The earliest mention of frying chicken can be traced to a fourth-century Roman cookbook of Apicius. The Scottish were the first Europeans to make an unseasoned chicken dish fried in fat. On the continent of Africa, West African cultures fried seasoned chicken in batter and palm oil. These preparation methods eventually merged in the American South. The first usage of the phrase “fried chicken” appeared in the 1830s, then made its way into cookbooks in the 1860s. The Anchor Bar in Buffalo, New York, claims to have first offered Buffalo fried chicken wings in 1964. Today both fried chicken and flavored wings are comfort food staples in many restaurants nationwide, including some in Napa Valley, where they have especially flourished during the pandemic. Here are a few recommendations for Napa Valley’s best fried chicken and wings.
Chef Thomas Keller showcased his talent for creating buttermilk fried chicken when he opened his family-style restaurant, Ad Hoc, down the road from his French Laundry in Yountville, California, where it was and still is the specialty whenever it is on the menu. Reservations are a hot commodity and quickly sell out once they open for bookings. Based on the chicken’s incredible popularity, Keller opened a carryout stand behind the restaurant, appropriately named Addendum, so devotees could score buckets or pieced meals served with a couple of sides most days of the week. Fried chicken fans attribute the flavorful meat to its 12-hour soak in a brine consisting of lemons, honey, thyme, parsley, garlic, and bay leaves. The skin is crisped to perfection after being dipped in buttermilk and dredged through his trade- marked spiced flour mixture (also sold in a pre-packaged mix). The combination of onion, garlic powder, cayenne, paprika, and freshly ground pepper creates the perfect coating to complement the brine. Keller’s frying process, which focuses on when to add each part into the fryer, ensures each tender, crispy piece is flawless. Ad Hoc and Addendum also offer a gluten-free version. During the pandemic, large (13-15 pieces) and small (6-8 pieces) buckets made a frequent appearance on the takeout menu.
Evangeline, named after the Henry Longfellow poem, is one of Napa Valley’s hidden gems tucked away up valley in Calistoga. It is known for its consistent approachability, coziness, hospitality, and soulful expression of French-Creole- inspired cuisine. The restaurant began offering its Mary’s Free-Range fried chicken as part of a package for the weekly “Concerts in the Parks” during summers, then as a family-style “Fried Chicken Night,” and part of their brunch menu’s chicken and waffles. The pandemic allowed Evangeline to offer a daily family package that includes macaroni and cheese, potato salad, and baby gem lettuce salad. It is also available as an onsite dinner meal and as a sandwich on the lunch menu. Evangeline’s delectable gluten-free fried chicken is avail- able with a few days’ advance notice and tastes every bit as delicious as the standard option. The fried chicken packages and meals are available for takeout and local delivery to Calistoga and St. Helena.
As “a way to break up the days and put a little extra pep in everyone’s step,” the team at Heritage Eats – led by owners Ben and Ali Koenig – would make chicken wings for themselves. Over time, they decided to create a ghost kitchen, takeout and delivery model restaurant, a “safe haven for wing lovers.” Thus, Haven Napa was born. The team decided to source their wings from Mary’s Free Range based on multiple considerations – “chew,” freshness, price point, quality, and size. Haven offers a plethora of flavors and styles – battered, naked (without batter), bone-in, boneless, gluten-free, dairy-free, and a meatless option, Buffalo cauliflower. The flavors, which are continually evolving, include Buffalo (Haven and Ghost), Buttermilk Fried, Cackalacky Bold Gold, Cackalacky (Cheerwine) BBQ, Caribbean Jerk, Flaky Salt and Pepper, Lemon Pepper, Nashville Hot, Szechuan Orange, Sweet and Spicy Korean, and Sweet Chili. The Haven team slowly roasts the wings in their combi oven using a proprietary “Haven Seasoning” before frying the wings to order in dedicated chicken fryers. Also available are sides such as chocolate chip cookies, fries, onion rings, pork belly “mac n cheese” balls, slaw, and drinks.
The story behind Todd Humphries’s restaurant, Kitchen Door, is summed up on one phrase: “from suits to aloha shirts, foie gras to pho, wine decanters to wine on tap, Manhattans to micheladas.” Another item to add to the list is the restaurant’s best-selling teriyaki wings. Kitchen Door used to sell roasted chicken dinners and used some of the chicken meat for the pho when Humphries decided to take some of the roasted wings, coat them with teriyaki sauce, then dip them in sriracha mayonnaise. The wings were an immediate hit. What makes them so flavorful is that Humphries and his team brine them with a secret spice mix for 20 hours, roast them in baskets over mesquite and oak, finish them in a wood fire pizza oven with the teriyaki glaze and Korean chili flakes, then top them with sriracha mayonnaise and scallions. Later Humphries added Buffalo wings to the menu for those desiring a spicy wing option. The latter are naturally gluten-free, and the teriyaki wings can be made gluten-free with a tamaryaki sauce. The wings are avail- able daily for onsite dining, takeout, and delivery.
Irma and Morgan Robinson opened their first Southside Café location in Carneros in 2016. It has since grown to three loca- tions, a second in Yountville and a third in the city of Napa, Southside Century, on Gasser Drive. The Robinsons described the café as “fast-casual with a chef-driven menu and stylish aesthetics,” with each location having its own design style. When Morgan was the winery chef at Franciscan Estates, he developed picnic meals that included his California and Latin heritage style of fried chicken, biscuits, potato salad, and slaw, which Southside now offers on “Fried Chicken Fridays.” The restaurant sources local chicken, which is brined with fresh lemons, thyme, and buttermilk for 48 hours, then fried in high-quality rice bran oil. Included with the chicken are batter-fried lemon slices, which Irma says are a must-try. The weekly fried chicken package is available for takeout. Southside offers onsite patio dining at their three locations as well as catering.
Serving what Gene Tartaglia described as “American fare with a Southern influence,” the Q Restaurant and Bar – or simply The Q, as locals fondly call it – is in North Napa’s Bel Aire Plaza away from downtown. The restaurant serves an authentic and traditional version of Southern fried chicken, which means no buttermilk in the recipe. Instead, the chicken is lightly wetted with diluted milk, coated with a salt and pepper seasoned flour, then fried in vegetable oil, which results in a crispy, lean coating that does not overpower the meat inside. The Q also makes an optional pepper vinegar that further enhances the flavor. Tartaglia and his team offer fried chicken daily, some- times with weekly specials, including buckets of chicken with a choice of slaw or as a four-piece entrée accompanied by collard greens cooked with ham hocks and mashed potatoes. It is also included with their Asian salad (or an optional addition to any salad) or in a sandwich on toasted sourdough or a potato bun with sides of pepper vinegar slaw and fries. All are available for onsite dining, takeout, and delivery.
The “Beer Guys in Wine Country,” the Napa Palisades Saloon team, could also be nicknamed “The Wing Guys in Wine Country,” as they recently launched their ghost kitchen sister restaurant, Winging It, in advance of the cool and rainy winter months in Napa Valley. The Buffalo wings on the menu at Napa Palisades Saloon have always been popular for onsite and offsite dining. “Wings have been a staple since we opened,” said co-owner Chuck Meyer. “Our Executive Chef and partner, Tim Brown, is from New York, so we serve LOTS of beer. Buffalo wings and beer go together like peanut butter and jelly.” He and his team decided to expand their wing offerings but offer them for takeout and DoorDash delivery only through Winging It. They also make an appearance on the Napa Palisades Saloon happy hour menu. The chicken wings are sourced from Mary’s Free Range and steamed and seasoned before frying. The flavors, which include Backyard BBQ, Burnin’ By the Bayou, Garlic Parmesan, Sticky Fingers, Thai Kickers, and Traditional Buffalo, have just the right balance of flavor, heat, and other spices. With advance notice, the team can make dietary accommodations.
Article By: Elizabeth Smith