What would a locavore's paradise in wine country look like? For a certain type of well-heeled agrarian, a whole lot like SHED, Healdsburg's 21st-century grange, grocery, farm store, cafe, bar and event space.
At first glance, it looks like the prettiest airplane hanger you've ever been in, with its huge, boxy shape and garage-style doors, all metal and glass. Grab the handle of that spade doubling as a door handle, step inside, and the enormous space resolves itself into a luxuriously uncrowded farm-to-table playground.
But first, grab a cappuccino from the coffee bar front and center, because everything looks rosier with a foam heart in hand. Admire the spotless white marble counters, the equally pristine bunches of frilly lettuce, the baskets of fresh-from-the-farm eggs, ecru to aqua.
Tall, pale wooden shelves display crayon-bright Japanese coffee pots and Spanish earthenware casseroles. On a wide slab of salvaged sycamore dubbed the "story table," massive flower arrangements worthy of a Dutch still life spill their blossoms over an educational display of German-made alternative beehives.
Afternoon sunshine lights up the Dutch and English gardening tools hanging on the walls, glowing across the copper jam pots and hand-carved wooden tortilla presses. It all feels like a Kinfolk magazine spread come to life and tastefully available for purchase. That soft-as-ricotta, brown-as-molasses yarn? Spun from gentle black sheep. The house-fermented cider vinegar? Tap it from the barrel, if you've remembered to bring your own bottle. Nothing is made of plastic; nothing has a plug.
This is not make-do, duct-tape DIY; everything here, from the beakers of fruit shrubs (sweet-tart, vinegar-based drinks, infused with fresh fruit and fizzed with soda water) and bright-magenta beet kvass at the fermentation bar to the galvanized buckets of peonies and the baskets loaded with chocolate-brown loaves of bread the size of watermelons has been curated with an eye for beauty, taste, and usefulness.
Take butter, for example, so necessary with those huge loaves from M.H. Bread and Butter. (Baker Nathan Yanko used to work with bread star Chad Robertson at Tartine in the Mission, so his loaves are as close as the wine country gets to Robertson's cult-status levains.) Some half-dozen types of butter--cow, goat, sea salted and packed into ceramic crocks--reside in the dairy case. But is that too easy for you? Then pick up a bottle of organic cream, a hand-cranked German butter-making jar, and a couple of wooden butter paddles for shaping the result into decorative pats. What else could you have to do?
Duck into the cleaning nook nearby and you'll find all the necessaries for fulfilling those downstairs Downton Abbey fantasies: plumy ostrich-feather dusters with 40-inch handles, perfect for polishing chandeliers; crooked hand-carved broomsticks, possibly too witchy to pass muster with Mrs. Hughes but absolutely Quidditch-ready; wooden scrub brushes of which even Mr. Carson would approve, with nary an electric toaster in sight.
SHED is the vision of owners Doug and Cindy Daniel, who created it as a celebration of Sonoma's agricultural heritage, as a place where all kinds of crops are grown and products made, not just the wine that puts in on the map. The Daniels provide much of the vegetables, flowers, fruit, and eggs on display from their own 16 acres in the Dry Creek Valley, which they've dubbed HomeFarm, where 11 acres are under mixed organic and biodynamic cultivation, and the other 5 as native riparian habitat. They have Rhone-varietal grapes growing for wine, French olive trees for oil, chickens, sheep, bees, heirloom-variety orchards, including curiosities like medlars, jujubes, and pineapple guavas, plus a market garden for vegetables and cut flowers. "It's a patchwork of things that are all related," says Cindy, much like the store she and her husband have created.
She's particularly proud of the milling room, where small batches of locally grown, mostly heirloom strains of wheat and other grains are ground into flour every few days. (Most of the flour is sold in the shop; a portion of it goes to M.H. Butter for use in their breads.) The shop is also a pick-up point for grainshare subscribers to the Mendocino Grain Project, a CSA for locally grown grains, including wheat, oats, rye, and barley. Inspired by Native Seeds' week-long Seed School workshop, Cindy found herself ever more interested in promoting Sonoma's foodshed and encouraging self-sufficiency in the face of evolving climate change and energy crises. "There used to be a grain mill in Healdsburg," she notes, glad to be reviving one of the area's agricultural traditions, even if just on a home cook's scale.
Nearby, the cool larder is "a room that talks about process," as Cindy says, where customers can peer through the glass wall at wooden shelves filled with pickles and krauts fermenting, and cheeses and cured meats aging.
It could hardly be a true 21st-century kitchen without a live fire burning somewhere, and so, of course, flames flicker in the hearth behind the open kitchen where chef Niki Ford oversees a daily-changing menu of eclectic breakfast and lunch fare. The heavy lifting of the kitchen gets done upstairs, in an additional production space off the main event room. The designer of Boulette's Larder in the Ferry Building consulted, and it shows: the spacious, pristine kitchen is lavished with All-Clad saucepans hanging from racks above the counters, while tall woven baskets bristle with whisks as long as shinbones and massive stock pots steam on the stove.
In the morning, locals and visitors alike can perch at one of the blond-wood tables in the open cafe area, waiting for bowls of fiber-rich hot porridge slow-cooked overnight to reach a texture described by Ford as "between gruel and chewy grains," lavished with butter, sea salt, and damson plum jam. Those that haven't yet foresworn gluten can treat themselves to a "toast service" of thick slabs of Yanko's bread, toasted with butter, jam by local "jamstress" Elissa Rubin-Mahon, and housemade chocolate-hazelnut spread, or dig into "Doug's poached eggs" over toast with oregano, sea salt, and a drizzle of HomeFarm balsamic vinegar and olive oil. A Persian breakfast, inspired by the cooking of an Iranian friend of Ford's, is a mix-and-match assortment of feta cheese, walnuts, sour cherry jam, herbs, and more of that great bread.
Coming in at the civilized, city-brunch hour of 1pm, we're sorry to have missed the 11am cutoff for Ford's heirloom-grain waffles with quince jam and maple syrup. Instead, glasses of blueberry shrub in hand, we plunge straight into the savory side, with a briny bowl of clams bathed in cilantro and cream. A previous menu offered flatbread topped with nettles, cardoons, preserved lemon and local Highway 1 cheese, but today's offering is as straightforward as any 5 year old could desire: a pizza with tomato sauce and cheese, on a pleasantly puffy-chewy crust. At the fermentation bar--which pours not only both wine and beer on tap but kefir, kombucha, kvass, and cider--we catch up with Ellen Cavalli and Scott Heath of Tilted Shed Ciderworks, who are lunching with their young son. The bar serves their ciders, and also ferments some of it into cider vinegar, using it as a base for the shrubs and offering it in bulk from a barrel on the other side of the store.
Ford, who shares a Chez Panisse pedigree (and friendship) with Suzanne Drexhange of Bartavelle, also shares a fondness for hand-carved boards laid out with savory deliciousness. Around us, many diners are nibbling the ploughman's lunch, generous slabs of Fiscalini cheddar from Modesto, rye bread, apples, pickled onions, and chutney, or munching their way through the salads on the mezze plate, served with housemade crackers, feta, and olives. Nettle soup is greener than grass, bold as fresh money. "We want to make a lot of room for grains, legumes, vegetables, roots," says Ford. "There's a lot of sophistication in making vegetables." It's all part of an appreciation for "what we have in our hands, being thoughtful about the ingredients," an attitude that Ford hopes the cooks will learn to share even during busy moments on the line, all deepened by the relationships they're building with the farmers and gardeners supplying the kitchen.
The Daniels have plans for frequent events upstairs; already, they've hosted Deborah Madison in conversation with local food writer and author Michele Anna Jordan about Madison's new book, Vegetable Literacy; sponsored a showing of Queen of the Sun, a documentary about the global bee crisis; and hosted a three-course, family-style Sunday Supper featuring the produce and farmers from Bernier Farms. On May 18, bring your knives and brush up on your Knife Skills with Rian Rinn. On May 26, there will be an all-American family-style Sunday Supper out on the patio with live music. And on June 8, butcher Rinn will be hosting Hog It Up, a hog butchery demo & pop-up dinner with chefs Ian Mullen and Jason Smith of Mullen & Smith.