Emerging from the pandemic with a bang, Fleetwood has fast become a local favorite with visitors sure to follow. With a focused menu that centers around fire-grilled items, the kitchen team has years of experience both in the culinary arts and in working in the Napa Valley.

“We are focused on providing our guests an experience that exceeds their expectations and is also comfortable and fun,” said executive chef Drew Glassell (formerly of Gary Danko, Jardiniere, and Roadhouse 29).

Glassell is no newcomer to the local food scene. For years he has worked side by side with chef Douglas Keane at his Michelin-starred restaurant, Cyrus. Today Glassell, along with a collection of fine cooks and chefs, is running his own show.

At the front of the house, Neil Robinson (Roadhouse 29, Fish Story Napa, Park Hyatt San Francisco) has assembled a solid crew who are experienced and able to maintain an easygoing ambiance. The new restaurant is located in the completely renovated and updated Calistoga Motor Lodge and Spa near the intersection of the Silverado Trail and Highway 29.

A growing trend

Owned by Eagle Point Hotel Partners (EPHP), the hotel and restaurant are managed by Sightline Hospitality (SH), which also manages Dr. Wilkinson's Backyard Resort and Mineral Springs just down the street. The co-founder of SH, Rob Kline, also co-founded Chartres Lodging (CL) that is also owner/operator of Dr. Wilkinson’s.

This collection of interconnected owners and operators is interesting because it highlights a growing trend in the Napa Valley and beyond. Since the “leisure” market is widely considered a growth industry, plenty of investment groups, private equity firms and individuals with extra cash on hand (and there are a lot of them post-pandemic) are clamoring for small hotels that were (or are) underutilized or undercapitalized. This growing demand for a limited resource (only so many such hotels and motels exist) is likely to accelerate.

The benefits of such ardent interest in these small, often modestly cared-for hotels of a bygone era is that a ton of money initially flows into a community when they are purchased and fixed up, and workers are hired -- all intended to attract customers.

A potential long-term downside is that such investors often make their real money not from operating a business but by selling it. When they do, it’s often to bigger companies, collectives or even to Wall Street, all of which entities eventually look to make big profits from their new assets.

It can be a predictable cycle and one that often includes phrases like “gaining efficiencies” and “liquidating redundant assets” or “re-engineered pricing,” all of which might result in shifting money away from the very community to which they initially brought money. Do these potential downsides happen in every such situation? Absolutely not, but the risk is real.

However, in the short term at the very least, these types of economic plays are often a positive boon to the community, bringing in capital, fresh new ideas, and energy to the area.

Fire-grilled fare focus

“We want to be that go-to spot where the community can pop in for [food and] a drink and catch up with a familiar face,” said Stephen Chan, co-founder and a principal at EPHP as well as a partner at SH.

The entire hotel has been renovated, during which time the new 154-seat restaurant was added. The complex has a hip, retro 1970s vibe blended with a New Age feel. Guests enter the restaurant through a large lobby area. A bar area with seating features large windows that open to the outdoor dining area.

Outside, are a fireplace, two hammocks, picnic tables and a nearby pool. Those amenities give a casual “hanging out by the pool” feel and provide a fun, splashy ambient background noise.

The inside dining room is slightly more formal, with booths and tables and an open kitchen at the far end. Central to the menu’s “fire grilled-fare” focus, one entire wall of the restaurant is lined with two wood-fired ovens and a wood-fired grill.

“What sets Fleetwood apart is the combination of Drew’s culinary expertise with the relaxed environment,” Chan said. “The vibe is as though you are relaxing at a great friend’s house who happens to prepare an epic meal.”

A successful new restaurant's launch in the Napa Valley is often predicated on how the locals respond. Of course, any new place is one that curious residents explore, but if they come back that can be a very good sign. Each of the three times I’ve been to Fleetwood numerous local folks sat at the bar or ate outside or inside in both small and large groups.

“There’s a good buzz happening here and the food is fantastic,” said one local who didn’t want to be identified so as not to upset the proprietors of any of her other local haunts.

The menu is “wood-fired inspired” Italian/Mediterranean wine country cuisine with the obligatory nod to local farmers, vintners and locally sourced ingredients. While this might describe nearly half of the restaurants in the Napa Valley, with Glassell and team these foci take on delicious twists and turns.

Food and drinks

Yes, there is a collection of wood-fired pizzas that range from $16 to $19, each created using dough that has been made using a five-day process to create a layered “crispy, chewy” crust right when it comes out of the oven.

A Caesar-inspired salad ($15) uses grilled romaine to give the dish a welcome smoky pop, and sheets of tissue-thin Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese wrap the salad like a toothsome and generous gift.

Other bites include juicy meatballs ($14) topped with crispy little discs of cheese that provide a pop of salt and textural balance and stretchy Buffalo mozzarella with grilled peaches and sourdough bread ($16).

Entrees include the Rocky Chicken Breast ($26) accompanied with a farro risotto that is crazy good, and the meat is as tender as if prepared under sous vide and then seared in a hot oven. Melt-in-your-mouth cipollino onion and simply prepared green beans make this chicken dish a hearty go-to after a long day of wine tasting.

Those missing Roadhouse 29 will be happily relieved to find that a version of its hearty grilled hamburger and fries ($22) is once again available. There are also a grilled strip loin steak with gnocchi ($36) and two pasta options, agnolotti ($16) and rigatoni with chicken ($22).

Two kids’ dishes, pasta and a pepperoni pizza, and two desserts, polenta cake with grilled roasted strawberries and crackly, creamy cannelloni are all $12. Only two sweet choices? Glassell hinted that more might be on the way.

The wine list is small and focused on local producers who don’t make a lot of wine.

“Our emphasis on local is reflected on the menu as well as our wine list,” Chan said. “Some rare local gems that are still under the radar.”

I can appreciate the focus, especially at a new restaurant still trying to figure out what works, but fewer than a dozen options does seem a bit too frugal, given that there are more than 30 craft wineries almost within walking distance of the restaurant. Each wine can be purchased by the glass or bottle. By-the-glass prices range from $11 to $18, and corkage is $20 per bottle, although on Mondays this is waived for any wine coming from Napa or Sonoma.

The drinks menu is lively. Robinson and his team are having some fun with options such as the Pesca Perfecto, which includes a blend of rum, peach, lemon and ginger beer topped with a “float” of dark rum. Was I surprised and delighted that it was delicious and actually paired with my salad? I was! All cocktails are $14.

Fleetwood is Calistoga’s newest restaurant to hit the ground running after the lockdown was lifted. Given the team led by Glassell and Robinson, the food and drinks program gives every other like restaurant in the Napa Valley a run for their money. I am sure they will continue to tweak things here and there, but what I hope doesn’t change is the management’s obvious commitment to hiring a solid team of experienced local professionals who have a track record for serving high-quality fare in a manner that is both welcoming and fun.

And isn’t that what we all need right now? To hang out with some friends and share some delicious food and drinks without breaking the bank? I know I speak for many when I say that we hope Fleetwood continues its success and has plans to remain a part of the community for a good long time.