Animo owners opening Golden Bear Station in former Tips Roadside space in Kenwood
The owners of Sonoma’s critically acclaimed Animo restaurant have announced plans to open a second restaurant, Golden Bear Station, in Kenwood this fall.
The American cuisine brasserie will be a more casual cousin to Animo, chef Joshua Smookler and Heidy He’s contemporary eatery that features whole Spanish turbot and other Basque- and Korean-inspired dishes.
Smookler said they were looking for a new restaurant location in the Sonoma Valley and had a serendipitous conversation with Tips Roadside owners Andrew and Susie Pryfogle about their space. The barbecue and Southern comfort food destination that opened in 2018 closed abruptly in late August. The restaurant business license for the space at 8445 Sonoma Highway transferred to He and Smookler on Sept. 1, leading to much speculation about the couple’s plans.
“Once we saw the space, we realized it was massive, and we were trying to do something that felt like it might be needed here,” said Smookler, sitting on the patio of the forthcoming Golden Bear Station. The restaurant is named for the Golden Bear gas station that stood at the location in the 1930s.
“We were specifically looking at Kenwood because we live here, and we really like this neighborhood,” added Smookler, an alum of some of New York’s top restaurants, including the former Bouley and chef Thomas Keller’s Per Se. The couple moved to Sonoma County not long after leaving New York and their successful — but exhausting — ramen house praised by the New York Times’ restaurant critic Pete Wells.
While there won’t be ramen at Golden Bear Station (Smookler said they’re done with the wildly challenging requirements of making the Japanese noodle dish), it will focus on rigorously researched pasta, pizza, burgers and other dishes the couple have eaten in their extensive culinary travels.
“From the experiences I’ve had, I know what a good pizza, good pasta and a good steak are, and I want to share that love for those things,” Smookler said.
“We (were looking) for the best cacio e pepe, and as we searched, we found that the very good ones had common themes. When I tasted the simplicity of just pepper and pasta and cheese at Mario Batali’s Lupa (in New York City), it blew my mind. I came to a very definitive answer of what cacio e pepe can be,” Smookler said.
He and Smookler have the same passion for pizza and burgers.
“I went on a craze to taste the best pizza in America,” said Smookler, who grew up on Long Island but never really had New Yorkers’ strident admiration of a New York slice.
“We tasted a lot of pizza,” He said. Ultimately, a small pizzeria in Brooklyn showed them what pizza could be. At Juliana’s Pizza, the couple was enamored with the dough’s lightness and chewiness and the crispness of the coal-fired-oven pie. “It opened your mind to what it could be. Again, three ingredients (dough, cheese and sauce) — it was so simple.”
“I just want people to come here and have that ‘Aha!’ moment when they eat,” Smookler said.
The menu will include Asian-influenced dishes like a panko fried pork chop with an egg and dashi broth and a burger that was featured at their New York restaurant and was named for their daughter, Harlan.
“People have always wanted to taste that burger here, but Animo wasn’t the appropriate (venue) for it,” Smookler said.
The beverage menu will focus on local beer and wine.
Smookler and He hope to foster an environment that serves the community and visitors at various price points and be an integral part of Kenwood’s social fabric. They aim to make Golden Bear Station a weekly dining destination rather than a special occasion-only spot.
“Can someone come in here for $30 and have a pizza and a beer and be happy? Absolutely. Can you spend $80 and be happy? Absolutely,” Smookler said.