It’s ironic that smoked braised short rib is one of the most popular dishes at Tips Roadside in Kenwood. Because Tips owners Andrew and Susie Pryfogle know more than they’d like to about smoke these days, after the devastating wildfires last October. Their own restaurant on Highway 12 at Adobe Canyon Road escaped damage, but had to be shut as the flames roared all around their property.
The catastrophe hit exactly one week after the Pryfogles received the permits they had waited eight months for, on plans to renovate the 90-year-old building that had previously operated as Vineyards Inn, and before that, a 1930s filling station.
Yet, this was no time to feel sorry for themselves. Instead, the couple mobilized their other business, two fire engine-red Tri Tip Trolley food trucks, to feed more than 5,000 first responders.
It took until this June for Tips Roadside to finally open.
Today, guests can still see the fire-scarred Mount Hood and Sugarloaf Ridge behind the eatery. But inside, they might look a little closer to understand the full impact the disaster had on the restaurant. Choosing to find some beauty in the wreckage, the Pryfogles connected with local artists to add statements to the already artsy building brimming with antique tchotchkes.
The two large, airy dining rooms now boast accents like a vertical flag painting titled “1:34 a.m. I Smelled Smoke” by Tom Rice of Glen Ellen. A 4.5-foot by 3-foot American flag resides next to the fireplace, too, its stars and stripes made of painted fire hose that was used to combat the infernos. It was made by firefighter and former Sonoma County resident Eric Paine after he responded to the North Bay firestorms. (And the story gets even better. Paine donated the flag to Sonoma County’s Dogwood Animal Rescue Project, where he had adopted a pet; the piece was bought at auction by Kevin Lely, the Pryfogles’ contractor, and given to the couple as a gift.)
Look outside, as well, to the courtyard, and you’ll see a dramatic “Tree of Life” wall sculpture by Sonoma’s Helena Nash Donzeli — it’s made of burned and melted kitchen utensils from area homes.
Other local tributes include an antique gas pump from the original filling station, a bar made of reclaimed wood from the original building, and vintage photos of Sonoma Valley legends Fred Kunde, Angelo Sangiacomo and Mondo Bianchini.
For all the Sonoma-centric décor, though, the food is, surprisingly, modern Southern. Executive chef Thaddeus Palmese is clearly enjoying himself with more room to cook than he had in the trolleys — his open kitchen sends out creative fare that wakes up tired taste buds.
Consider whimsical dishes such as a “slab o’ house bacon” that’s less deadly than it sounds, because the gloriously fatty piece of meat is propped atop lighter, tart sides of sliced pickled squash, crunchy Creole puffed rice, and a Hoppin’ John salad of black-eyed peas, pickled squash and roasted peppers over Bibb lettuce drizzled in mustard vinaigrette ($13).
A few other appetizers lean lighter, such as an intriguing chilled salad of grilled steelhead salmon fillet and creamy-yolk soft boiled egg plated next to a tumble of haricot verts, olives, frisee, mizuna, tangy-addictive tempura-fried Meyer lemon slices and smoked-tomato Meyer vinaigrette ($15). It’s like a jazzed up Nicoise.
Where: 8445 Highway 12, Kenwood
When: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Weds.-Mon.
Contact: 707-509-0078, tipsroadside.com
Cuisine: Southern, Eclectic
Price: Expensive, entrées $14-$26
Corkage: none for first bottle, $20 thereafter
Summary: The former Vineyards Inn enjoys new life as a stylish, modern Southern destination.