The Dutch Door
By Craig Smith | Photos by Tim Carl
The Dutch Door restaurant is so named because that’s exactly what the front of it is, “a door divided into two parts horizontally, allowing one half to be shut and the other left open,” according to the Oxford dictionary. The address is 1245 First Street in downtown Napa (although it’s actually on Randolph Street), around the corner from the Alpha Omega Collective tasting room. Owners Brent Pennington and Mike Casey opened a little over a year ago, and the community feedback on the restaurant has been very good.
“There are a lot of great dining opportunities downtown, but we wanted to bring a ‘gourmet to-go’ option that’s healthy and delicious to the mix. If you just want a salad bowl or fried chicken sandwich, we’re your place.” Aside from being more casual than all the Michelin Star restaurants, they also wanted something unexpected. When developing the concept, Brent wanted his passion for all types of ethnic food to shine and not be constrained by a single label. After pulling together an initial menu of favorites from his private chef days, they landed on the concept of a “Gastro Disco” — something fun, light and surprising but always satisfying.
“Some folks try to label us by food type. ‘You have several Asian dishes but also serve a hot dog and plant burger. What are you?’ The answer is… good food!” said Casey. The menu is largely plant-based, “because that’s the future of food, and because Brent can do so much with it,” said Casey. The commitment to “healthy” doesn’t stop with the food, either. The containers, packaging, even tableware is all compostable. They’re zero-plastic takeout but also strive for zero food waste by choosing to sell out of items daily versus over-prepping and using ingredients with preservatives. As for produce and meat, it’s all organic and local. “We source all fresh ingredients from local purveyors in surrounding counties. Our chicken comes fresh from Petaluma for example, not from a mass plant a thousand miles away.”
Casey and Pennington are relatively new to the restaurant business. “My dad was a chef. I saw how crazy it was and said I’d never go that route,” said Casey. He and Pennington, coincidently, were both in marketing when they met in San Francisco. Pennington began pursuing his culinary career upon moving to the West Coast from Phoenix. He went to work in a vegan restaurant, pretty much on a lark. He fell in love with it, began taking food courses and was constantly experimenting. Upon moving to Napa eight years ago, he opened a catering business as a private chef to vineyards and wine country Airbnbs.
All was going quite well, and he might still be doing it, if not for crossing paths with the Alpha Omega team. For the first six or seven months the Collective was open, they concentrated on wine and left the kitchen unused. When they decided it was time to introduce food, they wanted to find someone who could compliment their wines and offer a great culinary experience. “A close friend of ours heard they were looking for a culinary partner and thought Brent would be a perfect fit,” said Casey. “We interviewed for the spot amongst many others and they liked what we proposed overall – both for the tasting room and the takeout concept.” Part of the interview included making a 10-course sampling for the Alpha Omega team, which ran the breadth of upscale bites to comfort food inspirations. Based on team members reviews, selecting The Dutch Door was an easy choice.
Pennington handles all culinary duties while Casey serves as Front of the House, “or, because of the set up, the Side of the House,” he joked. There are actually two menus. Pennington Provisions includes items made exclusively for the Collective, and The Dutch Door is for meals.
Although visitors are welcomed, this really is a place for Napans. “We’re locals first, for sure. We wanted something approachable and viable all year round.” Casey enjoys greeting all the regulars by name and remembering their order preferences. For Brent, it has been especially rewarding both on community and food. “We were just residents living here before but now feel like an integral part of the community. It was intimidating to launch a food concept surrounded by some of the top chefs in the world but the reception has been amazing — both with our customers and the restaurant community overall. Definitely living my dream job every day.” COVID barely threw these guys a softball. They’ve always been outdoor dining and take out only, so there was no change other than social distancing and sanitation protocols.
At The Dutch Door, being outdoors doesn’t mean a stark eating environment. The Dutch Door developed small, individual spaces using planters, and the result is an intimate experience that’s visually attractive. They’ve also added a well-thought-out parklet, built from beautifully stained redwood and incorporating live plants to create a gardenlike atmosphere.
The Gastro Disco theme really shows up in the menu, which features a dozen “Hot Moves” (sandwiches) and five “Cool Groves” (bowls.) The Hot Moves starts with the House-made “Possible” Plant Burger ($14) described this way: “It’s possible to have a tasty & healthy meatless burger that doesn’t come from a laboratory! Made from scratch just for you with roasted mushrooms, shallots, kale, quinoa, peppers, black beans and chickpeas. Served on an Acme vegan bun, with tomato, lettuce, pickled red onion, vegan aioli and dill pickle. Top it with dairy or vegan cheese.”
One of the current favorites is the Korean Fried Chicken Sando. I can’t possibly describe it better than Tim Carl did in an article for the Napa Valley Register earlier this year: “And although each item I’ve tasted is delicious, well-thought-out and made with care, it is the K.F.C. (Korean fried chicken) sandwich ($14) that is the current showstopper. This is a wallop of a creation. Dare I say that it is the best chicken sandwich in the Napa Valley? Yes, I dare. Can it compete with those in the super-hip areas of Los Angeles or New York? Indeed it could. But who wants to share this wonderfully decadent twist on what has become an oh-so-popular as of late item? The humble fried chicken sandwich. Holy moly, this is a remarkable creation!”
Of the five Cool Groves, a favorite is the Zen Buddha Bowl ($12), which includes quinoa and brown rice, roasted sweet potato, spiced chickpeas, super greens, roasted red pepper hummus, sprouted pumpkin seeds, and poblano tahini dressing. It’s vegan and gluten free, although you can add chicken for a couple of bucks.
Ready for dessert? Try Mamma Donna’s Italian Biscotti ($2.75), “the best biscotti you’ll ever have — 100% homemade chocolate goodness.” It’s the perfect way to cap off a great meal, and still another reason to come back.
1245 1st Street (window on Randolph street) | Napa | (707) 880-8301
Tuesday through Sunday at 11:30 a.m | thedutchdoornapa.com