food road trip: chowing down in....santa rosa?
Yes, my seemingly endless road trip continues as me and the SO head up to wine country for an extended weekend. We are changing things up a little as we AirBnB in Santa Rosa, a town set just North of Sonoma and Napa, the usual area for wine tasting. I figure we might be doing a fair amount of wining the next day so why not get started in making sure we have a good food base inside us to absorb all the alcohol! (Yes, it's just a theory and I'm sticking with it)
We drive around the town and spot a fair number of Mexican spots, though I'm not sure it's what I'm up for. That's when we cruise by a spot called Steele & Hops. A quick internet search lists it as a beer garden microbrew kind of spot and we think, sure, since we will have all the wine in the next few days. (Yes, I'm going with that too!)
Inside it is pretty much a bar. Lots of dark wood and beer for days. Looking at the menu it is lots of hearty comfort food that will probably pair well with the beers. We are sort of hungry (shock!) and get the food rolling with some appetizers.
Nothing says bar food like fried cheese so how could we pass up some Spring Hill Petaluma fried cheese curds. Chunks of white cheese beer battered and deep fried served with a some kind of spicy sweet and sour sauce. Honestly, there really aren't many ways to go wrong with something like this. As long as you don't burn it, fried cheese is pretty darn tasty. The curds were perfectly somewhere between gooey and chewy and the sauce, while a little odd, still kind of worked. We could have definitely eaten a double order of these.
Then it was fried zucchini time because we needed a veggie. We got some pretty big chunks of zucchini lightly battered and fried and while they were slightly on the greasy side, they weren't too soft and served hot and crispy. The spicy tomato ragu we weren't the biggest fans of so we asked for some ranch because it is a no fail dip for fried stuff. I say that from years serving up bar food finger bites in places like this.
It is a beer garden so I couldn't get by without a beer to wash it all down. I asked the server for something a little citrusy or fruity and got the Terreux Beret, a sour raspberry beer from The Bruery. It definitely had a tart little tang to it which was more than enough to cover up any bitter hops after bite there might have been. I kind of liked it to offset all the rich fried food. Though $8 a glass, a little steep.
Our first entree was the brick oven herb roasted chicken with sauteed veggies and mashed potatoes. This came out piping hot. The chicken was quite juicy and tender and the skin had a really nice crispness. Could have used a little more seasoning, but a dash of salt remedied that pretty easily.
The bed of mashed potatoes were smooth and super buttery and perfectly good without the need for any type of gravy. I liked they did a sautee of yellow squash, zucchini and onions. They didn't overcook them as they were just soft with a bit of crunch. It was a bit too much oil residue on them and the plate and could have used a some black pepper to brighten them up some, but otherwise we both liked the whole plate and presentation.
Since I was already on the fried food wagon what better way to finish it off than with the fried chicken sandwich. And yes, I got the side salad instead of fries just to keep from having too much fried. It's a chicken breast served on a toasted brioche bun with chipotle aioli and house made cole slaw. The breast was quite large and cooked crispy, hot and juicy. While the bun wasn't buttered (shame!) between the mayo slaw and the aioli, there was plenty of wetness in the sandwich.
Not sure it needed two mayo centric things on it. I missed the chipotle in the aioli and without it, the sandwich was pretty simple chicken, cabbage and mayo. While it was okay for these basics, I guess I just wanted more flavor out of it either in the slaw or maybe some kind of peppery spice in the aioli. Just something to make it stand out. Granted, I'm kind of judging it based on all the fried chicken sandwiches you can get in SF. In sum, it's good enough, just not memorable. And yes, the side of salad dressing I got was nearly as big as the side salad.
It does come off like a local version of say an Applebee's, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing as it has a menu where everyone in your group is bound to find something they will like. While the food isn't necessarily exciting, if you are looking for a place serving hearty and filling food, then Steele & Hops is definitely an option. Prices are pretty reasonable and they do have a variety of brews to choose from. Sort of a good way to ease yourself into a wine filled weekend. (Again, a theory I'm sticking with people!)