Photograph by Michael Amsler
Best Home-Cooked Meal for Hundreds
In 1983, Zanzara Dancer's father won $250,000 in a Lion's Club raffle. Rather than blow it on some useless trifle, he gave a portion of the money to his daughter and her husband, Seann Zales, to start a free dinner on the lower Russian River. It was enough to pay a year's rent for one day a week at the old Country Kitchen restaurant in Monte Rio.
Dancer and Zales also received a promise of county support from then-Sonoma County supervisor Ernie Carpenter, who reportedly said, "Hey, we didn't think there was anyone left around here like you guys."
For the first 16 years, they served a free sit-down dinner every Wednesday. In more recent years, they have cut back to every other Wednesday and moved their operations to the Veterans Memorial Building in Guerneville.
In the early days, the dinner was as much a community event as a food giveaway, drawing nearly 300 people on a busy night. But times and community demographics have changed, and they now serve some 50 to 100 people at each meal, which includes soup, salad, hot tea and such entrées as tofu burgers, lasagna or enchiladas,
The ingredients for these ovo-lacto-vegetarian dishes come primarily from the Redwood Food Bank, where $35 can buy an entire pickup truckload of natural foods. Alvarado Street Bakery in Rohnert Park donates most of the bread, as it has from the beginning. And for $30, the pair estimates that they can "feed a whole meal of Amy's pizzas" to their hungry guests.
A semiregular crew of volunteers supplies all of the labor: cooking, serving and cleaning up the mess at the end of the night. In the early days, the couple's children used to lend a hand, Dancer says, "standing on crates, chopping vegetables." Sometimes there are court referrals for people fulfilling community-service hours, and other times local Boy Scouts earn their service badges at the free dinner.
"People come on their own. We don't have to hold meetings," Zales explains.
In addition to a meal, bread and camaraderie, the event also offers used clothing, blankets, coats, sleeping bags, toiletries, extra produce--whatever generous donors have contributed.
So why have the pair, now gray-haired grandparents, been providing this delicious gift to their community for 23-plus years?
"When you help people, it's fun, you enjoy yourself, you feel happy, energized," Dancer said.
Zales added that they are part of a loosely organized service-oriented group, the Universal Industrial Church of the New World Comforter, which was organized in San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury district in the 1960s.
"It's about the voice that comes from your conscience," he said. "When you hear it, you act on it."
To donate, write to Universal Industrial Church, P. O. Box 65, Duncans Mills, CA 95430.--L.P.
Photograph by Nina Zhito
Best Color-Related Controversy
Marisol "Sol" Hernadez is the owner of Sol Food, the very cool and tasty (and tiny, tiny, tiny) Puerto Rican restaurant in downtown San Rafael, at the corner of Fourth and Lincoln. Several months ago, she added another, larger location a block away. To capture the vibrancy and energy of a busy Puerto Rican street, she painted the exterior of the building a wildly, shockingly lime-green color, a shade of green that wouldn't turn heads in San Juan but immediately spurred a flurry of letters to local papers.
One such letter, delivered to Hernandez herself, is now posted proudly near the front door, praising the food while damning the paint job so completely that the writer vows to never eat there again until the color is changed. The controversy has been good for the restaurant, which has lines snaking down the street at lunch and dinner, a mix of longtime fans who prize the eatery's flavorful food, casual atmosphere and inexpensive prices, and newcomers eager to see what all the fuss is about. Holy Christ! Do people feel entitled to their opinions in this country or what?
From all of this brouhaha, a little Sol Food game has arisen, in which customers attempt to outdo themselves by more accurately and, ahem, colorfully describing the exact shade of tropical green that has caused so much consternation. The most commonplace suggestions compare the color to that of lime jello toned down with a bit of cream, and Kermit the frog has been mentioned as having a skin tone in the same ballpark as the exterior of Sol Food.
On a recent midweek afternoon, while standing in line, a friendly competition between two groups of diners produced several humorous comparisons, many of them movie-themed--no surprise since one of them was wearing an ILM jacket--likening the restaurant's paint job to a mint milk shake, the flying fish from Disneyland's It's a Small World ride, the face of the Wicked Witch in The Wizard of Oz, the green cream served on top of Irish coffees on St. Patrick's Day, the glowing, green kryptonite crystals from the Superman movies, the toxic sludge in which the Toxic Avenger is transformed into a mutant crime fighter, the green light at a traffic stop and electric broccoli.
- Photograph by Michael Amsler
Photograph by Nina Zhito
It went on and on like that. Just before bellying up to the counter to order his dinner, Mr. ILM suggested a slogan that was so good, Sol Food might have to end up using it someday: "Go for the green," he said. "Stay for the food." Sol Food, 901 Lincoln Ave. and 732 Fourth St., San Rafael. 415.451.4765.--D.T.
Best Modern David and Goliath
We've heard it forever: location, location, location. The location of Linda's Flower Box in San Anselmo definitely provides an astounding juxtaposition. The tiny stand sits in front of the block-long US Bank building, bringing some sorely needed natural beauty to the imposing monument to commerce. Further countering profit's thirst, owner Linda Spediacci has sold flowers for as little as 75 cents since she started her biz in 2003, being more concerned with brightening someone's day than lightening his wallet. "Anyone can afford a flower," she insists, "and one flower does a lot." Continuing after the flood a couple of winters ago wasn't even a question for Spediacci; her stand is an ongoing tribute to her son Joseph who died tragically on Christmas Eve 2003, eight days after she opened. "He left me this little piece of heaven on earth," she says, further putting the idea of wealth into perspective. "He's always here." Linda's Flower Box, 305 San Anselmo Ave., San Anselmo. 415.250.5245.--D.S.
Best Rock 'n' Roll Surgeon's Office
From the outside, the glass-covered building is just as sterile as its companions in the medical district of Santa Rosa. But entering the first-floor offices of shoulder surgeon Dr. Eric Schmidt is like walking into a crowded rehearsal studio: loud rock music pours out of every room, while patients and staff navigate hallways strewn with guitars, records and posters. On a recent weekday, the main control center--two 10-foot-high racks of high-end stereo and video equipment--sent out eight different signals across 13,000 feet of cable buried in the ceilings and walls. In fact, every single area in the building has its own separate audio and video options for Schmidt's patients. On a recent visit, John Mayer played on a plasma television in an exam room while Depeche Mode serenaded the waiting area, and in Schmidt's own office, the Bad Company LP on his audiophile turntable said it all: "It's all part of my rock and roll fantasy! / It's all part of my rock and roll dream!" Collecting since the age of 10, Schmidt has accumulated a huge assortment of memorabilia, now tucked among X-ray equipment and arthroscopic instruments, including Gold Records (Huey Lewis, Eric Clapton), signed LPs (Boston, Foreigner), autographed drum heads (Los Lonely Boys) and his most prized possessions, two framed guitars signed by the Who and the Rolling Stones. The doctor, dressed in his usual suspenders and tie, hesitates to estimate the cost of his elaborate setup. "I probably shouldn't put a number on it," he says, straining to be heard over the 7.1 Surround Sound boogie-rock of Molly Hatchet. "It'd make my wife upset." But his patients seem to love the casual atmosphere, and Schmidt rests assured that along with running a successful practice, his is the heavyweight champion of the rock and roll doctors' offices. "No one's ever had anything like this," he boasts. "If you find anyone who does, let me know."
Photograph by Elizabeth Seward
Dr. Eric Schmidt, 525 Doyle Park Drive, Ste. 101, Santa Rosa. 707.463.8125.--G.M.
Best Place to Listen to Someone Buy Bananas
Standing in the cool of Pacific Market's produce section last summer, a small, ginger-haired man wearing no shoes held a bunch of bananas up to stern scrutiny. Heatedly talking into his cell phone, he twisted the fruit in his hand. "Look," he said emphatically, "It's no big deal." Clearly frustrated by the voice on the other side, he put the fruit briefly back on the shelf. "There's plenty of time," he insisted before delivering the coup de grâce. "It's just fucking Mozart!" And with that, he picked the bananas back up, put them into his basket and moved on. The man, of course, was former Santa Rosa Symphony conductor Jeffrey Kahane.
Pacific Market, 1465 Town and Country Drive, Santa Rosa. 707.546.3663.--G.G.
Best Place for a Guy to Get Directions Without Asking
Your ride may not be equipped with a state-of-the-art, in-dash, GPS-linked, voice-activated digital display to assist you in getting lost, but it almost certainly has a "glove box" (ever put any actual gloves in it? Thought not) with a bunch of torn, marked-up and misfolded maps jammed inside. Happily, an easy upgrade awaits AAA members, just outside the auto club's Santa Rosa office. A small, sheltered booth next to the main entrance houses a pair of vending machines ready to dispense maps of Santa Rosa, San Francisco, various regional subsections or the whole of California, just for the swipe of a membership card. For a street map of Missoula or details on Delaware or even more exotic cartographical fare, you still have to visit the counter inside, which keeps convenient banker's hours on weekdays only. California State Automobile Association, 1500 Farmers Lane, Santa Rosa. 707.544.1010.--B.R.
Best Place to Find That One Thing That You Really Need for Just 30 Cents
Along with more modern accessories like day planners and ink cartridges, the office-supply section of Corrick's in Santa Rosa conveniently sells a bewildering array of single-item needs to those looking desperately for just one envelope (10 cents) or key ring (25 cents). Also home to the 50-cent accounts payable voucher, the 25-cent report cover transparency and the 90-cent adding machine roll, Corrick's caters to almost every clerical need, no matter how small or ancient. The friendly staff (a group with an impressively low turnover) beats any big-box store's hired help hands down and are able and willing to guide you to the picture hangers (79 cents) or, for those in need of a new job, an employment application (60 cents). I went in once to buy just one copper fastener, and the saleslady didn't even flinch; she happily showed me to the single 15-cent brads. If you ever have a garage sale, but you're only selling one thing and you want to make it publicly known when that thing sells, then congratulations! You're in the perfect situation to purchase the cheapest item available at Corrick's: one "SOLD" tag with string, just 5 cents and ready to hang. Corrick's, 637 Fourth St., Santa Rosa. 707.546.2423.--G.M.
Best Place to Idealize Office Supplies
Neff's Office Supply, aka Neff's of Napa--the store employees are so accommodating that they let you use whichever you prefer--has been around since the '50s, and some of the yellowing masking tape and wacky-ringed binders look as if they've been around that long, too. Before the store moved to its current location, it used to sit on Main Street alongside the river, and Neff's kids would fish out the back window. This chaotically organized store is the only place we know of in Napa County where one can buy a single envelope (12 cents) or hanging folder (pick your color, 35 cents), or find the specific replacement eraser for your favorite mechanical pencil. Specializing in desk accoutrements from a bygone era, Neff's is the office version of a vintage clothing store. It stocks obscure typewriter ribbons, carbon and onion-skin paper, typewriter brushes and pen refills. "We'll actually open stuff and try it in your pen. Office Depot would never do that," says employee Sherry Shimel. Entropic as Neff's stock is, the store beats sterile Staples any time. Plus, Neff's has been adding art and drafting supplies to its stock, making it nearly the only place in Napa County for this kind of merch. Neff's Office Supply, 1407 Second St., Napa. 707.224.8303.--B.A.
Best First Hint That You Can't Afford Napa
René Champaign has a knack for selling very fine duds. After setting up chichi outfitters Sole Provider in Calistoga and Amelia Claire in St. Helena, she's finally opened a ritzy shop in downtown Napa. The new boutique, Habit, is defined on its storefront as an outfit for a particular situation. As far as we can tell, this particular situation is that of being able to dispense with massive hunks of money at whim. Not that there's anything wrong with that, per se, but maybe spending $3,000 on a jacket might be perceived as just a wee bit excessive? On her company website, Champaign handily quotes herself: "I want my business to project my philosophy--things that help make life easier take the seriousness out." How would spending a few months' rent on a wearable that does not double as a tent help make life any easier? I'm not exactly sure. But maybe bankruptcy is kind of easier than paying off my college loans. On the upside, the shoes are almost affordable. Go for those and gawk. Habit, 1146 Main St., Napa. 707.224.9489.--B.A.
Best Spots to Score a 'Boho' in Napa
Maybe it's because we're based in Santa Rosa, or maybe it's because we haven't been around for the thousands of years that the Napa Valley Register has, but for some reason, Napans don't seem to know we exist. Hello, Napa! We are your arts, news and entertainment weekly! You ain't got no other! Not so much blatantly promoting ourselves, but so we don't get those blank stares anymore when we're reporting in Napa, here are a few places--of the 106 we deliver to weekly in Napa County--to pick up your copy of the Bohemian: ABC Bakery & Cafe, Bouchon Bakery, Bistro Jeanty, Calistoga Brewery, Calistoga Roastery, all Copperfield's Books, Cuvee, Downtown Joes, Gilwoods, Golden Carrot, Napa General Store, Napa Valley Coffee Roastery, Napa Valley Opera House, Silverado Brewery, La Toque and Tra Vigne.--B.A.
Best Place to Reincarnate the Wheel
Let's say you've got an old rusty bicycle whose spokes are toast. With new wheels, shifters and maybe switching out the handlebars you can build it again, faster, stronger, better than before. If only you had all the right wrenches and those handy bike stands. Fellow citizens, there is such a place. Community Bikes is a bicycle collective that, in addition to opening the shop to tinkerers, offers cheap, rebuilt bikes to the public. Shop time costs $10 an hour, or you can donate the equivalent time overhauling other bikes. In this funky shop with recycled tile floors, there's a mishmash of old 10-speeds and mountain bikes with some good ones like a Trek 12-speed aluminum frame road bike and an unusual 23-inch French women's bike. Want to contribute, but just have a bike rather than actual cash? The shop's located just down the road from the Joe Rodota Trail head, on one of the last remaining tattered old stretches of Sebastopol Road. And there's a great new taqueria close by. What more do you need? The open road, a recycled bike and a burrito. Community Bikes, 4009 Sebastopol Road, Santa Rosa. 707.579.5811.--J.K.
Best Place to Share a Latte with a Goddess
In the sculpture garden behind Forestville's Quicksilver Mine Co., you can let go of your worries among the lavender, take a break from the tumult with the totems and grab a cuppa with a goddess. Khysie Horn, owner of this unique indoor-outdoor art gallery, says she encourages people to eat their lunches in the little garden, which is dominated by a picnic table and benches, an arbor with seating and an ever-changing collection of outdoor sculpture by local artists. While accomplishing her late-winter pruning one sunny afternoon last month, Horn pointed out the climbing roses that will cover the fences and trellises with scented blooms come May and June. "It will be like a garden room," she said, bending to perform her chores. Tucked in among the foliage and the flowers are brightly painted ceramic totem poles by Leticia Duenos, Inukshuk "people" composed of boulders and flagstone by Robert Leroy, and a collection of bronze and concrete goddesses from Mary Fuller, a sculptor now in her 80s. Fuller's Snake Goddess, with eyes arranged in a fashion only Picasso's mother could love, commands the center of attention, beckoning garden visitors to glean spirit restoration from her rock-solid charms. Quicksilver Mine Co., 6671 Front St. (Highway 116), Forestville. 707.887.0799.--L.P.
Best Place to Realize You're Supposed to Become a Furniture Maker
Mt. Storm in Windsor has an amazing array of gorgeous domestic and imported exotic milled hardwoods (I got lost in a burly slab of walnut there for, like, 20 minutes), a manly and helpful staff and it smells like heaven. They've got zebrawood (caramel-colored with dark brown stripes), leopard wood (chocolate brown with textural light brown leopard spots), purple heart, yellow heart, jatoba (Brazilian cherry), bubinga and more. But where is Mt. Storm? Sounds so romantic and blustery. Turns out the sister of the owner Ed Mikowski, who worked for the forestry department in West Virginia, found a heap of red oak lying about in the forests of Mt. Storm. She told her brother Ed, a biochemist, and he found out from friends in the North Bay something I was unaware of: that in 1980 there wasn't much hard wood for sale. He loaded the booty onto a B&O Railroad car to Santa Rosa, unloaded the train car by hand onto a pickup truck and drove around until he found a milking barn on South Dutton where he could sell the stuff. And even if you don't become a furniture maker, bring along your significant other if you have one. Mine is making us a new table and a mantle for the fireplace. Wood eye? You betcha! Mt. Storm, 5700 Earhart Court, Windsor. 707.838.3177.--M.T.J.
Best Place to Reap the Benefits of Gregor Mendel's Work
They only sell four-inch pots (really, they catch up to the one-gallon McPlants in six weeks), but Emerisa Gardens has more varieties of the plants you know and don't know than almost any other retail spot, all specially selected to thrive in our climate. Sure, you've probably seen a columbine with purple or even two-tone flowers, but have you seen one with chartreuse, variegated foliage and white, pink and occasional blue flowers? Whatever you think you know about flax, you haven't seen nothin'. Same goes for the salvias and penstemons. If you suffer from the same plant-purchasing paralysis that I do, you'll be glad to know that the salespeople here really know their shite, and they dispense their wisdom freely. Emerisa Gardens, 555 Irwin Lane, Santa Rosa. 707.525.9600.--M.T.J.
Best Use of Tax Revenue
Officially, it's named the Frank P. Doyle Memorial Library, but everyone on the Santa Rosa Junior College campus merely calls it "the library!" (exclamation mark intended), two syllables short of what they were calling it when it opened its doors last September: "The cool, new library!" Beautifully designed and spectacularly functional, the 145,000-square-foot edu-Xanadu is truly state of the art, bordering on futuristic in its use of technology. The entire place was created, in part, with modern lap-top-carrying, web-surfing Homo sapiens in mind. Built at a cost of $45 million, the comfortable new building has an attractively imposing brick and metal exterior, a warmly lit red-stained and pale wood interior, is furnished with six different kinds of plush armchairs for relaxing with a book, ergonomic chairs and tables for working, 300 computers (flat-screen, of course) and a compact cafe on the second floor, making it the best and coolest place in Santa Rosa to hang out with a book, a computer or an iPod. Oh, you can check books out there too. The library is stocked with 123,400 books and periodicals, and another 11,000 DVDs. There are private study rooms of varying sizes that overlook the school's courtyard. It also boasts an environmentally friendly, cost-saving air-conditioning system, cooling the building during the day using 350 tons of ice the building manufactures each night when the energy costs are at their lowest. Even Ray Bradbury never thought of that one. Frank P. Doyle Library, on the main SRJC campus, 1501 Mendocino Ave., Santa Rosa.--D.T.
Best Use of Taxpayer's Money Pt. II
The historic plaza in downtown Healdsburg has been looking a little run-down over the last few years. Part of the problem was an ancient sprinkler-watering system long in need of replacing. Since the fall of 2006, however, the plaza has been given a neat new face-lift, a landscaping overhaul and a horticultural spit and polish. The square-block park now boasts some new walk ways, shiny new benches and trash cans, and an expanded central fountain with planter boxes sprouting roses at each corner of the watery construct. An improved (read: modern) underground sprinkler system has been installed, and new grass planted everywhere it made sense to do so. Next up, the Plaza's bandstand will also be knocked down and replaced with a larger, better, more acoustically effective version, just in time for Healdsburg's popular summer-long, totally-free, Concerts in the Plaza series, beginning May 29 with Roy Rogers, and running every Tuesday night at six until the whole thing ends Aug. 28 with bluesman Johnny Rawls. In between, acts will include the Zydeco Flames, the Trailer Park Rangers, Los Pinguos, the Soul Shine Boys, Cari Lee and the Saddle-ites, the Sorentinos, and Lavay Smith and Her Red Hot Skillet Lickers. Cool music under the stars in an upgraded park with a shiny new band stand: sounds to use like the improvements were worth every penny. Healdsburg Plaza, at Healdsburg Avenue and Matheson, Healdsburg. --D.T.
Best Cultural Landmark We Most Want Refurbished and Returned to its Weird, Wacky Glory
In its hey day (as in, "Hey! What the hell is that?"), the Church Built From One Tree, at the edge of Julliard Park in Santa Rosa, has been everything from a home for Baptists to a museum full of unbelievable oddities. Made famous by Robert Ripley, of Ripley's Believe it or Not fame, the Church, built in 1873 and most recently used as the Ripley Believe it or Not museum, has been shuttered for over 10 years, fallen into decay. The place was named for the fact that every bit of wood in the building--until recent refurbishments added fresh redwood to the exterior--came from the trunk of one very large redwood tree. A group of One Tree fans have been working to turn the place into a public venue for lectures, theater programs and recitals, and there are rumors that it could happen by the end of 2007. Sounds good, but then, folks have been predicting the resurrection of the Church Built From One Tree for more than a decade. We'll believe it (or not) when we see it. Juilliard Park, Santa Rosa Avenue at Sonoma Avenue, Santa Rosa. --D.T.
Best Union of What Are--to a Sane World--Essentially Incompatible Retail Concepts
How naive I was. A year ago, I learned that a workmate's friend had gone into business in Santa Rosa, calling it My Dog Bakery. At first, I was puzzled by the name. Was it some kind of reference to classic rock? Was it a head shop? But no: It's a bakery . . . for dogs. I was bemused yet sympathetic. Surely a one-of-a-kind venture by a dog-loving sentimentalist, a weird, kind of cute idea doomed to a short run. I had not idea that "dog bakeries" have swept the nation. From Boca Raton to Eureka, it's all the rage to buy cannolis and custom cakes for canines, baked by local--I guess you'd have to call them artisan dog biscuit bakers. Try saying that out loud a few times. At My Dog, choose from "Cat poop cookies," brownies (carob flavored), Banana Cream Pie ($7.95), as well as more traditional dog biscuits. But that's just a taste. The array of merchandise is mind-warping: Designer small-dog tote bags, dog breed wine stoppers, and a full line of apparel from doggie sweaters to - what the hell, is that a doggie thong? Also offered as Fido's final indulgence, $37.95 pet headstones with a selection of inscriptions. But this is just so much howling in the wilderness. By now, most of you just want the address. Here it is: 208 Davis Street, Railroad Square, Santa Rosa.707.578.PAWS. --J.K.
Best Abracadabra, Alakazam Beauty Salon
Kizelle Aromatics in Sonoma is a place where beauty is sacred. Aromatherapy, skin care and makeup, hair care, several types of manicures, several types of pedicures. The instant I walk into Kizelle, beauty and tranquillity surround me and that's all there is. Busy-ness and worry? Poof, no longer there. When I leave, I feel beautiful, content, powerful. Kizelle owner Gay Kisbey says, "In a society that gives preference to physical form, it is truly our inner beauty radiating from within which expresses the 'essence' of who we are. Here is where true power lives, and is that which is ageless." See kizelle.com for more. --T.T.
Best of the North Bay 2007