Using peppers, chef incorporates wellness into cuisine at House of Better in Calistoga
It’s a sunny afternoon, and I’m sitting on a snazzy teal Adirondack chair on a cool green lawn, eating pie. It must be done, I tell myself, as I’m determined to be extra healthy and boost my immune system during this cautious time.
So if I have to eat pie, lots of pie from the new House of Better restaurant in Calistoga, I will power through. Specifically, it’s apple pie, laced with roasted green chiles tucked in a butter-based cheddar crust and topped with walnut streusel and clouds of crème fraîche ($6.50). The chiles are silky and a bit smoky against the crisp-tender apples. The recipe is just slightly sweet, the way I prefer desserts. And the dish is nearly a superfood, promises Chef Trevor Logan. It’s part of his “wellness meets happiness” theme for his New Mexico-style eatery that debuted in May in Dr. Wilkinson’s Backyard Resort & Mineral Springs downtown.
“Green chiles are naturally good for you, with more vitamin C than citrus fruit,” Logan said, noting that one medium-size Hatch green chile has as much vitamin C as six oranges. The chiles are also rich in dietary fiber, important for a healthy digestive system, and are high in iron, potassium and antioxidants. Many nutritionists also credit the peppers with helping to lower blood cholesterol, and Logan reminded us that chiles can create an “endorphin blast,” too, similar to the “high” we get when we exercise.
Logan has long been impressed with the power of peppers. He ran his Green Chile Kitchen in San Francisco for 14 years before closing the restaurant in September of 2019. He has operated his Chile Pies Baking Co. and ice cream store in Guerneville for seven years now and more recently started tinkering with his longtime classic southwestern recipes.
“I have been interested in nutrition and holistic wellness since graduating from the Bauman Holistic Nutrition Consultant Program four years ago,” he said. “I have always been very passionate about New Mexican cuisine and the traditional dishes that come from the Southwest, so now incorporating healthier ingredients and options into our menu seems like a natural progression.”
Which is how I now have come to be sipping adaptogenic tea ($5) alongside my curative pie. Adaptogens are herbs and roots that have been used for centuries in Chinese and Ayurvedic healing traditions. In this case, the tea comes from Sporgy mushroom specialist of Windsor, and I’ve chosen the “sun/energy” flavor of apricot, ginger, apple, stinging nettle, cordyceps mushrooms (to treat fatigue, sickness and kidney disease) and maitakes (for vitamin D and to regulate blood sugar and pressure).
OK, the tea does smell like funky feet at first, but it quickly kicks in with delightful fruit and peppery spice. I swear I can feel its magic coursing through my veins (not really, but it is delicious).
Dr. Wilkinson’s — or “Doc’s,” as the locals call it — underwent an extensive renovation last year and recently reemerged with a stylish but cheeky salute to its 1952 founding by the pioneering wellness practitioner John “Doc” Wilkinson. Along with its original neon sign, a tricked-out 1952 Buick Special parked at the curb and burbling mud baths and natural spring mineral water pools, the intimate property beckons with fun touches like a “Pie Hole” automat vending machine painted in retro teal, yellow and red and selling pie by the slice.
At House of Better, we order at the counter in a building made from two converted shipping containers. Servers deliver food and drink to the patio, lawn or handful of inside dining tables, and the food is Logan’s top-notch cooking. A large fire-fueled chile roasting machine sits on the lawn and will spin during chile harvest season September through November. Otherwise, the fruits grown in the Hatch Valley of southern New Mexico are roasted there and supplied frozen.
I recommend starting with a trio of “protein-rich plant power” dips ($16), presented on a polished wood plank. There’s chunky fire-roasted green chile, of course, mixed with Napa’s Rancho Gordo creamy white Alubia Blanca pureed beans and scattered in piñon nuts for a warm, subtly spicy dish. There are herbed creamy hemp hearts — reminding me of thin tahini — spiked with preserved lemon, chives and nutritional yeast. Shredded carrot gets turned into a thick hummus, seasoned with harissa, tahini, cumin and dukkah, all for scooping with tortilla chips and ice-cold jicama, celery and carrot sticks.
Green chile stew is a signature, stocked with tomatoes and pork, chicken or veggies ($8 cup, $14 bowl). When House of Better first opened, Logan experimented with an “immunity broth” by including mushrooms and booster ingredients like seaweed to add more nutrients.