superior alternative. It’d be a shame to just drive right by.

The Spinster Sisters401 South A St., Santa Rosa, 707-528-7100 or thespinstersisters.com

 

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