Heritage Eats: Where the Farmers Eat
I fell for food because it connects all sorts of different people around the table. But as I move deeper into the food world, I find that a lot of those tables are set-up for exclusion, not inclusion. Then I saw t-shirts that read, Our Farmers Eat Here, on the backs of two guys walking through a parking lot. A couple of IPAs fueling my courage, I gave chase - I just had to find out, where is “here”?
It turns out “here” is Heritage Eats, located in Napa’s Bel Aire Plaza. And the two guys wearing the shirts were Chef Jason Kupper and manager Ben Koenig. A leader in the growing genre of “fast fine” eateries, they are serving fine dining-quality food, but in the laidback style of “globally inspired sandwiches, wraps and salads with an emphasis on Heritage Breed proteins”. Having traded in the formality of white tablecloths and a fancy wait staff for a casual, cafeteria-style ordering kind of vibe, the founders offer the most expensive meats on the market - heritage breeds - at accessible prices.
Broadening public awareness about heritage breeds is part of the reason behind Heritage Eats, which opened in May of this year. “Why should only fine dining patrons get to eat quality ingredients? I look at my two daughters, and I want them to have access to this quality of food.” says Kupper, who has serious fine-dining chops - he has worked for Thomas Keller, Charlie Palmer, and was one of the youngest chef instructors at Le Cordon Bleu Las Vegas.
Suddenly, quippy slogans like “Our farmers eat here” or my personal favorite, the brutally honest yet oddly optimistic, “Eat them to save them to eat them” (the animals, not the farmers) aren’t just clever marketing ploys, they’re explaining the roots of Heritage Eats. And just when it seems like their food halos couldn’t shine any brighter, Kupper mentions that they’ve also pledged $25,000 in their first year of business to the philanthropy, No Kid Hungry. Heritage Eats might not be a silver bullet to the food world’s struggles, but it is a pretty tasty antidote.
Heritage Eats is a part of a growing movement of high-end dishes served in compostable food boats. This is particularly impressive in Napa, a region that revels in its exclusive food and dining scene. But the casual eatery can hold it’s own. The menu is creative - dishes like the banh mi dutch crunch or the braised pork tacos are inspired by the tastes of Koenig’s world travel - and the flavors are sophisticated. The Jamaican Bao is a perfect example. Jerk chicken with cabbage slaw and an Asian pickle and pineapple habanero sauce snuggled into a warm, fat bao bun. One bite and the bright pickley tang comes together with the intensely spicy habanero in a way that tastes so, purposeful, it’s immediately clear that Heritage Eats is serious eating in a not so serious venue.
There will always be a time and a place for a formal, fancy night out to eat - that is not bad. But through Heritage Eats, Kupper and Koenig are making the statement that that doesn’t mean there is a time and a place for quality food. Kupper and Koenig are simply making room at the table for everyone, and that sounds pretty delicious to me.
Photos courtesy of Heritage Eats www.heritageeats.com