Friday afternoon I swung by Joe Matos Cheese Factory outside Santa Rosa for the first time in a long time to pick up some farmstead St. George-style cheese. Its only $5/lb. at the farmhouse door. Mrs. Matos told me about a newish Portuguese bakery in Rohnert Park. Despite heavy commute traffic, I doubled-back to check it out and was amply rewarded.
The bakery was little tricky to find in the shopping center on the corner of Commerce Blvd. and Rohnert Park Expressway. Padre Parkway is a poorly marked cul-de-sac off of Commerce Blvd. leading into the shopping center that is north of the intersection. It is directly across Commerce Blvd. from Lyons and Burger King. Grand Buffet restaurant also fronts on this cul-de-sac. This address houses another bakery closer to the street with some sorry-looking pastries. Skip that place and continue two doors down to 9 Islands Bakery Café on the far corner.
This is a cheery little spot with shelves of breads and rolls behind the register and a small display case of pastries. The walls are decorated with photos of the nine islands of the Azores, where the bakery gets its name. A small bulletin board provides news from the local Portuguese community, including a schedule of festas (the next one is Sept. 21 in Fort Bragg). There are a few tables for eating on premise. Besides baked goods, a small lunch card offers a soup of the day and sandwiches (linguiça on a roll) and espresso drinks. Fridays soup was white bean, and when I asked about kale and sausage soup, was told its available on Tuesdays.
The refrigerator case has soft drinks but also some Portuguese-style goodies. Packages of imported São Jorges (St. George) cheese and a variety of sausages and bacon are stocked. Gulartes linguica, two types seasoned with wine from Fernandes São Jorge in Tracy (for more on this brand of linguica, [BROKEN LINK REMOVED]), and a chouriço from a producer in Massachusetts are available. I bought the Toucinho Defumado (smoked bacon), $3.59/lb., and the Caseira (homemade style) smoked linguica, $4.19/lb. both made by Fernandes São Jorge. This is the type served by the Grubstake with chunks of meat and darker color versus the coarse grind and lighter red of the other style. So far, Ive cooked the bacon and would recommend it. More heavily smoked and not as salty nor sweet as supermarket brands, its also quite lean with lots of meat.
Naturally, I inquired about malasadas. The friendly proprietress laughed and said thats everyones first question. Unfortunately, the bakery isn't equipped with the powerful hoods needed for deep-frying processes and theyre not available here.
The light and eggy massa savada (Portuguese style sweet bread), $3.50, is very nice with a fine cake-like grain. The star of the day though is a trio of little tarts labeled queijadas, 75¢. I bought one of each almond, orange, and plain custard as shown below. The almond, in the upper left, had the thinnest whisper of a tart shell with just enough substance to contain the quivering jelly-like almond essence within. The top was crowned with toasty almonds adding more crackle to the chewy/crisp macaroon-like surface. The orange, on the upper right, had a chewy surface and a moist and dense middle that reminded me of the heavy-set pudding cakes of childhood. The custard, on the lower center, was anything but plain with a rich eggy flavor and a thin, short crust. I wondered is this was similar to the dark-blistered Macanese egg tarts that chibi longed for ([BROKEN LINK REMOVED]) and the origin for the popular dim sum pastry. The three were so different from each other and each simply wonderful in its own way. I couldnt pick a favorite among them.
From the name, I had expected these to have some queijo or cheese in them. But they tasted cheese-free. A web search shed some insight into this when I found a recipe for the Azores style of queijadas de nata made with cream and egg yolks that sounds like the basis for what I tried. (scan to the bottom of the page, http://archiver.rootsweb.com/th/read/...)
The bakery is in the middle of fast food heaven (Jack in the Box and Wendys are neighbors too) serving the nearby offices and not near anything touristic. However, I think its well worth a detour to try these queijadas the next time youre on this stretch of 101. The last Portuguese grocer in Sonoma County closed two years ago, and Im really hoping that these ladies can make a go of it. Please give them your support.
Adriana Machado and Maria C. Fagundes
9 Islands Bakery Café (Padaria 9 Ilhas)
Specializing in Portuguese Breads and Pastries
1 Padre Parkway, Suite D
(a cul-de-sac north of the intersection of Commerce Blvd. and Rohnert Park Expressway)
Tues.-Fri. 6:30am to 6pm
P.S. For those attending the picnic, the queijadas would be a top contender for my vote in the best new food find category of the contest. Sign up today and bring a box of these in October.