By Patricia Lynn Henley
The Sonoma Valley is in many ways a land unto itself, with its own traditions and its own pace of life. Locals often jokingly refer to it as the island of Sonoma. Teens and others who yearn for a more exciting existence term it SlowNoma; a young woman recently visiting from L.A. dubbed it SlowComa. For those who prefer life lived in the slow lane, the Island of SlowComa offers several special places where the emphasis is on good food, good service and laid-back comfort.
First up is the Place de Pyrenees, a narrow, brick and stone tiled alleyway just off the east side of the Sonoma Plaza. Recently under new ownership--longtime owners Rose and Larry Murphy retired and sold the place to two loyal customers who plan few changes--Murphy's Irish Pub (464 First St. E., Sonoma; 707.935.0660) is a great hangout spot whether it's just to kick back with a draft of Guinness at one of the more than a dozen outdoor tables, grab a group of friends to compete in one of the pub's weekly trivia contests or tuck into a plate of first-class fish and chips, nibble some popcorn chicken, imbibe one of a variety of international beers or savor some shepherd's pie. Like the Irish pubs it's modeled after, this place is a community focal point, offering comforting pub grub for lunch or dinner, lively conversations, literary events, live music Thursday-Sunday evenings and more.
Just across the Place de Pyrenees' cobbled alleyway is Taste of the Himalayas (464 First St. E., Sonoma; 707.996.1161). This tiny spot was Murphy's original home, but several years back when Murphy's moved to larger digs across the alley, Taste of the Himalayas moved in. Since then locals and lucky tourists who discover the place have been enjoying its fresh naan bread, momo dumplings, samosas, curries, tandoori and other delicious examples of the cuisine of Nepal and Tibet.
It's well and good to talk about hidden gems, but sometimes hiding in plain sight works best. Witness the Breakaway Cafe (19101 Sonoma Highway, Sonoma; 707.996.5949), housed in a former big-chain coffee shop in the front of Maxwell Farms shopping center on Highway 12, at the edge of town of Sonoma. One of the owners of a Sonoma Plaza retail store cheerfully refers inquiring tourists to all sorts of restaurants around the Plaza, but she never mentions the Breakaway. That's because it's for locals, and she doesn't want to share. The emphasis is on home-style food in a relaxed atmosphere, with great service and reasonable prices. A popular morning favorite is La Bamba: eggs scrambled with jack cheese and tortilla chips, served on black beans and salsa ranchera. And there're always the specials. On a recent morning, these included prawn quesadillas or upside-down banana and blueberry pancakes.
Welcome to some of the hidden gems on the island of SlowComa--getaways inside a getaway.
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