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