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Garden of Eatin'

Petaluma's new Brewster's is the ultimate beer and barbecue spot

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AL FRESCO  It’s just you and 300 friends enjoying a riverside picnic at Brewster’s.
  • AL FRESCO It’s just you and 300 friends enjoying a riverside picnic at Brewster’s.

During one of those sweltering days last month, I found myself hungry for dinner but with no desire to make my house hotter by turning on the oven. So I set out to try Brewster's Beer Garden, a new downtown Petaluma restaurant opened by San Francisco restaurateur Mike Goebel and three other partners—Chris Beerman (executive chef), Ben Hetzel (general manager) and Alfie Turnshek-Goins (bar manager).

As I rounded the corner and walked in the restaurant's open-air, riverfront entrance, I was greeted by about 300 diners who had exactly the same idea: sit outside, drink some cold beer, eat barbecue and listen to live rock and roll. That's my idea of a great evening.

The 350-person space is spectacular. While there is some indoor seating, most of the tables are outside on a vast, crushed-granite patio. The old brick and masonry walls of the adjacent building and the metal and woodwork created for the restaurant give it a look and feel that's at once vintage, industrial and warm.

There's also a large fire pit, a bocce ball court and a fenced-off playground for kids. On the other side is a stage that hosts a changing lineup of bands. Dogs are welcome, too. The restaurant fairly screams, "Relax, sit down and have a beer!"

Speaking of beers, the rows of bristling taps dispense 30 brands of craft beer from near and far. The list of cocktails and wine is impressive, too.

Beerman (how perfect is that?) has created an enticing menu of classic barbecue (ribs, brisket, pulled pork, chicken) that's rooted in Deep South traditions but made with impeccably sourced, sustainably raised local meat from the likes of Marin Sun Farms and Stemple Creek Ranch.

My favorite from the smoker are the St. Louis–style ribs ($24 for a half rack). The beautifully lacquered ribs are smoked over white oak and are meaty and flavorful. The Carolina-style wet-mopped "whole chopped hog" ($14 for half pound) was also good, large chunks of pork shoulder suffused with smoke and a piquant, vinegar-based slather of sauce.

Brisket is my test of a pit master's art. It's a tough cut of meat to get right and requires a lot of time in the smoke and heat. The meat was tender and revealed a deep smoke ring, the line of pink in the meat that is a testament to ample time on the barbecue.

Beyond barbecue, there are plenty of other options. The roasted, dry-rubbed carrots served with buttermilk dressing ($8) are a good starter, as is the roasted cauliflower with onions and capers and creamy curry sauce ($11).

My one gripe was the caesar salad ($11). I'm all for reinventing the classics, but they've got to be better than the original. Brewster's makes theirs with Little Gem lettuce hearts and toasted bagel slices, instead of croutons, all tossed in a creamy but bland dressing that had me yearning for garlic, lemon and anchovies.

If you want to sit inside (and I don't know why you would on a hot summer night), you have to wait to be seated, but the beer garden is self seating. Everybody seems to be in a good mood here. And with the food, drink, music and open-air setting, it's easy to see why.

Brewster's Beer Garden, 229 Water St. N., Petaluma. 707.981.8330.

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