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Sweet T's - where to find a taste of the South in Wine Country

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Let’s just cut to the chase. Sweet T’s Restaurant + Bar is as great as it’s ever been. Perhaps even better, thanks to a new wood-fired grill and the near-crazy love of a community ecstatic to see the place reborn after the horrific Tubbs fire in 2017 reduced the original Fountaingrove location to ashes and molten metal.

In its new 3,500-square-foot home in the Lakewood Village shopping center in Windsor, the look is different — brighter and jazzier with a green brick and tile-trimmed open kitchen fronted by a dining counter, a bar with floor-to-ceiling liquor shelves and wood tables punctuated by lime green chairs and cream leather booths. A lovely patio beckons, tempting for cocktails, like the potent Hurricane made of Flor de Cana Rum, Gosling’s Black Seal Dark Rum and passion fruit puree ($13).

The menu is pretty much the same as it was during the former Sweet T’s seven-year run — Southern cuisine, comfort foo, and some left-field options like cheesy pulled pork nachos drizzled in barbecue sauce ($9/$14) or battered, deep fried cauliflower with spicy buffalo wing sauce and jalapenos ($9).

More than half of the Fountaingrove staff made the 9-mile trek northwest, as did longtime pitmaster George Ah Chin and a lot of the same customers. Owners Dennis and Ann Tussey are on-site, greeting regulars and new fans alike. The place is usually busy, it’s loud, and no one cares if you eat with your fingers. So now, everyone can relax, enjoy and feel a bit normal again, after all the fire chaos and even as so many charred homes still need to be rebuilt around Santa Rosa.

A meal should begin with the so-comforting golf-ball-size hushpuppies ($8). There’s an art to making the seasoned, deep-fried cornmeal batter dense but not heavy, needing only a slick of honey butter to be nearly dessert, and this kitchen nails it.

As another appetizer, the flash-fried Brussels sprouts are sometimes a bit burned on the exterior, but the interiors are reliably crisp-tender, and brightened with a dunk in garlic lemon aioli ($9). And the chilled peel-and-eat shrimp is a classic, seasoned with Old Bay cayenne and dry mustard spices and dipped in good, spicy cocktail sauce ($16).

It’s the sauces that make the lunch signature catfish po’ boy ($16) stand out, too. I got the mild fish blackened (you can also get it fried), and relished the bold, messy mix of Creole mustard, Louisiana hot sauce, tartar sauce and coleslaw atop. A side of sautéed al dente okra, corn and soft cherry tomato added more flavor; I even tipped the dish onto the sandwich plate so the sweet juices seeped into the hoagie roll.

Fries are the perfect match for the house-smoked tri-tip French dip, on the other hand, since you can slosh them in the hot salty jus, along with the thin-sliced meat stuffed in a toasted hoagie roll. But the chunky potato salad is very good, too,

I hadn’t realized how much I missed Sweet T’s Louisiana-style gumbo this past year and a half, until I took a spoonful. There’s plenty of Cajun heat in the soupy mélange of shrimp, smoked chicken, Andouille sausage, peppers and celery topped with a scoopful of fluffy white rice ($21).

But I had known how much I missed the fried chicken — four pieces cooked juicy-crisp and plated alongside creamy garlic smashed potatoes, slaw, a biscuit and a little plastic cup of butter ($24). The last time I had the chicken was at a friend’s catered wine party right before the fires, and I marveled then that even though that bird was take-out, it tasted fresh and crunchy battered, as if it were right out of the fryer.

Smoked meats can be fickle things, so easily dried out and/or way too smoky. Yet Sweet T’s meats emerge tender, rimmed in fuschia-pink after a leisurely time in the Southern Pride smoker. The Three Way Smoker Combo ($32) is the way to go, in my book, to get my favorites of chewy-tender ribs, pulled pork and beef brisket with a biscuit, a little cup of sauce and two sides (tip: go for the creamy mac ‘n cheese, and black-eyed peas in salty broth). Other meats include pulled chicken breast, tri-tip or house made pork sausage link, which are fine, too.

A fine Southern meal wouldn’t be complete without dessert, so yes, dive into the housemade butter cake topped in vanilla ice cream and berries ($10), pecan pie à la mode (the pie is cold, but sticky-crunchy delicious, ($8), or the killer Oreo-crust Mississippi Mud Pie of mocha ice cream drizzled with Ghirardelli chocolate and homemade caramel bourbon sauces, sprinkled with candied pecans.

Then, take a nap. Sweet T’s is back and will surely bring you sweet dreams.

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.

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