By Jenna Sanders
I walked into Roadhouse 29 to find John Denver’s, “Take Me Home, Country Roads” playing in a quiet bar where one patron sat nursing a beer in a row of empty barstools. Dictionary definition of roadhouse? Check.
Funky space-age light fixtures hang above the bar, brown leather and dark wood dominate the space with pops of color crayon red punctuating the earthy tones. A giant neon stagecoach, all reds and yellows, lights the wall facing the entrance. The interior is all honkytonk made chic.
The attentive bartender greets each patron with their beer order as they walk towards their regular spot. Subtle nods meet his call, “A Corona?” “A Coors?” Part of me is waiting for Patrick Swayze, may he rest in peace, to throw open the door and saddle up to the bar.
This roadhouse is one part honkytonk, one part saloon, two parts pure Napa Valley. Chef Douglas Keane shuttered his upscale Two Birds/One Stone this past January to reconceptualize the space. Though Roadhouse 29 occupies the same exposed brick building connected to Freemark Abbey, this culinary reimagining is a world away from the elegant Cal-Japanese restaurant of years past.
Keane’s new concept serves down-home barbecue and smoked meats in a casual environment. Lunch and dinner are served every day except for Tuesday. Weekdays feature a robust happy hour from 4-7 p.m.
Starters and sides like deviled eggs, mac and cheese, and loaded fries range from $6 to $14. Sandwiches, burgers, and tacos ring in around $17, and hearty barbecue plates range from $17 for 8 ounces of tender pulled pork to $49 for a platter featuring that same pulled pork, plus a half rack of ribs, and 8 ounces of Akaushi beef brisket – enough to share between two people.
Oh – and this is a non-tipping restaurant that pays its employees a living wage. Which means your platter was priced to accommodate staff salary and you walk out the door at just $49 plus tax. That’s not the only feel-good great deal, corkage is complimentary and live music plays Friday nights from 7:30-9:30 p.m. without a cover charge.
I started my meal with a happy hour Napa Mule for $5 and an order of spicy wonton chips with pimento horseradish dip for $2.50. The mule is pulled from their draft, made with ginger syrup, vodka, and lime juice, before getting topped off with club soda. The result is a fresh, vibrant cocktail without the artificially sweet taste of ginger beer. The spicy wonton chips are the house-made classy cousin to nacho cheese flavored Doritos, down to the orange dust left behind on your fingertips. Once you start dipping the heavily seasoned wide strips of fried wontons into the pimento dip with a sharp horseradish kick, it’s hard to stop. I’m not ashamed to admit I took the chips and dip home to snack on later that night.
I chased the chips and dip with a side order of the kale salad ($7). Ribbons of kale, red cabbage and green onion are tossed with black garlic dressing and sprinkled with toasted black and white sesame seeds and crispy rice. The umami of the dressing, bitterness of the kale, and nuttiness of the sesame seeds and crispy rice make this salad, even in a side order portion, hearty and satisfying.
But we’re here for the meat, aren’t we?
Lunch is served until 5 p.m., so I got my taste of their slow smoked meat via the garlic and chili marinated Creekstone Farms tri-tip sandwich served with coleslaw and Sonoma Brinery pickles ($14). This sandwich gets straight to the point. A hefty portion of tri-tip sits atop a classic sesame hamburger bun. That’s it. To say this tender meat melts in your mouth does not begin to do it justice.
Squeeze bottles of barbecue sauce sit in a basket on each table. The simplicity of the sandwich makes for an excellent vessel to test all three: spicy, traditional, and Korean. One bite of the spicy sauce and my eye started watering, which I took as a sign to lather the rest of the bun before piling on the pickles and devouring what remained on my plate.
Vegetarians need not go hungry at Roadhouse 29. After tasting the knockout tri-tip, I settled in to sample their gyro pita featuring “impossible meat” ($17). A warm, fluffy pita cradles a bed of chunky cucumbers, kalamata olives, peppers, tomatoes, and pickled onions, topped with a patty blanketed in dill tzatziki sauce. The faux-meat takes on the flavor, form, and texture of the more traditional ground lamb patty. As a carnivore, I’m not sure if this is what vegetarians are looking for. What’s more important is, the gyro pita was delicious.
The next time you’re on a country road heading past St. Helena, pull over when you reach Roadhouse 29 for a dining experience that’s a little bit country, a lot more Napa Valley.
3020 St. Helena Highway North, St. Helena | 707-302-3777
Wednesday – Monday, from 12-9 p.m. (last seating at 8 p.m.) | roadhouse29.com