Ever since eating at Bull Valley Roadhouse on a Saturday evening with friends earlier this fall, I’ve been daydreaming about going back.
I want to drive down the canyon road that leads to the tiny town of Port Costa—20 minutes from Benicia, southeast of Crockett, CA—and slip back in time among the restaurant’s antique portraits and wooden floorboards and scalloped potatoes with cream and gruyere. I want to sit at the long walnut bar and share a bowl of mussels and fries with my husband, forgetting the day’s headlines and escaping into the magic of the sauce, letting its infusion of garlic and shallots bring comfort to my worried mind.
With the state of the world feeling particularly intense these days, I find myself craving places and experiences that are inviting and unrushed. Bull Valley Roadhouse, which features classic American fare served family style (and casually provides guests with a hot hand towel upon being seated) is one of those places.
Opened in 2012 by Earl Flewellen and Samuel Spurrier, it’s located in an 1897 building that seems to whisper history from its walls. The space has operated as a restaurant since 1963 (first as Bull Valley Inn, then Bull Valley Restaurant), and is named after Big Bull Valley Creek, which runs beneath it. Spurrier, a self-described “compulsive antiquer” who manages the front-of-house, incorporates his estate-sale findings into the decor, making for a warm, eclectic vibe.
For the menu, co-owner and executive chef David Williams creates small and large plates to be shared. As Spurrier explains, part of the appeal of family-style dishes is that they build community. “You put plates in the center of the table and everyone takes from that,” he says. “It requires people to talk to each other, to engage, to compromise. It challenges people to eat things they haven’t eaten before.”
Along with the mussels and scalloped potatoes, our group of five ordered fried brussels sprouts (with chili, grana, and lemon), wedge salad, crispy buttermilk fried chicken (with coleslaw, pepper jam, and buttermilk biscuits), and biscuits and country gravy (yes, more biscuits). The flavors were deep and rich. I sipped a glass of rosé throughout and was delighted when bread arrived to soak up the mussel sauce, just seconds after we’d mused aloud if some might be available. The whole meal had a nurturing element of home cooking to it, albeit elevated by a chef who knows precisely how to bring the essence of each fresh, seasonal ingredient to the forefront.
On my next visit, I plan to sample one of the pre-prohibition cocktails: the Buster Brown, maybe, with gum syrup, lemon juice, orange bitters, and whiskey. Created by beverage director Tamir Ben-Shalom, the list of 12 recipes is inspired by early 19th-century bartender manuals. And since we skipped dessert the first time around, I’ll be saving room for the chocolate pot de creme with sea salt caramel.
Bull Valley Roadhouse is open for dinner Thursday through Sunday and for Sunday brunch. Says Spurrier: “We gather the best ingredients and then we just want you to enjoy yourselves.”
Bull Valley Roadhouse
Canyon Lake Dr., Port Costa