December 13-19, 2006

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First Bite

Dierk's Parkside Cafe

By Jonah Raskin

For years, I ate and relished Mark Dierkhising's tasty food when he cooked at the faculty club on the campus of Sonoma State University. I've just started to eat and relish the food he's cooking at Dierk's Parkside Cafe--right in my own neighborhood, and in walking distance of downtown Santa Rosa, too.

The place is so new that Dierkhising hasn't had time to add the name "Dierk's" to the old sign that's still displayed outside. But anyone familiar with the old (or was it ancient?) Parkside will be surprised and perhaps even pleasantly shocked by the new menu, and the brand-new appearance of the place. A culinary cross between a cafe and a bistro, Dierk's serves breakfast, lunch and brunch. The ingredients are fresh, the portions are large, the prices are right and the service is fast, though you can sit leisurely at the counter in comfortable stools and watch Dierkhising and his assistant work their wonders.

The boulevard burrito ($7.95) on a flour tortilla is stuffed with scrambled eggs, shredded chicken, cheddar cheese, black beans and red rice. It's a meal in itself, and it comes with homemade salsa, too. When you order two eggs ($5.50), served any style you want, you get eggs done to perfection, plus masses of hash browns and toast. If you're starving and can't wait for scrambled eggs or an omelette ($7.50), start with one of Dierkhising's trademark "pull-aparts" that taste like a doughnut but don't have the hole.

The warm poached egg salad ($8.50) is served with two eggs, frisée, butter lettuce, chopped bacon, croutons and potatoes. The lunch menu includes burgers ($7.50) and a classy BLT ($8.50), as well as roasted chicken with homemade pasta ($9.50) and roasted salmon with white beans and vegetable stew ($12.50). The grilled Caggiano ham sandwich on a roll ($8.50) had so much ham that I could only eat half of it for lunch, saving the rest for a late afternoon snack.

Saturday mornings are my favorite time at Dierk's. The place comes alive, and customers who used to eat at the old Parkside drift in, lingering at the cafe for conversation before drifting out, lending real character to the place. If you go now, you can be in at the birth of a restaurant that ought to be a set in a movie and that's bound to become a Santa Rosa landmark.

Dierk's Parkside Cafe, 404 Santa Rosa Ave., Santa Rosa. Open daily, 6:30am to 2:30pm. 707.573.5955.

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Quick-and-dirty dashes through North Bay restaurants. These aren't your standard "bring five friends and order everything on the menu" dining reviews.