Cadet Wine & Beer Bar

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By Craig Smith

Colleen Fleming and Aubrey Bailey, co-owners of Cadet Beer and Wine Bar, are very happy with how well their business has been received in the year and a half they’ve been open. Theirs was a concept that didn’t exist, and people love it.

“We envisioned a place to drink funky wine and beer past 9 p.m. in a fun environment with cool music,” said Fleming, who first conceived of the idea of Cadet. Bailey added, “It also has to be whole heartedly for the community.” Cadet has indeed been embraced by locals, including the wine community. “We get lots of industry people here, from
cellar rats to wine makers,” added Fleming. “There is a lot of sharing, mingling and meeting other people.”

Fleming said she is like many people, in that she wants to be her own boss. She spent years cooking in Napa restaurants such as Roux and Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen, then worked for her family’s winery, Kelly Fleming Wines, selling their cult estate-Cabernets. Bailey, her roommate at the time, had an equally impressive resume, having cooked in Napa
restaurants including Redd and Julia’s Kitchen. She was a sommelier at The French Laundry, and listened as Fleming fleshed out the idea for Cadet. “When Colleen said she

needed a partner, it was serendipitous, and I thought ‘Why not?” Fleming laughs, “I lured Aubrey away from the best restaurant in the country to open a bar in an alley.”

The name Cadet implies a trainee, beginner, someone excited to learn. “That’s how it should be for our guests and for us,” said Fleming. The two women initially thought they’d be a California wine bar, but tweaked the concept based on customer feedback. “Originally, we offered mostly California beers and wines,” said Bailey, “but a lot of guests wanted an international selection. It’s probably fifty-fifty now.”  Bailey said that helps industry folks. “If somebody is working on a new Syrah project, they can come here to drink wines from Rhone.” Beer has been a bigger hit than they expected.  “It’s crazy,” said Fleming. “People like to experiment and try something new. We constantly change the menu so that it’s never stale.”  Cadet always has six beers on tap and fifty different bottled beers, as well as sixteen wines by the glass. The wine and beer list is developed with the help of the customers and what they want to discover. “We’re lucky; they have good taste,” said Bailey, with a grin.

Wednesday nights feature a wine or beer maker as guest bartender. Hardly stuffy or pedantic affairs, the evenings are fun and casual. “We let them be bartenders for a night and pour and talk,” said Fleming. “Some even bring their own music.” Matthiasson Wines was recently featured. “They got to talk to a new generation of wine drinkers in a casual, fun atmosphere,” said Bailey.

The bar bites are a big part of Cadet. “We buy salumi from Oenotri and slice it here,” said Fleming. “We also have a proscuitto plate and grilled cheese, all served as bar bites.” The outdoor patio with its marketplace lights, tucked away as Cadet is in an alleyway, offers a cozy, neighborhood feel.

Cadet is open Monday through Thursday from 5:00 p.m. to Midnight, Fridays and Saturdays until 1:30 a.m. Stop in and enjoy a completely unpretentious evening.

930 Franklin Street, Napa  |  (707) 927-3623    |  cadetbeerandwinebar.com

Open Monday – Thursday 5PM – Midnight  |  Friday & Saturday 5PM – 1:30AM

Napa Palisades Saloon – Business Review

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By Craig Smith

Chuck Meyer, one of the four friends who teamed up to open Napa Palisades Saloon, has been in the restaurant business for over twenty years. “In this crazy business,” he said, “it’s almost shocking when the plan comes together and the business is what you wanted it to be. This is absolutely closer to what I had in mind in concept than any restaurant I’ve
ever opened.”

What he and his partners, Kevin Sprenger, John Lohman and Charlie Crebs, wanted was a modern day saloon to support their fledgling brewery. “We’re a group of local guys that live here in Napa. We built a place that our friends and neighbors would feel at home in,” said Meyer. While lots of businesses say they are for locals, these guys mean it. “We didn’t want anything pretentious. If tourists want to come here, that’s great, but we want the place to be full of locals every night.”

Chef Tim Brown, whose twenty years in restaurants include everything from soup kitchens to James Beard award-winning restaurants, is on the same page. “This is a gathering place where people feel comfortable. It feels like your living room.”

While multiple TV screens covering different sporting events hang on the walls, this isn’t really a sports bar. The beer and the food are too good for that moniker.

“With all the great craft beers that are around here, there’s been a big void in the market,” said Crebs. “You can drive twenty five miles in any direction from Napa and taste some of the best beers in the country.” Palisades has thirty two of them on tap, including 101 North Golden Naked Ale, Lagunitas Czech Pils and Drake’s Hefeweizen, as well as hard to find offerings like Heretic Brewery Gramarye and Carneros Brewing Negra IPA. Another dozen taps dispense wine and ciders.

They even brew their own beer, with Napa Palisades 24/7 Session IPA and Napa Palisades 1849 Gold Rush Red currently on tap. Their beers are currently brewed off-site, but will soon be made at the Saloon. Brewing on-site will allow them to get a mixed drink license, at which time they will showcase several whiskys.

The current trend in restaurants is to brew beer as a way of being allowed to sell mixed drinks, but these guys are serious beer guys. “We are doing this so we can brew beer, not just to get the license,” said Crebs. “We’ll also have the best R&D you can get – we can make a beer and find out instantly if people like it.”

Chef Brown has created a menu that far outstrips most pub food. The eight appetizers include a soup or two of the day, Shrimp and Grits with Bacon, Mushrooms and Smoked Chili Butter, and Reuben Croquettes, with Corned Beef, Sauerkraut, Swiss and 1,000 Island. On the Between Breads menu is the Saloon Burger with White Cheddar, Stout Braised Onions, Grandma’s Brown Pickles and The Sauce. There’s also a Lamb Burger, Chicken BLT and Falafel Burger, all served with tantalizing ingredients. The six Plates & Bowls include Pot Roast, Braised Niman Ranch Tri-Tip, Potatoes, Winter Vegetables and Gold Rush Red Jus. As you would expect, the sides tie everything together.

1000 Main Street, Suite 100, Napa  |  (707) 296-1552   |  napapalisades.com

Mon. – Thurs. 11:30am to 11pm | Fri. 11:30am – Midnight | Sat. 9:30am – Midnight | Sun. 9:30am – 10pm

Carpe Diem “Seizes the Day” with Great Food and Wine… Better than Ever Recovering from the Earthquake!

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By John & Dorothy Salmon

Our original Carpe Diem review was written for the September 2014 issue, but as we all know, August 24, 2014 drastically changed everything in downtown Napa. When Mother Nature put them out of business until repair crews could prop them back up, Carpe Diem opened a pop up in the Oxbow Market. Thanks to Mike Di Simone and so many others, Carpe Diem is back open in their beautifully updated location and doing well. We love these guys and know you do too!

Chef/owner Scott Kendall and Chef de Cuisine Andrew Martin are remarkable guys and smart enough to hire Jim Foster as their general manager. Jim was beloved at Tarla when it first opened and now he is on hand to delight diners at Carpe Diem. Mother Nature offered Carpe Diem a new opportunity to create two separate dining areas and a third room offers an inviting space for overflow crowds, cocktail lounge, or private parties. If you are a “look on the bright side” kind of person, that’s good news.

We had been told by many friends who are 10 to 30 years younger than us that we would love Carpe Diem and, of course, we did. Originally, we decided to stop by after a movie for a light, easy dinner and we were instantly impressed with the friendly atmosphere of the place. We decided to sit at the bar and talk to Jim, because we love him.

As we enjoyed our dinners we recalled a couple of previous restaurant incarnations that we used to visit at this location. There was PJ’s in the 90’s, with the very best BLT’s in the world, followed by La Gondola. Carpe Diem found the perfect combination of cool décor, great lighting, friendly qualified staff, GREAT food and a pretty darn good wine list that changes often. Jim Foster really knows his stuff when you ask wine questions and everyone loves talking to him.   

Carpe Diem seats 55, with 36 in the dining room and the bar. It is best known for its fabulous “Happy Hour” with half off for wine and appetizers from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. Andrew Martin was in the kitchen cooking up a storm as we got to bask in Carpe Diem’s resurrection and feel grateful that once again, we can all enjoy their unique food at reasonable prices in small plates that you can easily share. Most of the people sitting with us at the bar were doing just that.

Carpe Diem’s executive Chef Scott Kendall has been in the kitchen since he was a teenager and went on to major in business management in college. Scott runs a tight ship and he is a fabulous chef who also makes a mean batch of beer.

Carpe Diem shifts its menu on the last Friday of the month to keep their guests coming back to see what’s new. Executive Chef Scott Kendall and Sous Chef Andrew Martin work together creating really wonderful dishes in the kitchen in the back of the restaurant at the front door as you enter Carpe Diem. Dishes like baked Quack ‘n Cheese are favorites along with Shredded BBQ Chicken Flat Bread, Prosciutto and Melon Flatbread. They make great salads, especially an amazing house-made Burrata with Heirloom tomatoes, caramelized onions, jam, cabernet sea salt, basil and crystals all served on grilled bread ($14). The folks sitting next to us went on and on and on about the Burrata. Next time, we will try that. Carpe Diem always offers at least 6 beers on draft including Lagunitas Fusion, 90 Minute Dogfish Head IPA and the Russian River collaboration with Sierra Nevada, Brux, and Monkey Fist IPA by the bottle.

Dorothy started with a glass of Presquill Rose’ ($11) and John took the beer route with a glass of Lagunitas Fusion ($7). For dinner, Dorothy ordered the Thai Curry Prawns with Jasmine, Kaffir lime rice and scallions, and sweet chili ($18), which was great. John ordered the Crispy Buttermilk Chicken with collard greens, grilled stone fruit, sweet potato smash and mustard seed gravy ($18). We remembered our trip this year to Charleston SC, so John was still on his collard greens kick with sweet potatoes and chicken cooked “Southern style” and he concluded that Carpe Diem did a better job on those items that the folks in South Carolina!

Carpe Diem’s menu includes great starters like Ahi Tuna Tartar ($13); Diver Scallop Carpaccio with picked rhubarb, strawberry and micro greens ($14); Artisanal Cheeses, like Delice De Bourgogne, The Tickler, Five Year Aged Gouda, Drunken Goat and Blu De Moncenisio and Charcuterie plates of 12 month aged Prosciutto, Loukanika, Ghost Pepper Salami, Housmade Pork Tillette and Wild Boar Salami. Pick one for $6, three for $13, or five for $19. Such a deal! The Small Plates include Filet Mignon Steak Skewers ($16); Crab Stuffed Squash Blossoms ($15); Cabernet Braised Short Rib Tamales ($14); and for $3.50 you can add an organic duck egg, crispy pancetta, roasted chicken or do it “Carpe Diem Style” and add a duck egg and crispy pancetta for ($5). Carpe Diem also serves delicious flat breads and Ostrich Burgers with creamy brie cheese, cranberry caramelized onion and cabernet reduction sauce on toasted brioche bun ($19). Want Truffle Fries? You can have those too with your Ostrich Burger! Carpe Diem has a pretty impressive Wine Book with over 250 selections from which to choose, a variety of flights to try, and an impressive reserve list and, of course, their beer list with over 35 of the best beers from all over the world!

We skipped dessert, but for $8 you can order their house made Twix Bar which we were told is INCREDIBLE. Also to tempt you is their White Chocolate Bread Pudding or Pot De Crème; Lattes and Mochas are $4 and Espressos and Cappuccinos are $3.

Carpe Diem’s wine list includes over forty wines by the glass and a number of great local and imported wines that are really unique. Jim will entice customers to try a wine they have not tried before, and trust us; he knows what he is talking about! Carpe Diem offers special dinner/wine pairing events once a month. During these events, guests are treated to a five-course menu designed with a specific winery’s inventory in mind. If you are interested in bringing a group of friends with you for these special dinners, contact events@carpediemwinebar.com. Carpe Diem now offers a new wonderful private dining space located adjacent to the restaurant that can host 40 seated diners or up to 50 guests for passed appetizers and drinks. If you are thinking of hosting a bigger party at Carpe Diem, you can do that too for up to 100 guests and you get the entire restaurant mid week only.

We left Carpe Diem very impressed and our total meal came to $58.32. Now, that’s a bargain for a great perfectly sized meal, a great glass of wine and a great beer. We passed on their Twix Bar for dessert, but next time, we are going back for it!

1001 Second Street, Napa  |  (707) 224-0800   |  carpediemwinebar.com

Open Sun-Thurs 4-9 & Fri-Sat 4-10

 

 

Brix Restaurant & Gardens

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By John & Dorothy Salmon

We recently had a lovely dinner with our pals, Ron and Teri Kuhn, at Brix to celebrate our good fortune, our children, grandchildren and the Kuhns’ incredible Pillar Rock Cabernet. We laughed through most of the dinner, while commenting on how lovely the setting is at Brix, with its warm interior and a rock-star garden, enjoyed from the outdoor dining area when the weather is good. Ron and Teri headquarter at their primary home in Chicago, but get to enjoy Napa, Florida and Arizona when they visit their other homes. Fortunately for us, they are planning to spend more time in Napa, especially in the winter when Chicago is freezing, windy and covered in snow. Their kids and grandkids live in Chicago, so that’s where their hearts are when they are not in Napa making sure their Pillar Rock wines are doing well across the United States.

Brix has been a staple on Highway 29 since 1996. The Kelleher Family has made Brix a top-notch restaurant and magical place for weddings, receptions, meetings, celebrations of any kind and a great place to be for romantic occasions or simply dining out with friends. Brix Restaurant and Gardens is a classic pairing of unique, contemporary cuisine with a French accent. With 16 perfect Napa Valley acres of beautiful gardens and vineyards, you will always find just-picked vegetables and a great wine selection from its list of more than 800 labels.

When we arrived, we were met by General Manager, Michael Cope, who has vast experience in the restaurant business with years at The Girl and the Fig in Sonoma. Since we were with Ron and Teri, we of course, enjoyed their Pillar Rock 2007 Stags Leap Cabernet ($170). Needless to say, it was a good thing we were with them! The wine is amazing as are Ron and Teri, who are consistently generous donors at Auction Napa Valley and the V Foundation, as well as spreading their philanthropy across the country. Teri was the V Foundation, 2010 Fund-A-Need Honoree as a Leukemia survivor, generously supporting Leukemia Research through the V Foundation.

After Notre Dame alum, John and USC alum, Ron dispensed with their usual banter recalling the rivalries of the two schools and which has the better football team, we started our evening with Roasted Pedrone Peppers, topped with aged balsamic ($10) and the Crispy Fried Green Beans, served with spicy mustard sauce ($10). We also indulged in the special flat–bread, with cherry tomatoes, arugula, crème fraiche, rib-eye caps, feta, fontina and a drizzle of balsamic ($15), which Teri said was the best flat bread she had ever eaten.  Our server, John Adams, was very attentive, lots of fun and made great suggestions all evening.

For our main course, Ron ordered the Roasted Colorado Lamb, served with black mission figs, fennel bulb, blue cheese, toasted pistachios and fig chocolate-sauce ($38). Teri ordered the Salad of Baby Field Greens and poached summer peaches, honey-whipped ricotta, spiced hazelnuts and peach vinaigrette ($10) and the Sicilian Casserole with grilled octopus, beef bone marrow, tomato-braised beef tripe and herbed Parmesan bread crumbs ($12). John enjoyed the Grilled Atlantic Salmon with broccoli rabe, Italian-seafood tomato sauce, green olives, speck ham with roasted eggplant puree and oregano bread crumbs ($27) and Dorothy was delighted with the Caramelized Sea Scallops served with a medley of toasted almonds, snap peas, mint, chili peppers and sweet corn, with a truffle vinaigrette ($33).

Since we knew that the meal would lead to this review, we HAD to order desserts! So, we shared the Grilled Summer Peach, served with an almond streusel, whipped brie, saffron honey and peach lavender sorbet ($10) and the Triple Chocolate Snicker Sundae with chocolate polenta cake, caramel sauce, curry-roasted peanuts, caramelized banana with chocolate ice cream ($10).

The dinner menu at Brix is extensive and interesting; the bar is lots of fun; the wine list is wonderful and Brix is a favorite of locals and visitors alike. Brix is a favorite partner and a featured restaurant at Hands Across the Valley, The V Foundation, Flavor Napa Valley and many more local events. The menu changes daily, drawing inspiration from the restaurant’s extensive gardens and traditions of the winemaking regions of Southern France and Northern Italy. The flower and vegetable gardens contain both raised-beds and in-ground beds in which crops grow year round. Tiny salad greens, fava beans and strawberries in the spring; French beans, eggplant, tomatoes, berries and melons in the summer; apples and pears, hard squash, potatoes, and fresh onions in the fall, and Meyer lemons and sweet limes, sweet peas, Brussel sprouts, cauliflower Romenesco and butter lettuce in the winter.

In the Lounge and Wine Bar, you can sit by the fire
and enjoy a glass of wine, with wine tastings by
appointment, featuring the Kelleher Family Vineyard wines grown in the Oakville Appellation.

A few weeks after our dinner we were back at Brix speaking with Matt Guyot, their talented Special Events Manager about a possible rehearsal dinner for our daughter. I guess that is the best recommendation
that we could make!

BurgerFi – Great Burgers & Fries…

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By John & Dorothy Salmon

We took our very-sophisticated 10 and 13 year old granddaughters to BurgerFi for dinner to check out where their “burger palates” would take them and to help us review Napa’s newest burger joint. Our foray into BurgerFi was the “Kid Test” for burgers and, most of all, the fries, since that’s how they typically judge greatness in a restaurant.

Gracie and Arden were as excited as we were to dine inside the huge, metal two story box on the Napa River Walk. Finding parking in downtown Napa is always an adventure, but we were lucky enough to find a friendly soul who was just leaving as we arrived and happily gave us his parking place right in front of BurgerFi.  We couldn’t wait to check out the view as we climbed to the upstairs deck. You can’t miss BurgerFi, since it shines like a giant, square box of aluminum foil next to the Napa River on First Street between Soscol and Main Streets. Both girls said they liked the open feel of the building with the very cool deck to look out at the River. They were also impressed with the gigantic, eco-friendly fan, the light fixtures, the cool Coke machine, the burgers with BurgerFi stamped on the bun and the Rolling Stones music playing nonstop. Of course, they are always impressed when their grandparents can sing along without missing a word! Although, we must report that the Stones are even older than we are! BurgerFi does have a kind of 50’s and 60’s burger-joint feel, housed inside a 60’s, Lost in Space, George Jetson building.

For those of you who travel up and down the east coast, Florida, the Midwest and, more recently, Denver, and Mesa, Arizona, you might be long-standing fans of BurgerFi, which is a franchise operation headquartered in south Florida. They believe in being eco-friendly and they follow their philosophy by creating chairs from recycled Coke bottles and indoor tables made from recycled milk jugs. Instead of relying exclusively on air conditioning, much of their cooling comes from special, oversize ceiling fans that use 66% less electricity. Gracie really loved the big fan. Fitting right into the California scene, BurgerFi maintains a low carbon footprint and follows strict recycling programs for oil, cardboard, bottles and cans. They get to be on the “Good list” in Napa since we pride ourselves on being sustainable and as green as possible.

Napa’s BurgerFi is their 64th location, so all your east coast or south Florida relatives can feel right at home when they visit you this summer. Everything will be the same as home, except for the humidity. BurgerFi wants to create the “Burgerfication of the Nation” with all-natural Angus beef from cattle that are raised in the most stringent, free-range standards and burgers that are never frozen, never cooked in a microwave, have no hormones, no antibiotics and are guaranteed fresh, juicy and delicious!

The Napa BurgerFi menu offers burgers from $5.87, to their Brisket Burger for $9.97. You can build your own burger with a single, double or triple burger patty, add a fried egg, Blue Cheese, white cheese, Peter Luger Steak Sauce, grilled diced onions, Jalapeno Peppers, A-1 Sauce, BBQ sauce, hot sauce, or their special BurgerFi sauce! You might need to study the menu online at burgerfi.com/menu and make your choices before you get there! The servers are well trained, friendly and patient, as first time customers stand in awe and try to figure out what they want to order. We did it the easy way, with four cheeseburgers and the large bucket of fries. If you are not a burger fan, you can order all-natural hot dogs, chicken-apple hot dogs, Wagyu Kobe Beef hot dogs and lots of toppings, such as cheese and kraut, BurgerFi Chili and Hickory Bacon. We saw our pal, Cathy Holmes, that night and she told us that the hot dogs are really good too.  So, next time we will give those a try.

BurgerFi fries range from $3.27 for a pretty good size regular to their big bucket for $5.97 that can feed an army of people. You can get onions rings from $4.27 to $5.57 or do the very-hip cry & fries; an order of half fries and half onion rings for $5.57.  Add salt and vinegar, Parmesan cheese, hot Cajun sauce, cheese sauce, chili or chili and cheese sauce for a nominal fee. Now you can understand why we suggested that you consider your order before you get there!

The milk shakes are terrific, the floats and cows are really good and they serve ice cream in cups, cones or Sundays from $3.47 to $5.47 with a choice of toppings…if you have room to eat ice cream after ordering their burgers and fries. They have take-home ice cream in their Pints on The Run for $6.97.

They even have a “Secret Menu.” If you don’t want a meat burger, you can order a Hippie Veggie made with two, grilled, quinoa burgers served on a potato bun with a side of neon relish.  They also serve their fries well done and extra crispy or limp. We are not sure who might want limp fries, but if you do, this is the place for you. They serve cool craft beers and a moderate selection of wines, along with standard soft drinks, lemonade and Evian bottled water.

Business during the traditional off- peak hours is supplemented by custard sales as well as being a great place to meet for a craft beer or wine. Hey, we are in Napa, so they have to have wine and craft beer!  Custards, however, are pretty east coast.

The girls’ comments included: “Great views, nice ambiance, nice photos, the logos stamped on the burgers are VERY cool” and they loved the very hip, hard- plastic order trackers that light up when your order is about to be brought to you at your table. THAT is definitely something that rarely happens at burger joints. Gracie loved the Mexican coke bottle and ordered that right away. Arden and Dorothy ordered root beer floats and Papa John had a beer.

We had a great time. If you are a boater, kayaker or stand-up paddler, you can tie up at the downtown dock and walk to BurgerFi on the Napa River Walk. BurgerFi will be the go-to place with a great view for the 4th of July fireworks.

There are no salads, no chicken dishes, no sweet-potato fries, but its lot’s of fun and a throw- back experience for all of us who remember the 60’s.  BurgerFi has free Wi-Fi, which was especially important for 13 year-old Gracie. Dogs are also allowed. They cater meals if you want to buy burgers for your party and, best of all, there is no TV to distract you while you enjoy the view.

We will be there again for sure.  Now that Napa is the foodie place to go, there are many options for great burgers up and down the streets of downtown Napa and up and down the Valley…none in a structure like this however!

967 First Street | Napa, CA | (707) 927-5373 | burgerfi.com

Open Sun. – Thurs. 11a.m. – 11p.m. | Fri. & Sat. 11a.m. to midnight

   

Jax Diner Open for 3 Months and Already Winning Awards!

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Jax White Mule Diner had only been open a couple of months when the 6th Annual Chili Cookoff rolled around in August.  Hardly enough time to have honed their chili recipe to a competitive level, or so you might think.  Jax’s chili not only won First Place with the judges panel, which included a few discerning Napa Chefs, it also won The People’s Choice Award, meaning the folks attending also thought it was the best.

Impressive. Especially since chili is just a small part of their breakfast and lunch menu. J.B. Leamer, founding owner of Jax White Mule Diner, remembers going to the local diner with his grandfather.  It was a center of community activity – a relaxed, affordable place to enjoy a good meal while catching up with family and friends.  Leamer loved everything about it, and for years thought that if there was ever an opportunity to open a place just like it, he would jump on it.

That opportunity presented itself when Leamer was wearing his hat as a realtor, showing a client the space at 1122 First Street in Dwight Murray Plaza.  “Gillwoods had just closed,” said Leamer.  “I realized downtown didn’t have a diner anymore.”  Leamer suggested to the client that he consider opening one in that spot.  One thing lead to another, and Leamer ended up making the plunge himself.

Opening a restaurant is always a big risk.  So far, Jax has been a huge hit.

“When I saw where they were located, I figured they’d be out of business in a month,” said Michael Holcomb, a local who owns several properties downtown.  “Then, I tasted the food.  I eat at Jax three or four times a week now.”

Because this is Napa, Leamer was able to assemble an enviable team to run the diner.  Chef Jason Buckley, who helped make the Napa Valley Grille a success before leaving California for a few years, has delivered on the classic Americana vibe Leamer had envisioned.  Bobby Cabrerra, for years a fixture at Downtown Joe’s, sees to it the kitchen runs well and that the service is top shelf.  Tony Morales, formerly with Silverado Resort and Spa and Celadon, is the Managing Partner, ensuring guests’ expectations are met.  Part of that is having the courage to occasionally follow the chef’s whims and go off-menu.  “We participated in BottleRock, and served Tater Tots smothered in cheese and crumbled bacon.  People loved them.”

“We’re really making old school new again,” said Leamer.  “Come in and enjoy our relaxed atmosphere with your neighbors while sharing great comfort food, beer & wine, while enjoying the game on one of the large screen TVs .  Jax is Napa’s place for Happy Hour, Wed-Fri from 3pm-7pm with $3 beer, $5 wine, special appetizers and dinner entrees per our clients’ request. Look for longer hours  Wednesday through Friday with a menu that will include fried chicken and other favorites.

JAX will accommodate your fantasy football draft or private event. Just give them a call at 707-812-6853. Open daily, 7am at 1222A First Street, off Dwight Murray Plaza, west of Main and First Streets, serving breakfast till 3pm.  Wednesday through Friday, open till 9pm.

As Morales says, “Come in, relax and get your mule on.”

Napa BBQ Chefs Share Their Secrets – A Barbecue Round Table

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by Stephen Ferry

There are many ways to spell it. And, there might be nearly as many ways to do BBQ as there are BBQ chefs.

You know the drill.  Marinate, Rub, Slow-Cook, Sauce.  Along the way, there a lot of options as you go through the process.  Every BBQ chef in Napa has his/her own idea of what makes the best BBQ and smoked meats.  There seems to be only one common point of agreement: Nobody uses pelletized fuel.   

Bounty Hunter owner, Mark Pope, thinks that great BBQ must start with the best ingredients and the right equipment for the job.  “You must also take the time and effort to achieve excellence,” says Pope.  “There are no short cuts
in BBQ!”

When asked what makes his BBQ so good, Big Ned Foster, owner of Big Ned’s BBQ at the Food Mill, said “I do a New Orleans style of BBQ.  It’s the love that I put into it that makes it so good.”   

Michael Hanaghan, proprietor of the Five Dot Ranch at Oxbow Public Market, is opening The Cook House next to the original meat market to serve customers fresh cooked BBQ that will be smoked out on the deck.  Hanaghan said, “For good BBQ, it’s all about the beef.  We are a seventh–generation, cattle ranch, so we only BBQ beef.  We are committed to providing a product that is always 100% free of antibiotics or additional hormones. We practice low-stress handling and strongly believe that, in order to raise all natural cattle, we must provide healthy, open, grazing spaces that are sustainable to both the cattle and environment.”          

“What makes my stuff good is that it’s unique,” said Jon Bodnar, owner and chef at Smoakville.  “Texan and Californian BBQ is found everywhere. But, when was the last time you stumbled on a genuine, old-school, classic BBQ shack? Everything we have here at Smoakville is made from scratch, from the rubs and pickles to the sauces and desserts. We pay close attention to how the final product is seasoned, cooked, and even the visual aesthetics.”  BBQ means many different things to different people.  It’s not just about the food. “BBQ is important to me because it is all about preserving the history, culture, and tradition of America’s cuisine,” added Bodnar.

“My philosophy on great BBQ involves friends and family experiencing my hospitality,” said Richard “Joey” Ray, Chef De Cuisine at VINeleven at The Napa Valley Marriott Hotel and Spa. “Hospitality to me is the feeling of being welcomed, whether it be at my home or at my restaurant table.”

The thoughts are echoed by Bounty Hunter’s Pope. “BBQ is the true American cuisine. Born and raised in the USA and passed down from generation to generation, BBQ is a national pastime – an event that brings together friends and family.”   

The choice of wood is key to each BBQ chef’s technique.   “Hickory is our wood of choice,” said Paul Menzel, owner of Red Rock North. “We use hickory and cherry firewood, which is a part of what gives our BBQ its distinctive taste,” said Hanaghan of Five Dot Ranch.   “The other part we can’t tell you!” “For smoking our meats at Bounty Hunter, we use a mixture of woods,” said Pope. “The type of wood depends on the item that’s to be smoked. Most of it is apple-wood – not chips or little chunks, but large, split logs. The logs work better for us as they don’t fully ignite, but rather slowly smolder, giving the meat a nice consistent smoke. Other woods that we use are hickory, mesquite, oak (Cabernet Sauvignon-aged barrel staves), and grapevines.”    Ray declared, “For wood I like to use hickory, because it produces a rich, smoke flavor and the quintessential flavor most people think of when meats are smoked, but here in California good hickory is sometimes hard to find, so I also use cherry or another fruit wood.  The fruit wood tends to impart a little softer smoke flavor.  I prefer this for poultry products. It tends to complement things like chicken and turkey and not overpower them.”    Bodnar confided, “After rubbing the meat with our secret house spices we smoke the meat anywhere from 4 hours to 12 hours, depending on the cut. For smoking, we use red–wine, barrel staves.”    

Opinions about the best libation to enjoy with BBQ vary as widely as the recipes. “I have been doing food and wine pairing for Napa wineries for many years and the best pairing I’ve ever found was Bourbon with my ribs,” opined Bodnar. “This is  because we smoke with oak barrels and bourbon. Being aged with oak adds the right amount of spice, char, and vanilla notes that pair great with the ribs.” “For the gentlemen, anything – as long as it’s beer,” said Foster.   Ray agreed.  “A great, cold beer is one of my first suggestions. A lower alcohol content and something crisp.  I tend to stay away from big IPA’s for BBQ because they can get unpleasantly bitter when lots of spices are involved.  The carbonation in beer or sparkling wine tends to cleanse the palate of the fat that makes BBQ so delicious, preparing your palate for a next bite that is as flavorful as the last.  A good rose’ or white, with a good acidity level will also help wash away the fat from your palate in the same way the carbonation does. A beverage with a little residual sugar is nice for spicier BBQ to help put out the fire.  But, as I am a true Southerner, if nothing else, give me a glass of sweet or iced tea any day of the week.”     

“When we first opened Bounty Hunter Smokin’ BBQ, our customers thought we were crazy.  How can wine and BBQ go together?” recalled Pope. “Over time, we’ve changed their minds. Napa Cab, Syrah, Petite Sirah and, of course, Zinfandel, all work great with BBQ. With that said, if you want to enjoy a frosty cold beer with our smokin’ BBQ, we won’t stop you!”

Each chef has his own story about how they got all fired up about BBQ. “About thirty years ago, my brother, Dan, trekked through Texas to learn about BBQ,” Menzel said. “Upon his return he taught what he learned to me, I always took BBQ for granted growing up in Tennessee,” Ray revealed. “Great BBQ is everywhere in the south.  Each town’s local joint is an institution in the community.  Then, when I moved away to attend culinary school in the early 2000’s, I started to realize what I was missing.  My craving for great BBQ led me to want to create it here in California.” Bodnar added, “It’s always been a passion and a dream of mine and when I saw the need and desire for old fashioned BBQ in the Napa Valley it all just came together.”

Whether its pork or beef or chicken, if it’s summer, it’s always better on the ‘Q.