Belly - Left Coast Kitchen and Tap Room

Having lived in San Francisco on and off for about five years—in what feels like a former life, given how much the City has changed—I often find myself comparing restaurants and bars with what I experienced in the City. I do this not to downsize other cities’ food and drink scenes, but rather to highlight the many wonderful experiences I have had outside of San Francisco that stack up to my “big city” expectations.
Coronado Brewing Company's Stupid Imperial Stout—a wintry craft beer if there ever was one!

I’ve been living in Santa Rosa for four and a half years now, and I am continually impressed by the ever-evolving food and drink scene in our town. New restaurants have made the downtown scene a happening place and since 2013, Belly Left Coast Kitchen & Tap Room has been a staple for the local nightlife crowd. Belly provides the perfect setting in which to while away the night. And I would compare Belly to a San Francisco bar, because its sophisticated offering of excellent cuisine and array of Pacific Northwest Coast beers on tap makes Belly a diverse and delicious tasting experience that you might expect to see in a city bigger than Santa Rosa. But don’t underestimate our “small” wine country town—Santa Rosa knows what’s hip and the craft beer scene is exploding here right now.
Bacon-wrapped dates contrasted against a fresh and tasty salad.

Belly is a trendy spot for the 20- and 30-something-year-old crowd who has sophisticated tastes. Sure, it's ultimately a brew-pub style restaurant, but it is so much more than that. The food isn’t your average tap house spread of fried items and bland “American” classics, but rather offers what wine country does best: local ingredients that are crafted into tasty, fresh dishes that represent the bounty California agriculture has to offer all year long. You wouldn’t expect to find bacon-wrapped dates at a typical tap house, but that’s exactly the kind of “munchie” you can find on Belly’s casual-but-gourmet menu. And by the way, they are absolutely delicious in their meaty sweetness contrasted against the crispy, salty bacon—a great way to start any dinner date, whether with loves ones or friends.

And when you hear that Belly’s Owner and Executive Chef Gary Rollin was a former celebrity “Tour Chef,” you’ll understand why this tap house is such a trendy spot with the young, hip crowd of Santa Rosa. Rollin toured and cooked for bands like Motley Crue, Black Eyed Peas, Blink 182 and Linkin Park—so he brings that rock n' roll essence into both the cuisine and the hip vibe of the tap house. In addition to his tour chef gig, he worked around the States at restaurants in Hawaii and Washington D.C., before landing in California. With culinary education in both San Francisco and Thailand, his diverse menu happily strikes a balance between his worldly travels and east coast meets west coast vibe.
Tender pork belly and a juicy, medium-rare, charred burger.

Taking a quick look at the menu, I recommend the Belly salad, which is simply prepared in a fresh and tasty manner–the quintessential California salad. And from the entrées, if you’re feeling a classic brew-pub dish, the certified angus burger is a must. It’s served on a thick wooden plank and cooked to medium-rare perfection, juicy and flavorful with that nice char on the outside that one expects from a well-grilled burger. The caramelized onions and melted cheese make for a classic presentation of this all-American favorite. And for something a bit more decadent, don’t miss the braised pork belly. These tender chunks of pork belly are seared just enough to lock in all the moisture and offer a crunchy outer edge; served with fingerling potatoes and sautéed vegetables—standing in as the healthier option instead of French fries—all smothered in hoisin glaze, this hearty entrée pairs up nicely with one of the many beers on tap.

When it comes to craft beer, I have to say that I continue to be impressed every time I taste something new. Beer is not just beer anymore—especially in wine country. Beer can be assessed and discussed in the same manner as wine; it is easy to look at the producer, the place in which the hops are grown, the ingredients used and the techniques employed to make the beer, in order to understand the final product’s quality and taste attributes.

Two beers I was impressed with at Belly on this visit were the Stone Brewing Company Unfiltered Imperial IPA and Coronado Brewing Company’s Stupid Imperial Stout. My friend and I paired up the Imperial IPA with the pork belly and the Imperial Stout with the burger, and much to our liking, the beers went exceptionally well. Stone’s Imperial IPA has light forest, almost pine cone-like flavors with a touch of caramel; it’s creamy textured and there’s a hint of bitter hops on the finish. On the other end of the spectrum, Coronado’s Imperial Stout is an excellent choice for cold winter nights with its thick, creamy texture and flavors of dark chocolate and roasted coffee beans, with just a light fruitiness on the finish. And if these two beers don’t strike your fancy, don’t worry, because there are more than twenty rotating beers on tap at all times at Belly.

Surely, if you are a craft beer lover looking for a nighttime hangout spot in Santa Rosa, Belly should be at the top of your list.

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