Banana. Cherry. Blackberry. Pear, rhubarb, lime, habanero, pineapple, passion fruit and organic sarsaparilla. There’s definitely a lot more than just apples in the ciders at Sonoma Cider, as the six-sample flight ($10, 3 oz. pours) in front of me proves.
Here, at this Healdsburg distillery, co-owners and father-and-son team David and Robert Cordtz ferment just about any delicious ingredient they can dream up. Apples make up the core of the drinks, yes, but there’s the unexpected, too, such as The Imperial I’m sipping now, the organic juice blended with eucalyptus honey then fermented in whiskey barrels for six months.
There’s always room for even more invention, though. After debuting their 16,000-square-foot distillery and warehouse in a former auto parts store on Mill Street in 2013, the duo decided that their cider needed another platform. So last October, they opened a 5,000-square-foot taproom and 60-seat restaurant, where their cider appears in food, too. That means bites like ceviche of shrimp tumbled with Thai chiles, avocado and a splash of Crowbar cider that’s a dramatic blend of organic apples, organic habanero peppers and organic limes ($12). Scooped up with sesame wonton crackers, the mix is spicy, tart and a touch sweet.
The ciders are superb, as bittersweet-bittersharp quaffs that burst with a near endless array of flavors, easy-drinking alcohol levels of 5.5 to 10.3 percent and crisp, clean finishes. The taproom, with its industrial-chic vibe and often boisterous crowd, is a great hangout for hipsters but also families with young children.
The food, however… that’s pretty much secondary, with a pub menu that wobbles between admirable, upscale pub fare and so-so standards like a boring grilled jack cheese sandwich tucked with sliced Granny Smith apples on Costeaux sourdough ($10).
The place has switched chefs a few times since its debut, and current talent Jordan Adorni most recently worked with The Tri Tip Trolley food truck of Glen Ellen, following stints with Healdsburg Bar & Grill and Shiso Modern Asian Kitchen in Sonoma.
One of the best bets, in fact, is his tri tip French dip, layering a generous amount of thin sliced grass-fed beef and dainty curls of caramelized onions on Costeaux French loaf ($15). The savory, chewy meat is moistened with a bit of horseradish crème fraiche and we dunk it in the slightly sweet jus alongside; the bread is too thick and hard-crusted for a sandwich, but when it such excellent bread, who cares? Crisp housemade pickles and a peppery greens side salad round things out.
I’d also happily make a trip here for the French onion soup ($6 cup, $11 bowl). The rich bone broth is stocked with sweet onions caramelized in Sonoma Cider’s own 85-proof apple brandy, nicely soggy croutons and a gooey-chewy cap of molten Gruyere — my companion and I nearly duel with our spoons as we share the serving.
More cider shows up in the Brussels sprouts, offering an interesting sour glaze to the chopped roasted vegetables and apples tossed with crunchy pistachios and slicked in lemon crème fraiche ($11).
There are the expected charcuterie ($23) and burrata ($18) boards, and they’re fine, the charcuterie in particular, dressed up with pickles, cider-brined olives, gently hot guindilla Basque peppers and Costeaux ciabatta crostinis. But the banh mi is much more compelling, small and pricey at $14, yet flavorful with braised pork shoulder, sweet Vietnamese barbecue sauce, pickled cucumber, julienne carrot, daikon radish, jalapenos, microgreens and cilantro on a Costeaux sweet demi baguette. A side of pickles and kettle chips, and it’s a delightful nosh.