Sonoma County's diverse climates and regions produce everything from seafood to lamb, from cheese to chickens, and from sparkling wine to big red cabernets. What's also interesting is that these regions have their own social cultures. The West County's environmental consciousness is high ' a nice weaving of high-tech and down-home. Its food philosophy is strongly organic and local, and nowhere is this better exemplified than at Peter Lowell's restaurant in Sebastopol.
One might call this Sebastopol eatery a "sleeper": once just a little known spot to lunch, Peter Lowell's is enjoying a renaissance thanks to a new chef who is championing the local, sustainable ethos and taking it to new heights with seasonal Cal-Italian cuisine made from organic ingredients sourced in Sonoma County. Dine inside or out and be patient with the service—remember, good things come to those who wait. Meals might bring a bowl of beans and greens tossed in olive oil, salt, and pepper; cracker-thin pizza topped with squash blossoms and Calabrian chilies; and veal with saffron risotto. To-go orders are popular among busy families, while hardcore locavores line up for weekly Zero Kilometro dinners that celebrate the bounty of Sebastopol.
On the side of the road in Sebastopol, CA, Peter Lowell's is a lively pillar of the local Sonoma County community. Founded by Lowell Sheldon in 2007, the restaurant features a hyper-seasonal menu, with 60 percent of the produce coming from its own Two Belly Acres Farm.
"Over the years, it's become everything I imagined it would be," says Sheldon. "We feature only the finest producers in the area, not because we have to have the best of everything, but simply because we appreciate the relationships we build with other passionate folk."
We started off with the Braised Rapini, Broccoli Raab braised in local extra virgin olive oil with whole roasted garlic, chile, and anchovy. We’ve never started a meal with braised greens before, but served family style as a starter it was both comforting and bright.
Next came the Peter Lowell’s Escarole Caesar, one of the best Caesar salad’s we’ve had. They decided to feature escarole because organic local romaine is difficult to come by, and it turned out to be a stroke of genius. The young escarole added just enough flavor and bitterness.
As a destination, however, the restaurant has recently been overshadowed by Sheldon’s newer project, Handline, which opened in 2016. With a budget-friendly price point, quick walk-up service, soft-serve ice cream and one of the best restaurant patios in Wine Country, there’s a lot to love.
So, on the cusp of Sheldon’s opening of a third Sebastopol business, Fern Bar, in the Barlow, it seemed like a good time to get back to basics and see exactly where Lowell’s stands today. The answer: It’s better than ever.
New York Times
A block away, on Healdsburg Avenue, Lowell Sheldon, a Sebastopol native, runs an organic, Italian-influenced restaurant called Peter Lowell’s. In the summer, most of the produce used in the small, airy restaurant comes from local farms. Even here, art is an essential element. Mr. Sheldon regularly commissions photographers to document those farms, along with local wineries and breweries, and the photos are exhibited in the dining room. A recent show featured black and white images of nearby Radio-Coteau vineyards. “It became an interesting way to communicate with our customers about the producers we work with,” said Mr. Sheldon, as he sat on his restaurant’s back patio, wearing a beet-colored T-shirt that read “Local Food Matters.”
North Bay Bohemian
Peter Lowell's restaurant has made its name with hyperlocal wines and produce sourced from west Sonoma County organic farms and backyard gleaning. In a sense, the new policy brings its wage structure in line with its sustainability-minded menu. Sheldon says the change is the centerpiece of an effort to rethink how the restaurant treats its staff and engages its customers and the larger community.
"Part of what we see our customers wanting is innovation across the board: the daily changing menu, vibrant wine list composed of naturally made wine, our own produce farm," Sheldon says. "It's kind of a way of life for us. The spirit of growth and change keeps our customers interested and invigorated.
Inside Scoop SF
Remember when supporting local dining meant spending your money at an independently owned restaurant instead of a chain?
Then we went locavore, where eating local meant ingredients procured from within your state. It wasn’t long before that sourcing circle was tightened to within a 100-mile radius of a restaurant, and today, it can often mean ingredients are restricted, as much as possible, to a specific county, like Sonoma. Where will it end?
The team at Peter Lowell’s in Sebastopol would like to do that one better, thank you. In their new Zero KilometroWednesday dinners held through the summer, each evening’s specials will be built entirely from food and wine coming from the west Hwy. 116 corridor upon which the small, hip, green-influenced restaurant resides.
Bite Club Eats
Like much of the produce and meat he serves at his restaurant, Peter Lowell’s, 30 year-old Lowell Sheldon is a homegrown product of West Sonoma County. Raised on two self-sustaining acres of land in Sebastopol, a graduate of the Waldorf school, sometimes farmer and untiring proponent of ecological and organic ideals, Sheldon is the kind of dreamy-eyed idealist you might expect.
And up until recently, Peter Lowell’s was, in many ways, the restaurant you might expect.
The drive down the gravel road to Sanders Field Farm in Sebastopol, CA leads me past an 80-year old apple orchard and into a sun-drenched clearing of strawberries, tomatoes, beans, eggplant, and sunflowers. Lowell Sheldon, the proprietor of Peter Lowell’s, meets me at the gate, hands covered in dirt after harvesting food from the farm for his Sonoma county restaurant.
Not far behind him are Daria Morrill and Tony Tugwell, whose 12-acre organic farm is off the grid, running only on solar power. With two acres under cultivation, the couple has designed a compact production scheme solely dedicated to the restaurant—kale, chard, baby lettuces, spring onions, snap peas, and broccoli glow in the afternoon light, set to become part of Peter Lowell’s menu of sustainably grown sustenance.