In a land where Eggs Benedict rules the brunch world, The Charter Oak restaurant in Saint Helena is striving to bring a different approach to one of the most gratifying meals of the weekend.
I wanted to do this follow-up to my Charter Oak Restaurant dinner post because I had heard great things about this brunch. As one of the hottest new restaurants in the Napa Valley, I have been back several times to the bar, enjoying various cocktails and bar bites such as Thai-style wings, Grilled Cucumber with Sea Beans and Dill, and of course the Farm Vegetables with a Fermented Soy Dip. But I had yet to experience The Charter Oak brunch, so I booked us the first reservation on a lovely Sunday morning.
It had been brutally hot and in the 100’s all week, so it was nice to wake up to a little chill in the air. We had arrived a few minutes early, and there was already quite a few people anxiously awaiting to enjoy their Sunday brunch.
The hostess sat us right away outside on the terrace where beautiful music was already pumping latin-influence guitar rifts. The trees provided just the right amount of shade in this idyllic patio setting.
Our server greeted us immediately and gave us a run down on some of the popular dishes on a very eclectic menu. Items like the Cinnamon Bun, Eggs Baked in Chicken Stock, Smoked and Grilled Trout and Pork Posole were pointed out as some of the favorites.
We decided to order Mimosas while we navigated through the menu plotting our assault on the day’s brunch. Their special brunch drinks included mimosas, bellinis, and bloody mary’s, all running $14 a cocktail. The Mimosa presentation was unique, using carafes for the Schramsburg Blanc de Blanc and beaker-like containers for the fruit juices that were poured together at the table. Both the orange and grapefruit juices were very fresh, and the Schramsburg was a welcoming change from the “prosecco mimosas” commonly served.
For our starters, we decided on the Grilled Grapefruit and of course the Cinnamon Bun. The cinnamon bun came, with perfectly coiffed frosting. It was relatively large and looked delicious. It was my intention to have one and only one bite and move on to my healthier selection, but I failed because it was divine. Perfectly cooked on the inside, the cinnamon was bountiful yet crunchy on the outside. The icing was decadent and went perfectly with the bun without overwhelming it. I ended up eating half of it before I even touched my grilled grapefruit.
My grapefruit, grilled with rosemary sugar brûléed on the top was still warm and had a nice caramelized color. It accommodated a nice smokey flavor from the grill with a mild sweetness complementing the citrus. It was a lovely light dish which I needed after the rich cinnamon bun.
Next up we ordered the Pork Posole, Apple Pancake and a side of Piloncillo Bacon (all starters are $6, mains are $20, and sides are $8). All of the dishes are meant to be shared with the whole table so don’t be afraid to order a bunch of different items and try everything.
The Pork Posole, really our first main, consisted of pork shoulder, pork neck and hominy in a flavorful red sauce based broth, served with tortillas and a radish/cabbage creme fraîche. It was my favorite dish.
Pozole, which means hominy in Spanish is a traditional celebratory stew-like dish throughout Mexico and is a popular dish in Mexican restaurants worldwide. The flavors were fabulous, rich with a nice body and a hint of chili flavor but not spicy. The radish cabbage creme fraîche added a nice fresh contrast to the richness of the posole. The tortillas, which were wrapped in a cloth, were soft and warm.
The apple pancake and a considerable side of bacon followed. The apple pancake was more like an apple pie. Chunks of apple within the pancake was baked in the cast iron pan, a little bit of fresh apple juice over the top as well as an apple caramel, cinnamon, and sugar. It comes out hot and bubbling and tasted like a hot apple pie. You could easily share this with 3-4 people. The light souffle-like quality with fresh apple flavors and lots of cinnamon went great with the bacon.
The Piloncillo Bacon was nice 1/4″ thick slabs with hints of sweet maple from the Piloncillo. Piloncillo which is a minimally processed Mexican brown sugar is reduced from the sugar cane and poured into cone shaped molds or pylons. It also gives off qualities of smoke and earth which are very apparent in the bacon. It also went nicely with the apple pancake.
If you want to venture out of your “brunch comfort zone” I highly recommend the brunch at The Charter Oak Restaurant in the heart of Saint Helena. Make sure to invite your friends because at this family style brunch, the more, the merrier!
Enjoy… The Wine Ho