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California creativity meets roadhouse comfort at Kivelstadt Cellars

I’ve had gentlemen buy me drinks, but I’ve never had one buy me bacon, until I enjoyed a meal at the new Kivelstadt Cellars Wine Garden & Eatery in Sonoma.

OK, so the bacon wasn’t actually for me, but for Leo, my Chihuahua. That’s because Kivelstadt is dog-friendly, and on that gorgeous sunny day of my visit, the outdoor restaurant was packed with pups and their people.

A Labradoodle, a corgi, a pug, a gangly vizsla youngster and a 170-pound Euro Dane lounged on the arbor-shaded patio and in the expansive woodchip-carpeted gardens set with picnic tables, where dogs have plenty of space to sniff and see but not get too close for potential tussles.

The restaurant, which opened in April in the former Schellville Grill location on Highway 12/121, is the stuff of Sonoma County dreams: a hip roadhouse setting, good wines on tap, craft cocktails and a creative, expertly crafted menu. Did I mention the wonderful dog watching?

Kivelstadt comes to us from owner and winemaker Jordan Kivelstadt, who ran a tasting room in Glen Ellen before relocating to these more spacious digs. Cooking is handled by executive chef Oscar Bendeck, who, after a culinary career in country clubs and catering for events like the US Open, Grammys and NASCAR, worked as executive chef at Sonoma Raceway.

That doesn’t mean we’re eating jumbo hot dogs and soft pretzels here. The eclectic all-day dining and weekend brunch cuisine is California-American with appealing, inventive statements. Consider the creamy smoked cauliflower soup dotted with curried pumpkin, pomegranate and crisp parmesan tuile ($12). A garnish of fresh sage adds an earthy accent to the quintessential autumn dish.

First off, plan on making reservations, especially on weekends, when live music flows from the garden gazebo and guests linger longer over their Twice Removed Carignane-Grenache Rosé on tap ($8 glass/$15 flask/$28 bottle) and the simple KC platters of two different Sonoma County cheeses, two charcuterie meats, seasonal veggies, house pickles and avocado green goddess dip ($22).

Second, note that dining options vary. Monday through Wednesday, the Cellar is open only for by-reservation tastings, as five-course wine and small bite pairings ($50). For the café proper, plan your visit for Thursday through Sunday.

Once settled, load up on appetizers. Chicken wings are a fine pick, finger-licking sticky with slightly sweet yuzu marmalade glaze and sprinkles of scallions and sesame seeds ($12). A bit of maple balsamic dresses up nicely crispy Brussels sprouts tossed with bacon, crispy onions and toasted pistachios — the nuts lend a pleasing crunch ($8).

If you eschew meat, get the vegan “al pastor” tacos trio to share. The “protein” is celery root mixed with pineapple, achiote, cilantro and onions on bright blue corn tortillas ($16). It sounds odd, but the nutty-parsnip-flavored root vegetable is tender when slow roasted, with enough chew to satisfy and a mild, thick salsa alongside.

On Saturdays and Sundays, you can order from both the all-day and brunch menus, as I like to do. Mine is a happy table laden with breakfast-y fancy avocado toast but also a lunch-y banh mi. For the former, the pain au levain toast is layered with the silky smashed fruit, kale, radish, lemon and a cage-free egg ($15). The Vietnamese sandwich is elegant, too, rich in the umami of shaved smoked pork belly, a thick swath of mushroom pate, tart pickled carrot, radish and cucumber to cut through the fats, plus cilantro and jalapeño on a soft and crusty Dutch crunch roll ($16).

Most meals here are on the lighter side and showcase lots of local produce. But the griddled Black Forest ham and poached eggs Benedict is filling ($16), smothered in herbs de Carneros Hollandaise on bakery English muffins. So is the tri-tip sandwich; the tender meat is topped in melted aged white cheddar, peppery arugula, pickled shallots and roasted garlic aioli ($17).

The heartiest appetites can be satisfied with the baby back pork ribs, smoothed in a delicately spicy vanilla chipotle ($18). Grilled Skuna Bay salmon is good, too, basic and bathed in chimichurri with a squeeze of lemon ($22). I like this fish dish with 2019 Wayward Son Marsanne-Roussanne orange wine ($35 bottle).

All sandwiches and entrées come with crisp and salty shoestring fries, mixed seasonal veggies or the best choice of all: KC slaw. I want to get the recipe for the floral, tart apple cider vinaigrette so I can try a version of this beauty at home. It’s a fresh, crunchy salad of shaved watermelon radish, lacy carrot strips, red and green cabbage, pickled shallots and roasted peanuts.

Besides canines, there are often kids here, enjoying wandering in the garden and choosing from their own menu (all entrées $8). There are the basics, like grilled cheese or chicken tenders with shoestring fries, but youngsters with fancier palates can appreciate seasonal vegetables sautéed in herb butter or cavatappi mac and cheese sauced in Cheddar, Parmesan, double crème brie and Béchamel.

Don’t skip dessert. Airy pâte à choux donuts are tasty dunked in Ghirardelli chocolate sauce ($7), but more adventurous is the cheesecake, crafted with ube (purple yam) and local honey on an Oreo crust ($7).

And then, we’re back to the dogs. While I don't recommend letting your best friend binge on bacon, the Kivelstadt kitchen doesn’t want any hound to go hungry. So there is a “Four-Legged Friend Menu” with rice bowls (all $8) topped in veggies and a choice of Skuna Bay salmon, Petaluma chicken or heirloom carrots.

The marble dog dish is really big, so 10-pound Leo had plenty of leftovers to take home. And as a rescue dog himself, he was pleased to learn that $1 of his bill was donated to the Pets Lifeline Sonoma shelter.

Indeed, as we left, we paused to thank our bacon benefactor, and the gentleman beamed. “I’m glad he enjoyed,” he said. “He certainly seems to have a new spring in his step.”

Carey Sweet is a Sebastopol-based food and restaurant writer. Read her restaurant reviews every other week in Sonoma Life. Contact her at carey@careysweet.com.

Kivelstadt Cellars Wine Garden & Eatery

Where: 22900 Broadway, Sonoma

When: Winter Tasting Experience, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday - Wednesday, reservations required. Café hours: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday - Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday - Sunday

Contact: 707-938-7001, kivelstadtcellars.com

Cuisine: California, American

Price: Moderate-expensive, entrées $16-$22

Stars: ** ½

Summary: The wine garden delivers a trifecta of farm-to-table California cuisine, NorCal wines and an expansive, dog-friendly patio.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story misstated the price of the chicken wings dish.

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