Saturday, October 13, 2012

Urban roadhouse

Eastside Road, October 13, 2012—
FOR A WHILE NOW — when did it start? A year ago? — we've had an irregular Roadhouse Survey going with a couple of old friends. And what constitutes a roadhouse, you may ask. Well, in general, it's in the country, by the side of a road that was an important through road in its day but has probably since given way to a parallel freeway.

It has a full bar that tends toward beer and bourbon, though vodka has begun to shoulder its way in as well. The menu runs to steak and chicken and overcooked pasts. In my opinion no true roadhouse is found in a town or city. In fact what distinguishes a hamlet or village from a town is the permitted presence — permitted by my definition; it's not a matter of organized licensing — of a roadhouse.

Our friends insisted that we had to experience an old standby they'd known of for years, though, even though it is within the city limits of perhaps the third largest city in the county, Petaluma, known in my boyhood as The Egg Capital of the World. And so there we went tonight, Saturday night in an urban roadhouse, and we had a good time.

Martini at the bar under the taxidermy: a careless Martini, no measuring involved unless the bartender was counting under her breath; and the Cinzano vermouth was the sweet white, not the dry; and it was barely shaken, and so not terribly cold. Oh well. Martinis are like baseball: a poor one is better than none at all.

After moving into the capacious dining room — there are two; the other is only slightly less capacious — we had "family style" dinners: tureens (well, serving bowls) of good house-made minestrone and clam chowder; a big bowl of mixed green salad; a platter of overcooked macaroni in a cream sauce heavily flavored with vinegar, I thought (or was this some kind of yoghurt sauce?)

Then I went on to lamb shank, a little dry but full of flavor, in a reduced sauce with plenty of garlic, with plenty of sautéed squash, pepper, and onion on the side as well as a nice creamy serving of white polenta, nicely seasoned. And dessert: Spumoni! This is not a gourmet destination; it's a roadhouse, in spite of being in the center of town. But it's comfortable and reassuring, and old-fashioned and picturesque as hell, and honest to a fault. I can imagine returning.
Primitivo, Layer Cake (Puglia), 2010: not bone dry, good fruit and varietal, generous.
• Volpi's Ristorante & Bar, 124 Washington Street, Petaluma;(707) 762-2371


George Mattingly said...

I think you're going too easy on the bartender.

Martinis should be like American breakfasts: almost impossible to ruin (even if difficult to make memorable). This one sounds pretty well ruined!

This reminds me of a bar in Yreka we went to on our way to Oregon last Xmas. Trying to play it safe I asked for a Manhattan. The bartender had never heard of a Manhattan. He asked me how to make one.

When I got to red vermouth, he said "Nope, don't have any vermouth." I settled for bourbon on the rocks.

Charles Shere said...

I disagree: while Martinis are like ball games in that a poor one is better than none at all, they are easy to ruin, they are fragile and vulnerable. As I walked into that bar I thought to myself: I should simply have a boilermaker. But I knew my friends were counting on me to order my regular Saturday Martini, and I couldn't let them down.

Next time, boilermaker.