Cheap eats you've got to drive to imbibe
By R. V. Scheide
This is the season of our medically diagnosed clinical depression. Winter's onslaught chills the neurotransmitters in our brain, impenetrable to even life's simplest pleasures, such as the joy of hitting back-road apexes over the ton, taunting the laws of physics to pitch man and machine over the side into some lonely, godforsaken gully. No solace even in that sobering thought. So we drive aimlessly through Roseland's graffiti-plastered industrial district, heading west on Sebastopol Road, through a gauntlet of tract homes, townhouses and condos, searching for a reason to live, any reason, when . . . Ah ha! A drop of golden sun!
Here, on the very edge of development, at the intersection of Sebastopol Road and Fresno Street, the Sunnyside Cafe sits neatly tucked away in the corner of a row of new two-story townhouses. Step inside and the senses are overwhelmed with goodness. A soothing lemon-yellow interior boasts a turquoise trim with pink clouds floating across the ceiling and an enormous orange sun, a clownish smile beaming, that melts our troubles away--at least for the time being.
"We wanted something that was happy and joyful, a good-mood kind of place," says Ellen Draper, the former board president of the Cultural Arts Council of Sonoma County, who now runs the place along with co-manager Sparkie Lovejoy. They have succeeded on their first attempt. The Sunnyside Cafe has a natural, unforced decency that quickly thaws even the iciest exterior. Once the mood has been set, the appetite returns and we discover the same simple approach to goodness in the offerings on the menu.
Explaining her career change, Draper smiles, "I managed restaurants all through my 20s. I've always loved to cook, and I guess that I've always wanted to serve."
And serve the Sunnyside does. There are soups, sandwiches and panini hot out of the oven slathered with basil and artichoke pesto. There's organic Taylor Made coffee and smoothies made only with fruit. And then there is a totally unique dish, featuring a fresh crepe tucked into a bowl and stuffed plump full of spinach, diced turkey and cranberry transfixed in a quichelike egg-and-cheese base on this particular day.
"The interest in the crepes has far exceeded our expectations," explains Draper, who promises that a second crepe machine is on order to cope with the intense lunchtime rush. On the day of our visit, they quickly disappeared, snagged by seniors, construction workers and kids walking home from the middle school down the street.
Savoring our pungent, tangy crepe concoction, we search for inspiration among the slogans scrawled on the brightly painted walls. "Imagine all the people, living life in peace"; "Dream big"; "Hope floats dreams"; and the somewhat mysterious "Those that laugh . . . ."
Draper says she gets a big kick out of that last one, asking customers to fill in the blank. Those that laugh . . . last, laugh best? Outside, dark clouds threaten, and we are still not completely convinced that those who laugh . . . aren't in fact laughing at us. But at least the Sunnyside Cafe has taken the chill out of the air.
Sunnyside Cafe, 3800 Sebastopol Road, Santa Rosa. Open daily for breakfast and lunch. Monday-Friday, 7am-4pm; Saturday-Sunday, 8am-3pm. 707.526.2652.
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From the November 24-30, 2004 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.