Whilst in the Napa Valley, this Farmer gave into a deadly sin – no, not drunkenness in the wine country…gluttony! There's no beating around the bush about my love for food - I write about food, I photograph food, I travel to eat and relish in reading a cookbook like a good novel. Between design projects and book tours, I was able to squeeze in a few days in the Napa Valley proper after the ACS convention was adjourned. A dear friend from home said she would meet me there, and our journey through the aforementioned valley began.
Allow me to divulge a Farmer faux pas - I do not drink much wine and worried a trip to Napa would not be as grand sans vino - boy was I wrong! Trust me, I sipped and savored some of the best vintages the valley had to offer, yet it was the food that hung the moon for my Napa trip. As I'm in a food coma recovery program now, allow me to try my best at recalling some highlights from these days of delights. In the words of Julie Andrew's “Maria” from The Sound of Music, let's “start at the very beginning- a very good place to start!"
Boon Fly Café. This cafe nestled into The Carneros Inn is wonderful! Just outside of the town of Napa towards the Sanoma Valley, Boon Fly Cafe was highly recommended for its breakfast. Now, I truly adore a big breakfast and any place that offers a starter to the starting meal is right up my alley. I commenced with some hot Earl Grey and their famous donuts. The donuts were small and delicious and served in a small galvanized metal pail. I'm a sucker for galvanized anything and a galvanized pail of cinnamon sugar donuts just may be a Farmer's fave! I grew up with a cattle farm and our cows ate and drank from ginormous galvanized troughs- looks like I'm grazing in the same fashion! Once a farm boy, always a farm boy!
After the breakfast appetizer, I had another childhood flashback - not of galvanized troughs but of green eggs and ham. Our kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Benthall, made us "Green Eggs and Ham" after reading the famed Suess story, and I must say they were quite tasty! I have somewhat been hankering for them since!
This saintly teacher taught my sister Maggie as well as our cousins Gray and Grant. Our baby sister Meredith and baby cousin Sally Kathryn had another sweet lady but same kindergarten teacher nonetheless. Our joke is that Mrs. Benthall moved from our town as to not have to teach another member from our tribe! A quarter of a century later, I decided that "Green Eggs and Ham" were ready to grace my palate again. What a fantastic mélange of flavors!
Griddle-graced sweet and salty country ham was topped with a couple poached to perfection eggs, and thus the ham and egg portion of this dish. A greenish sauce reminiscent of a hollandaise was infused with some leeks and green onions and parley too, and in turn, yielding a ladle full ever so succulent and delightful tastes, scents and flavored to the eggs and ham, and thus the green! I love breakfast for supper and breakfast for lunch and breakfast for breakfast, so I’m sure to be recreating this dish often at home.
French Blue is totally amazing! A MUST! The town of St. Helena, just north of the town of Napa proper, is a quaint “main street” small town, filled with great shops and amazing eateries. Not to mention surrounded by vineyards, ranches and mountains. French Blue became my repeat offender restaurant. I darkened the door their a couple times so I could experience it again and again! This restaurant is a feast for the eyes too! I could eat there every day and just about did! Top of the heap sort of place au mon avais.
They have a "something" special each day for each menu category - and I've tried each and they're fabulous. Whether the “something” was a soup or a flatbread (I had both, both times) or a dessert, you must try it! Y'all know I won't steer you wrong with food! The Brussels sprouts with pancetta and prunes was out of this world! A butter lettuce salad with rosemary buttermilk dressing and candied pecans. Flat out amazing y’all in its simplicity and flavor. And the desserts – oh the desserts! Whether it was the cinnamon roll topped with a cream cheese frosting or the molten cookie with sea salt caramel ice cream, dessert is a must!
The décor at French Blue is so soothing and placating. Hues of blues and whites abound with the undertones of caramel brown leather, beautiful flowers in seasonal shades, a stainless steel and white kitchen and fabrics and textures in varying patterns from wicker to ticking. The thoughtfulness of the décor is what truly struck me. Heaters underneath outdoor benches allowed for alfresco dining even if there was a nip in the air. Potted citrus on the terrace gave a nod to provincial charm and everything from the presentation in Staub cast iron to the throw pillows was chic yet comfortable, stylish but not fussy and overall a true delight for the senses.
Leave it to a Southerner to sniff out his fellow Southern comrades. At the Farmstead at Long Meadow Ranch in St. Helena, this Farmer found a menu complete with grits, biscuits and chocolate pie. The executive chef, Stephen Barber and even the farm-to-table manager, Kipp Ramsey, both just happen to be from Kentucky and then on to Napa by way of Ole Miss - and they know their grits! I had a delicious porkchop atop jalepeno grits and few other accoutrements. Chef Barber happened to work at City Grocery in Oxford, Mississippi, and Kipp at Bottletree Bakery, so their Southern food prowess combined with Napa style was fantastic! Oxford plus Napa makes one happy Farmer!
The Farmstead restaurant is a beautiful place as well. Contemporary, farm chic with nods to nature and touch of industrial elements makes this experience completely grand for all the senses – they barbeque their own meats so the scents too are reminiscent of a Southern BBQ! After lunch at Farmstead, Tim and Rebecca guided me on a tour of the ranch – gorgeous scenery, amazing views of the valley, some Scottish Highland Cattle and capped off with a wine and olive oil tasting from the ranch! The Meyer Lemon infused olive oil (made by pressing the lemon rind with the olives) was absolutely delicious. I want it to dress salads, poach fish, or dip bread into every night!
James T. Farmer III was born and raised in Georgia, where he continues to live and work as a landscape designer. He shares his love of food, flowers and photography on his blog All Things Farmer.
by Nancy Ellison