Transplanted chefs from the South paired with the of-the-moment culinary passion for down-home Paula Deen-style cooking are making fried chicken, barbecue and sweet tea all but ubiquitous in Wine Country.
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Momma Pig's BBQ Roadhouse: Follow the scent of sweet porky smoke to the transformed digs of Matthew and Bryan Bousquet. The former owners of haute French eatery Mirepoix traded in their Michelin star for a counter-service barbecue joint that had a line out the door opening week. The couple both have roots in the south and know their way around a brisket, sweet tea, hush puppies (or hush piggies, as they call them) and molasses pit beans and bacon. For dessert, check out the brown-sugar pound cake or chocolate pig on a stick. There are still plenty of Wine Country twists (like a burger with duck liver, and a sweet Sonoma zinfandel barbecue sauce), but Momma Pig's is strictly a beer, bacon and burger kind of spot where all the kin are welcome.
Addendum @ Ad Hoc: Move over French Laundry, Thomas Keller's going take-out? The latest venture by King Keller is in his backyard, serving up Ad Hoc's famous buttermilk fried chicken and barbecue from a walk-up window. First-come, first-served, it's lunch in a box with two side dishes (we had corn succotash and potato salad) for $16.50 Thursday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Keller was dining on the patio himself on our first visit, seeming well-pleased while construction workers, locals and a handful of eager foodies made a bee-line for the upscale-downscale grub. Don't miss dessert, a Creamsicle-style ice cream cup. 6476 Washington St., Yountville. Orders can be placed over the phone for pick up by calling 944-1565 on Thursday, Friday and Saturday only.
Douglas Richey Project: The Santa Rosa food scene is atwitter at the Southern ramblings of the former Santi chef. For several weeks he's been Facebooking his food adventures from Tennessee to South Carolina, including a few stints in some famous kitchens. Though he's still keeping mum on his exact plans, he will cop to the fact that he's planning to use some of those newfound skills sometime in the near future. The young toque has the backing of several Bay Area investors and is rumored to be moving back into the Fountaingrove space vacated by his former employer. A favorite dish on his recent tour, he said, was a Sorghum cake. Stay tuned.
Zin Restaurant: Chef owner Jeff Mall is the high priest of Southern cooking in Sonoma County. Though his Healdsburg restaurant is more Wine Country than Low Country, the flavors and inspirations of Dixie inform nearly everything he does. The menu changes with the whims of his Eastside Farm (where much of the produce for the restaurant comes from), but weekly Blue Plate specials include Sunday's buttermilk fried chicken night with biscuits, collard greens, honey butter and pickles; and St. Louis style ribs on Mondays. Giving serious cred, Mall's always got Falls Mill white-corn grits somewhere on the menu and makes his own Andouille sausage, which he uses to season many dishes. "I just love history, food and flavor, and the place those all come together is in the South," said the California native who makes annual food pilgrimages to Mississippi, Georgia and Tennessee. Currently on the menu: Country Captain, an old-school chicken curry dish from Georgia that goes back more than a century. 344 Center St., Healdsburg, 473-0946.
Fremont Diner: If the sign for fried pies doesn't stop you, the wafting scent of biscuits and gravy will. The Fremont Diner is a country-fried homage to grits, chicken and waffles, pulled pork, ham biscuits and chicory coffee. Oozing nouveau decrepitude, a heavy dose of John Deere chic and the irresistible lure of a butter- and pork-soaked menu that would bring a tear of recognition to grandpappy's eyes, the diner is everything good about, well, roadside diners. Here, "Praise the Lard," isn't just a quirky tag line but a mission from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily. Menus change daily, but the fried pies are the real deal, so be careful when you take a bite of the molten fruit inside. 2660 Fremont Drive, Sonoma, 938-7370.
Rocker Oysterfeller's: A mashup of deep South and Left Coast, this Valley Ford destination is a grit-kickin' favorite with gutsy dishes like Chicken Fried Duck with Vidalia Onion gravy, shrimp grits with red-eye gravy and mushroom-smothered Cloverdale rabbit with cornmeal dumplings. Don't miss summer shortcakes made with buttermilk biscuits and fruit or their famous Bourbon milkshake. Suwee! 14415 Highway One, Valley Ford, 876-1983.
Rotisserie and Wine: Southern boy Tyler Florence pays respects to his roots with starters like pimiento cheese, deviled eggs, ribs, chicken biscuits and buttered grit cakes. Though he's backed off a bit from down-and-dirty dishes like scrapple (everything but the squeal in hush-puppy form), there's still plenty of southern comfort here. 720 Main St., Napa, 254-8500.