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Sonoma County chef shares dad-approved recipes for Father’s Day

Mom is not the only parent deserving of homemade breakfast on a special day.

Dads also enjoy starting off Father’s Day with a pile of pancakes or waffles drizzled with syrup, some hearty potato hash or a simple eggs-travaganza, like a plate of fried eggs cooked in bacon fat. And if it’s made by their own progeny, it tastes even better.

If you happen to be a chef and a dad, like chef/owner Ryan Ramey of Americana in Santa Rosa and Estero Cafe in Valley Ford, you may already have trained your kids to cook simple fare and eat like a foodie.

“My kids are really easy to please,” Ramey said. “They eat clams, avocados and even blue cheese.”

Ramey and his wife, Samantha, are raising two young daughters: 2-year-old Danny, born in April 2020 during the early weeks of the pandemic; and 4-year-old Ivy, who will turn 5 on June 20, the day after Father’s Day.

“She was my Father’s Day present,” said Ryan, 39, who grew up in Rohnert Park and spent his late teens and early 20s living at the beach and surfing. The couple is now busy raising a family, along with a flock of chickens, in the coastal hamlet of Valley Ford.

“Ivy and I take care of our chickens together,” Ryan said. “We go out and gather eggs together, and we hold onto them and eat them as eggs or in pancakes for breakfast.”

A classically trained chef, Ryan attended Santa Rosa Junior College’s culinary arts program while working 40 hours a week at the Doubletree Hotel in Rohnert Park, but he left the program three units shy of finishing his certificate. From 2001-2002, he took a second job working nights at the Sheraton Hotel’s restaurant in Petaluma as lead dinner cook.

Samantha grew up on Long Island in a food-centric family and has worked in the front of the house in restaurants most of her life. The couple met while working together in San Diego. After moving to the Sonoma County coast, they started a catering company, Northwest Catering. Then they opened two restaurants and started a family.

“Ryan is one of the biggest-hearted men I’ve ever met. … He exudes love and generosity,” Samantha said of her husband. “ I fell in love with him because of how committed he is to ethics and morals, and he carries all of this into parenthood.”

One reviewer on Yelp praised the restaurateurs for focusing first on creating community, with profit coming in second.

“That’s actually a flaw of mine,” Ryan said. “We don’t cut a single corner.”

In 2014, the couple opened a family-friendly breakfast and lunch spot, Estero Cafe In Valley Ford. In February of 2020, they launched Americana, a classic American-style diner in Santa Rosa’s Railroad Square, just 10 days before the pandemic’s shutdown orders in March 2020. The restaurant reopened in May 2021.

To divide and conquer their two restaurants, Samantha takes care of the daily oversight at Estero Cafe and works on marketing for both places, while Ryan holds down the fort at Americana while overseeing the kitchen at Estero Cafe, too.

On his days off, Ryan enjoys making pancakes in the morning with his two girls and topping them with homemade syrup. He creates his Vanilla Cider Maple Syrup by reducing apple juice with vanilla, then blending it with real maple syrup.

“We got the idea from the former Fremont Diner in Sonoma,” he said. “Using real vanilla makes it stand out. It tastes tropical.”

On his night off, Ryan looks forward to a family ritual: ordering a take-out pizza from Hippizzazz in Sebastopol, which uses organic flour in its crusts.

“It’s part of my weekly routine with the kids,” Ryan said. “I try to eat healthily all week, and then I have the pizza to look forward to.”

For a decadent Father’s Day breakfast, Ryan shared a recipe for his stick-to-your-ribs

Biscuits & Country Gravy, a Southern staple served at both Americana and Estero Cafe with optional sides.

“Biscuits are the easiest thing in the world,” he said. “The key is to start with frozen butter. For any crust, its easier to start with it frozen.”

For the gravy, Ryan browns some breakfast sausage from Sonoma County Meat Co. with onions, garlic and thyme. He finishes it with some chicken stock, a roux made with butter and flour, milk, heavy cream, salt and pepper.

“I like to serve it with a side of eggs over-medium, link sausage and wilted greens,” he said. “Dads would be stoked to have that for breakfast.”

Americana (americanasr.com) is open for breakfast and lunch 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday through Monday. The Estero Cafe (esterocafe.com) serves breakfast and lunch 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday through Sunday and 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday and Thursday.

This recipe can easily be doubled. Serve it with homemade Vanilla Cider Maple Syrup (recipe follows) and seasonal fruit of your choice.

Classic Pancakes

Makes 3 to 4 servings

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour, preferably from Guisto’s

3 ½ teaspoons baking powder

¼ teaspoon sea salt

1 tablespoon organic sugar

1 ¼ cups milk, preferably Organic Clover or Straus

3 tablespoons melted butter

Vanilla bean (or real vanilla extract), to taste

1 egg, preferably pasture-raised and organic

Mix the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Separately, mix the wet ingredients together. Then mix the wet ingredients into the dry, but don’t overmix. Some clumps are OK.

Butter a large cast-iron griddle or pan, wipe it, then fry the pancakes. When bubbles begin to form, the pancakes are ready to flip. Cook until done.

Top with butter, Vanilla Cider Maple Syrup, seasonal fruit and fresh whipped cream.

Ryan likes to use an unfiltered, organic apple cider, such as the North Coast Organic Apple Juice, to make this homemade syrup.

Vanilla Cider Maple Syrup

Makes about 2 cups

2 cups sugar

1 cup water

1 cup apple juice

½ tablespoon real vanilla extract

1 cup maple syrup

Mix all ingredients together in a large pot. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 40 minutes.

Serve warm over pancakes. Leftover syrup can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a month.

This gravy can be made up to 2 days in advance, cooled and refrigerated, then reheated to serve. Ryan uses bulk breakfast sausage from Sonoma County Meat Co. in Santa Rosa.

Country Gravy

Makes about 3 quarts

1 tablespoon butter

½ yellow onion, diced

4 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced

¼ bunch of thyme, minced

¼ bunch of sage, minced

1 pound bulk breakfast sausage (or chopped links removed from casing)

1 quart bone broth

½ cup roux (¼ cup melted butter and ¼ cup flour)

1 quart whole milk

¼ cup heavy cream

1 teaspoon black pepper

1 ½ teaspoons sea salt

Heat the butter in a medium pot and saute the onion, garlic, thyme, sage and sausage until the onions are browned and the sausage is fully cooked.

Add the broth and bring to a boil, then simmer on medium heat.

In a separate pan (this is important), brown the roux over medium heat. Then add it to the sausage mixture, stirring until it’s well-dissolved and the mixture thickens.

Lower the heat to medium and add the milk. Bring the mixture to a low simmer, stirring occasionally.

Remove from the heat and add the heavy cream, minced sage, salt and pepper. Stir and taste.

This recipe requires a food processor. Make sure to freeze the cubed butter the day before. If you don’t have a food processor, freeze the butter whole, then grate it to create a crumb texture and blend it together by hand. It’s important to keep the butter as cold as possible while working with it.

Buttermilk Biscuits

Makes 8 biscuits

8 ounces butter, diced into ½-inch cubes

1 pound all-purpose flour (about 4 cups), preferably organic from Giusto’s

2 tablespoons baking powder

1 tablespoon organic raw sugar

2 teaspoons sea salt

8 ounces buttermilk, preferably Clover

2 ounces butter, melted and set aside

The day before, dice the 8 ounces of butter and store in the freezer.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. In a large mixing bowl, sift together the dry ingredients.

Add the frozen cubed butter and toss to disperse evenly. Put the butter and flour mixture in a food processor and pulse about 8 times. The mixture should be “crumbed” and look a little like cottage cheese.

Pour the crumbed mixture back into the bowl and make a well in the center. Pour in the buttermilk and fold until it’s well-combined, but don’t overmix.

Flour a clean work surface and pour the dough onto the table. You can use a little flour if the mixture is too wet, but don’t overwork the dough.

Form a rectangle about 1 inch tall and cut into 8 equal rectangles, like small bricks.

Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, and brush with the melted butter.

Bake for about 15 minutes or until golden brown.

Staff Writer Diane Peterson can be reached at 707-521-5287 or diane.peterson@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @dianepete56

Diane Peterson

Features, The Press Democrat

I’m interested in the home kitchen, from sheet-pan suppers to the latest food trends. Food encompasses the world, its many cultures, languages and history. It is both essential and sensual. I also have my fingers on the pulse of classical music in Sonoma County, from student mariachi bands to jazz crossover and symphonic sounds. It’s all a rich gumbo, redolent of the many cultures that make up our country and the world.

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