The erstwhile Pine Cone restaurant was a Sebastopol institution for many years, serving old-fashioned breakfasts and lunches in a Main Street storefront that looked straight out of the 1940s. Its sign still hangs outside, but the restaurant is now the Gypsy Café, all spruced up and looking pretty inside.
A back room has been added. The building’s brick wall has been exposed, and the lunch counter is gone. You can see Chef Martin Maigaard at his work in the galley-sized kitchen.
He calls the Gypsy’s fare “modern comfort food,” which he serves for breakfast and lunch only Wednesdays through Mondays. Friday is dinner night from 5:30 to 9 p.m. Although it’s only once a week, it’s a very popular dinner, so it’s a good idea to make reservations.
The dinner menu is comprised of five small plates, three salads, and six entrées, plus four side dishes priced a la carte and two desserts. This updated comfort food carries on with the kind of traditional dishes that characterized the Pine Cone, but with a 21st-century sensibility. Yes, there’s pork and beans on the menu, but it’s braised pork and Rancho Gordo heirloom beans. And instead of spaghetti, there’s vegetarian basil pesto linguini with julienned vegetables, spinach, and garlic bread.
Our table started the evening with a small plate of Southern Barbecue Tiger Shrimp ($11 **). The five plump shrimp carried the good flavor of Cajun spices and swam in a broth made with Scrimshaw pilsner and butter. Toasted sourdough bread was there to soak up the broth. The shrimp were cooked too hard, though. They’d curled up into tight and chewy fists instead of the more relaxed C shape they have when cooked more gently.
Another small plate is called Rollatini ($9 **). “Rollatini” is an American word invented to sound Italian, while in Italy, the dish is called “involtini.” Slices of eggplant are dusted with flour, smeared with goat cheese and pesto, then rolled up and baked. When done, they are set on a pool of marinara sauce and sprinkled with toasted pine nuts. Involtini are usually made with ricotta, but the goat cheese is a soft and tasty change.
Meatballs are easy to wreck — just overwork the ground meat and they will be tough and dense. But the Gypsy’s Turkey Meatballs ($9 ***) are darn near perfect. They are tender and luscious, and paired with sliced crimini mushrooms, a light brothy turkey gravy, shreds of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, and flecks of Italian parsley. You get four of them and they will not be enough, they’re that good.
The wine list offers an Argentine Malbec and a Spanish cava, plus three wines each from two premium producers in the Dry Creek Valley: Truett Hurst winery and Seaton Family Winery. All wines are under $10 a glass. Five local craft beers on tap cost $4.50 a pint.
Two Pulled Pork Sliders ($10 **) are served on a house-made biscuit with a spoonful of indifferent cole slaw. The menu notes that the sliders are “St. Louis style barbePHcue,” which could refer to the grilled pork shoulder or the very sweet and sticky tomato-based barbecue sauce, of which there was too little to make much of a flavor difference.
The menu promised candied walnuts, but the Roasted Beet Salad ($7 **) contained just plain walnut halves. The whole salad, actually, was humdrum. Young spinach leaves were soaked in an oily sherry vinaigrette, the beets were tender but not cooked long enough for their sugars to caramelize. But to the salad’s credit, there were lumps of fresh-tasting goat cheese.