I think I can finally put the topic of fried chicken to rest, at least here in the Napa Valley. This subject actually snuck up on me a couple of weeks ago, when I drove all the way up to Solbar in Calistoga for their much-heralded “Lucky Pig” dinner. However, I happened to make this trek on Tuesday night, the one night of the week that fried chicken happens to appear on the Solbar menu. After a brief deliberation, I was compelled to rethink my plans and choose poultry over swine, if for no other reason than to simply check the Solbar fried chicken off my list. Done, and done. I left the restaurant perfectly full, but frankly unimpressed (with the chicken and the other courses).
Then, last week, I found myself at the Boon Fly Café in Carneros, again facing the prospect of yet another fried chicken dinner. Having already gone out of my way to compare the fried chicken at Ad Hoc and SPQR last winter, ordering the fried chicken at Boon Fly Café had almost become academic by that point, as if the decision was entirely out of my hands. It’s like those people who feel compelled to see the fourth installment in a movie franchise — usually against their better judgment — simply because they’ve already seen the previous three films. At least that’s pretty much how I felt going in.
For some reason, eating fried chicken at these semi-fancy restaurants is always a gluttonous undertaking. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s the fact that Ad Hoc and Solbar offer their fried chicken as part of a multi-course dinner, which requires a decent measure of ancillary noshing. Or maybe it’s because each of these places serves four pieces of chicken, which is more than I would normally eat in one sitting. Even when I was hopelessly addicted to Popeye’s in New Orleans, I was only eating the two-piece combo, and even at Roscoe’s in Los Angeles, I would always order the ‘Scoe’s Special #1.
Anyhow, long story short, even though I wasn’t exactly head over heels with the notion of another fried chicken dinner last week, Boon Fly Café proved amazingly delicious: the chicken was cooked perfectly, only lightly breaded, and with super-crispy skin. The dish is served alongside mashed potatoes, a perfect accompaniment, and something that I often crave when Ad Hoc serves its chicken alongside braised winter greens. I understand seasonality, of course, but I’ve always preferred potatoes to greens, at least with fried chicken.
Among locals here in the Napa Valley, the Boon Fly Café is regarded largely as a breakfast spot, and I think that the restaurant’s location in Carneros keeps it mostly under the radar. But keep in mind that Boon Fly also offers a couple key advantages: the fried chicken dinner is offered a la carte every night, and it’s the least expensive version going, at just $18. It’s a dish that’s worth the drive, and the trip down to Carneros is always much quicker than I expect.
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Tonight, I completed the post-script to this journey with a return to Ad Hoc, which I hadn’t visited since November, right around Thanksgiving. The restaurant was jammed with patrons, as can be expected on fried chicken night. I sat at the bar, where the nightly menu is always offered a la carte (it’s $22 for just the chicken, in case you’re wondering). I wasn’t looking for the full Ad Hoc experience this evening — I just wanted to revisit their fried chicken once more, before I deemed it second-best in the Napa Valley.
I will admit that Ad Hoc serves a good bird: moist and tender, but brined alongside a few too many herbs for my taste, and with skin that does not fully render (again, my complaint in the Ad Hoc versus SPQR debate). As far as I’m concerned, Boon Fly Café sets the bar around here, and I daresay it’s even better than the tasty fried chicken at SPQR. However, after having fried chicken three times in two weeks, that’s a comparison that will have to wait at least until April.