You don’t mess with chicken in Petaluma. Not when the bird is the symbol of the quaint city, famous for boutique poultry ranches on its outskirts, and its Rocky and Rosie free-range and organic chickens in particular.
So when Chicken Pharm opened in the heart of historic downtown in November, I was thrilled for its cluck-centric menu. Buttermilk fried Rocky chicken. Roast Rocky chicken. Rocky chicken wings dressed in honey Sriracha, buffalo sauce, jalapeño sauce, or lemon-basil-salt-pepper rub. You get the idea.
Yet this bird didn’t fly. For my first visit early after the debut, dish presentation was sloppy, food arrived lukewarm, and flavors were mostly a snooze. Heartbreaking. And it wasn’t just me — social media came down hard on the poor eatery.
The owners, The Patio Group of San Diego, got the message quickly, and in January, they parted ways with opening chef Adam Mali. New general manager and supervising chef Annie Hongkham stepped in, bringing her cooking experience at Chalk Hill winery in Healdsburg, Applewood Inn of Guerneville, the Ritz Carlton Dana Point, St. Regis Monarch Beach, Mandarin Oriental San Francisco and Park Tavern San Francisco.
Voilà. The menu hasn’t changed, but the food finally flies right. Service has sped up (hot plates, thank you!) and menu prices have gone down.
Now, the Pharm is phine, meeting its goal as a neighborhood friendly social house that’s good for a satisfying meal and refreshing adult beverage.
Think cute and casual. You order at the counter, then grab a seat at the full bar or at a reclaimed wood table. There’s also a raw maple slab communal table next to a mural of chickens, and patio seating in the shadow of a parking garage.
You’ve got plenty to look at while waiting just the few minutes for food to arrive — a poster displaying various chicken breeds, jars of jawbreaker candies, an antique dog biscuit can and pig knickknacks. (Check out the restrooms, by the way — they’re really pretty, boasting reclaimed wood from Sons of Salvage of Petaluma).
Signs of history
One wall shares the space’s history, too. The building’s original tenant was Tuttle Drug Store — a pharmacy, you see — owned by Joseph Wilford Tuttle, who was born in Petaluma in 1884.
The shop operated under the Tuttle name until 2004, when the space morphed into the Petaluma Social Club restaurant.
Things still aren’t perfect. On one recent visit, the fried chicken was cooked to a shattering dry crust, though the meat remained juicy.
A meal a week later found the fry much improved — the salty batter was very crispy but still clinging to the bird ($10 for two pieces / $19 for five).
More seasoning would be welcome, though, since the chicken is still rather bland with nothing but some parsley and lemon slices on its paper lined tin tray.
Chick ‘N’ Waffles are another option. The cornmeal waffles are fluffy enough, and what’s not to love about anything drowned in maple syrup and sweet mascarpone butter ($16)?
I also appreciate the spatchcocked chicken ($11 half/$21 whole), draped in leafy herbs, roasted and served in a skillet with charred lemon and peppery greens.