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Napa's Heritage Eats offers fast casual with global twist

The Jamaican Bao at Heritage Eats in Napa. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat)

JEFF COX, FOR THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The concept behind Napa’s new Heritage Eats has two main components. The first is sourcing meats from farms that raise heritage breeds, so the beef is from Akaushi Wagyu cattle, also called the Japanese Red breed, raised in Texas.

The chickens are the Ross Cobb strain and are bred to grow as quickly as possible for slaughter at six to eight weeks. They’re raised by Mary’s Free Range Chickens near Bakersfield.

And the pork is from the heritage breed Berkshire hog, well-known for its superior taste and texture and raised at one of the 700 Niman Ranch farms associated with that Alameda-based marketing company.

The second part is the eclectic menu, which follows the “fast-casual” formula made popular by the Chipotle chain. You can choose from pre-set ingredient combos or decide to make up your own.

If only the food were as good as the concept.

The make-your-own “Custom Eats” steam table greets you as you enter, with a personable young lady who walks you through the process.

First you choose one of five meats or chickpea falafel, then decide whether to put it into a bao bun, pita bread, Dutch crunch roll or corn or flour tortilla. You then pick from nine vegetable additions and sauce your creation with one of nine sauces.

I asked for Cowboy Steak in a flour tortilla with pico de gallo, fire grilled veggies, steamed rice and chipotle ranch and pineapple habanero sauces. It was truly a messy, weird-tasting mishmash, and I had no one to blame but myself.

My meal was wrapped up like a burrito in paper covered with foil. The way to eat this is to hold the burrito vertically and slowly pull down the paper and foil as you eat your way toward the bottom.

I foolishly laid it on its side, opened the wrappings and started cutting it with the flimsy plastic knife provided. It was hard to cut, and the knife soon ripped up the soggy paper, slicing the foil into pieces.

My advice is to go with a combo from the menu. It’s the same food, but put together by people who know what they’re doing.

The combos are eclectic but harmonize better than my self-concocted burrito. An example is the restaurant’s Jamaican Jerk Chicken in a Steamed Chinese Bao Bun ($9.95 ★½) with cole slaw, Asian pickles and a pineapple-habanero sauce. It melds the Caribbean, China, Germany and Hawaii into one sandwich.

Here’s a quick run-down on three more combos.

Cowboy Steak Wrap ($11.25 ★) featured wagyu beef cut into half-inch dice, wrapped in a flour tortilla and submerged in a house barbecue sauce.

The meat was tender enough, but there was gristle. Grilled veggies and local greens were a nice addition, and for $2 more you could have waffle fries wrapped in there, too.

Thai Bao ($10.50 ★★) sandwich is lemongrass marinated pork in two bao buns with cole slaw, aji amarillo (yellow chiles) sauce, pickled carrots, cucumbers, red onion and cilantro.

Chicken Tikka Masala Wrap ($9.95 ★★½) was the best of the combos, with the spicy chicken joined by grilled veggies, steamed rice and greens wrapped in a flour tortilla.

All this cross-cultural feasting is in great measure due to Ben Koenig IV, co-founder and partner of the restaurant who, in 2014, trekked through the Middle East and Asia, undoubtedly enjoying the local foods as he went and later conflating them into the menu at Heritage Eats.

Koenig worked as assistant general manager at The Thomas restaurant in Napa. His partner and other co-founder is Jason Kupper, who was chef de cuisine at The Thomas and also worked at Thomas Keller’s Bouchon in Yountville, Dry Creek Kitchen in Healdsburg and Charlie Palmer’s in Las Vegas.

All seven of Heritage Eats’ combos are available as bao sandwiches, tacos, flour tortilla wraps or as a salad or rice bowl.

Drinks include beer on tap and in bottles and a few wines, plus Latin American horchata, Thai iced tea and Vietnamese iced coffee.

To sum up: Industrial chic décor and uncomfortable seating get you in and out quickly.

Jeff Cox writes restaurant reviews for the Sonoma Living section. He can be reached at jeffcox@sonic.net.

Editor’s Note: This story was updated Oct. 16 to include more detailed descriptions of the food.