Petaluma is one of the gateway towns leading to California’s wine country, and it’s a surprisingly bustling little burg with a vibrant, river-set downtown. Packed with bars and restaurants, there’s no shortage of selections when it comes to going out.
The latest fixture in Petaluma is Easy Rider, a southern-inspired restaurant that, on a recent Friday night, was packed full of guests looking for fried chicken, shrimp and grits, and bacon-cheddar hushpuppies. Naturally, any visit to Easy Rider begins at the small but well curated bar, which offers nearly two dozen beers (mostly from California) and 22 wine selections — all of which are available by the glass or the bottle.
Naturally, the Drinkhacker crew endeavored to explore the cocktail menu, which features nine drinks, most of which are subtle variations on a theme. (We ended up trying four of the offerings.) The easy favorite was quite a surprise: Easy Rider’s Sidecar, which is not nearly as sweet as you’ll typically find (with no sugar rim, thank god), made from both Cognac and rum and plenty of citrus — both lemon and lime. It’s exquisitely balanced and hard to put down. My other huge favorite was The Derby, an up blend of bourbon, vermouth, lemon, mint, and bitters — coming across as a delightful hybrid of a Manhattan and a Mint Julep, albeit a touch on the sweet side. Fans of more brooding, bitter drinks may want to try the American Graffiti (the 1973 movie was shot partly in Petaluma), which mixes up bourbon, Aperol, vermouth, bitters, and — notably — Fernet Branca. All cocktails are a reasonable $13 each.
As for the food, these are southern classics with a California spin, served in hearty portions that I couldn’t consider finishing. The pork belly biscuits, two per order, taste like thick bacon doused in a sweet glaze and are the perfect way to start your meal. While the fried chicken, with all the fixins (and a drizzle of Calabrian chili honey) didn’t disappoint, the surprise standout was a smoked trout salad, with big chunks of smoked fish mixed with baby greens, apple, fennel, avocado, and pecans. Again, the portion was huge and totally enough for two people — and beautifully balanced thanks to its light, lemon vinaigrette dressing. Beignets seem to be the go-to dessert here, but our server turned us on to a sticky toffee pudding which, naturally, I couldn’t consider finishing. Maybe save that American Graffiti cocktail as a digestif to help ease the damage from overdoing it a bit, which seems inevitable here.
33 Washington St., Petaluma, CA. Open daily 5pm – 9pm.