One of the questions I consistently get now from friends and family is “So where do you eat when you go out to dinner?” Well that question has one major fault at its crux as a student, my restaurant excursions are limited to a occassional burger or burrito or what The Partner wants to treat me to on the weekends. During the school week, I am pretty resigned to eating the food prepared by the different classes at school. First and foremost, school food is free. (Don’t forget, I am paying for the CIA out of my pocket). Second the food at school, for the most part, is on caliber with many moderately priced places in the Bay Area. Last, the company of my fellow classmates, can’t be beat. But if I am really feeling the urge to venture out and have something local, my choice is Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen.
Located literally on a backstreet off of St. Helena’s main drag, the restaurant is a fixture for locals and a well-regarded stop for tourists between wine tastings. The restaurant is the creation of Cindy Pawlcyn, the James Beard Awardwinning cookbook author, chef-owner of Napa Valley’s Mustards Grill and Go Fish. As a side note, Chef Pawlcyn’s influence can be felt across Napa as she also helped in the creation of Fog City Diner, Brix and Tra Vigne to name a few other restaurants.
As for the food it is by no means, mind-blowing, but the food is comforting and delicious. The cuisine is a spin on casual California with an electic selection of worldly flavors. However, what brings me back mostly is the feeling you get when you arrive……it reminds me of how a sweet gentile Southern hostess would welcome you into her home. Guests enter through the brick patio which in the spring, summer and early fall is teeming with flowers and foliage — it’s quite beautiful and relaxing, so its the perfect mood altering experience before sitting down to dinner. Tables are dressed in crisp white linens and everything has the feel of an upscale bistro.
When I go, I like to start off with the Backstreet Fry which is the house take on calamari. Lightly fried with red onions and okra, this is the perfect dish for two. I then follow it up with the Grilled Quail — moist and delicious, it is served with creamy polenta. As for desert, I haven’t had the opportunity to order my own yet since I am normally am too full from dinner. But if you do order dessert, just know the dessert menu is seasonal, so you get to be surprised when you visit. However, last time I was there, they had this wonderful berry crumble that made me giggle like a school girl.
My only complaint about Cindy’s is that they really squeezed in the maximum number of tables they could into the space, so at peak hours it can feel a bit squished. On more than one occasion, I learned WAY too much about my fellow diners’ intimate home affairs thanks to the proximity of the tables. Additionally, because tables are so close, at least twice our orders have been off because the server gave us food for the next table over.
Aside from that, I think Cindy’s is the perfect place for a casual weeknight dinner or a weekend brunch. So I suggest next time you are wine tasting visit Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen. Just be sure to invite me along…….
Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen
1327 Railroad Avenue
St. Helena, CA