Ah, Sonoma County. This wonderful part of the San Francisco Bay Area is known for great wine, fresh food (it’s the center of the farm-to-table movement), and luxury living. In recent months, however, Sonoma County has become synonymous with another epicurean treat: sweets. As in, goodies. For the sweet tooth in all of us.
Drive around Sonoma County and you’ll find dozens upon dozens of cute little bakeries and ice cream shops. Dine around local restaurants and you’ll stumble upon scores of stellar pastry programs. IMHO, these are three of the region’s best options for satisfying your sugar craving.
Noble Folk Ice Cream and Pie Bar
The full name of this on-the-plaza sweet shoppe in Healdsburg doesn’t spin the truth—you know immediately upon walking up to the place what they sell inside.
Noble Folk ice creams are all homemade and organic; owners Osvaldo Jimenez and Christian Sullberg try to source most of their ingredients from farms and producers within 25 miles of the store. That means that the blackberry ice cream is made with blackberries from a farm on the other side of town; it means that the brown butter peach flavor is made with peaches from around the corner.
Sullberg, who makes all of the treats, is particularly fond of Asian flavors, so you’ll also find one-of-a-kind options such as Japanese purple yam, black sesame, almond matcha, and more.
My favorite part of the ice cream experience at Noble Folk: All orders come with one free topping.
Pies at this tiny shop are just as delicious, but in a totally different way. Sullberg calls these goodies “Heritage Pies,” because the crusts are made with a variety of grains such as buckwheat, bolero, and faro (to name a few). The crusts taste richer, heartier, and more complex than your basic crusts.
Mmmm, blackberry ice cream
Pie flavors themselves are traditional with a nod to innovation. This summer, Sullberg and Jiminez sold options including caramel bourbon pecan, coconut mud, blackberry almond, and lemon blueberry.
Of course you can order a slice of a pie a la mode—the best of both worlds. You also can order pies whole; if you’re out and about with friends, this is a great way to wrap up a sophisticated picnic at one of the wineries in town.
Healdsburg (my hometown, for those of you scoring at home) happens to be the scene of the best restaurant-driven dessert menu in Wine Country these days, too. The restaurant: Spoonbar, which is located in the h2hotel.
Here, French Laundry alumnus Annemarie Catrambone has concocted a menu that is equal parts innovative and fun. Her stuff also is tasty in ways your taste buds never have experienced before.
Take, for example, the cajeta cheesecake, which is made with caraway and cornmeal crust, and is topped with summer berries in their own juice; the flavors are familiar and new. Another favorite from the summer dessert menu is the dark chocolate cremeux (that’s a fancy French word for pudding), which is served with banana fluff ice cream, toasted coconut consommé and banana crisps.
Viewfinder Tip: Spend a long weekend in Healdsburg; there are more than 30 wineries within walking distance of the city’s plaza and local restaurants are among the best in the region.
Perhaps my No. 1 choice on Catrambone’s dessert menu is the flight of ice creams and sorbets; in a part of the world where tastings are everything, this sampler gives you a hearty taste of five different house-made icy treats. When I visited early this summer, flavors included strawberry sorbet (served with fresh berries), vanilla (served with plum jam), sweet corn (served with blueberries), and chocolate sorbet with hazelnut and coffee milk. It was like a cavalcade of goodness. I didn’t want to share.
Finally, I’d be remiss to put together a list of best sweets in Sonoma without including Village Bakery.
This family-run operation is a local institution; it has been a Sonoma County icon for decades. Earlier this year, however, owners kicked off a new era when they moved the shop into new digs at The Barlow, a foodie destination (with tasting rooms and other shopping) in the tiny down of Sebastopol.
The new facility is bigger than anything Village Bakery has had in the past. This means there’s ample room for bakers to create signature Scandinavian specialties such as volkenbrot (whole rye bread), dinkelbrot (spelt bread), kernebrod (traditional Danish rye), and more. Other doughy goodness comes in the form of croissants, baguettes, and sourdough breads. Of course, the bakery also serves cookies, cakes, scones, and muffins. (Because it’s Sonoma County, the bakery has a number of gluten-free goodies, too.)
When I visit The Barlow, I like to hit Village Bakery twice—once when I arrive, for coffee and a scone, then again after I’ve walked around a bit for some bread or goodies to take home.
Here in Wine Country, the best way to experience a place is through the stomach.
What sorts of sweets do you like to eat on vacation?