Petaluma’s Torches offers classic Americana dishes in a familiar setting

Shrimp Scampi from Torches in Petaluma, Tuesday, May 16, 2023. (John Burgess / The Press Democrat)

When Alice Kilgore bought the former 256 North Restaurant in Petaluma last year, she immediately paid tribute to an eatery she loves and the local fire department.

The first nod was to Sax’s Joint, a nearby American diner with classic fare like burgers, a BLAT sandwich and a chicken fried chicken salad. You can find Kilgore’s take on these classic Americana dishes at her new restaurant, Torches.

Kilgore also wanted to recognize the Petaluma Fire Department (where she has family connections) and the first responders she calls “heroes.”

Just after opening last September, she hosted a fundraising steak and lasagna dinner for volunteer firefighter Garrett Angel “Taco” Paiz, who was killed in 2017 while battling the Nuns fire in Napa County. The proceeds from the $20 per meal plate supported a student attending a local firefighter academy.

This commitment to community and neighborhood-friendly approach is a breath of fresh air for the formerly more upscale 256 North, which always felt off-putting to me with its sports bar vibe.

Before, we ate homemade lobster ravioli in organic spinach cream while sitting next to a large wraparound bar filled with television sets. Now we can cheer on our favorite team—sorry, Warriors—with game-day specials like nachos ($5), Buffalo wings ($11) and Revision Brewing Co. Disco Ninja IPA ($7).

Kilgore has a personal love for the restaurant. A longtime 256 North employee, she eagerly took over when then-owner Jan Rosen decided to retire from the business she opened in 2017. Rosen was best known for his highly successful wholesale bakery JM Rosen’s Cheesecakes, launched in 1983, and catered to celebrity clientele such as Frank Sinatra and Ronald Reagan.

So Kilgore kept some of Rosen’s recipes and offered the chef’s original signatures like chicken pot pie topped with flaky puff pastry ($21), chicken Marsala spread with mushrooms over linguine ($23) and wild mushroom and spinach risotto ($24). We can also still get one of my favorite indulgences, prime rib with all the toppings of salty jus, horseradish cream, mashed potatoes and veggies ($29 for 12 ounces, $35 for 18 ounces).

These days, however, the offerings are more comfort-relaxed. Kilgore is Torche’s sole operator, with no business ties to Rosen, and is slowly rolling out more changes to reflect her own personality.

That means the fine prime rib also appears as a French dip, thinly sliced ​​on a sourdough roll ($10 a la carte; $17 with fries, onion rings or a diner-style salad of romaine, iceberg, tomato , carrot, cucumber, red onion and kidney beans).

Try the wood-fired pizzas, baked to a proper bubble-charred crust and generously topped with options like a Meat Lovers combo of hand-cut pepperoni, thick sausage and thick-cut bacon ($22). Or settle for a nice fish and chips, the cod dipped in beer batter, fried to a good crunch and rounded off with slaw and fries ($20).

As for the name, “Torches” seems obvious when you think of the above firefighter connection. However, Kilgore also said that Rosen’s “dream and desire was to set up an employee and pass the torch.”

Of course, the famous Rosen cheesecake is still on the menu ($9).

Carey Sweet is a Sebastopol-based food and restaurant writer. Read her restaurant reviews every other week in Sonoma Life. Contact her at [email protected].

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