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Complete Loafing Guide to the Napa Valley : Where to Take Out Breads, Meats and Other Goodies to Make a Picnic as You Like It

August 29, 1993|ANTONIA ALLEGRA | Allegra, a travel and food writer and author of "Napa Valley--The Ultimate Winery Guide" (Chronicle Books, $18.95), lives in St. Helena. and

ST. HELENA — Shakespeare said it well:

And this our life , exempt from public haunt ,

Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,

Sermons in stones, and good in everything.

There is a sense of contentment that comes with escaping the daily pace and enjoying the world from the ground up. What better way than to arrange a day's getaway in the Napa Valley and to explore one (or more) of the valley's numerous markets, delis and groceries, and then settle into a wonderful picnic spot for the rest of the afternoon? A bottle of wine at hand seems appropriate, given a loaf of locally baked bread and, perhaps, your favorite "thou."

For the past few weeks, from Napa to Calistoga and throughout Northern California wine country, the roads have been clogged with trucks stuffed with fat, purple grapes . . . a sure sign that the harvest is here. The scent of the sweet fruit hangs in the air as you drive north-south along California 29, a scent that permeates wooded glens and picnic spots that even Shakespeare would have chosen.

While others are paying for pricey--although admittedly excellent--restaurants in the Napa Valley, I will let you in on a few of my favorite trattorias and small grocery shops for gathering picnic fare: breads in delicious variety, take-away salads, cheeses from around the globe, precooked poultry and meats, cold entrees, condiments and desserts. And all sell a variety of beverages, including our area's world-famous wines. I'll even advise you on prime spots to have your picnics.

But first, the food and drink.

Andrews Meat Co. and Delicatessen in Napa is an example of a picnic source with a history. The stone building in which it is housed was originally a chicken hatchery, then a brewery, followed by a Chinese laundry and now it's a deli/butcher shop. When you enter you will see that one side of the high-ceilinged, wooden-floored main room is busy with sides of beef, while the other is laden with smoked meats, cheeses, pickles, salads and a variety of sandwich breads. Food is hoisted by dumbwaiter for those who wish to picnic at tables on the shaded roof porch, while the sweet town-center chimes sound on the quarter-hour in the background. Forgot a basket to hold your picnic? There is a large selection available.

Just down the street from Calistoga's 1887 I.O.O.F. brick building, now housing the Calistoga Bookstore, is Fellion's Deli--a classic American delicatessen featuring salads that vary by the day, fresh pies ($2.25 per slice) and its own biscotti and oatmeal-raisin cookies ($1.25). The secret element that keeps return customers is the selection of more than 100 brands of beer, including Australian lagers, ales from Ireland, Scotland and England, and brews from Australia, Czechoslovakia, Norway, the Philippines, China, New Zealand and Canada. For locally brewed beer, just walk across the street to the Napa Valley Brewing Co. in the garden of the Calistoga Inn for golden lager, wheat ale and red ale.

Step back about 60 years when you enter the Giugni Grocery Co. in St. Helena to pick up sandwiches. Interior walls are stapled with posters, political and otherwise, including a faded red, white and blue number proposing "Mondale & Carter--Leaders for a Change." Sandwiches are made to order ($3.35 for one item, $3.65 for two; extra ingredients weighed and added) and, since this is one of the most popular sandwich places in St. Helena, meats and cheeses are fresh. The pickles are crisp, there's a selection of fresh fruit, and the potato salad has a vinegary tang. For dessert, send one of your party up the street to the Model Bakery for peanut butter or oatmeal cookies or outrageous fudge brownie cookies called "Chocolate Rads" ($1.50).

Since Ernie's Meats in St. Helena--a meat market and sandwich shop--is housed within Keller's Market, you can make all picnic purchases in one place. Have you had it with chichi eats? Just walk into Ernie's and you'll find a substantial sandwich that you can wrap your hands around. And the place is air-conditioned, a bonus on the valley's 80-degree-plus days. In addition to the sandwiches, my favorite element here is the prep sheet, handed out to customers, that lists everything for sandwiches: the works, mayonnaise, mustard, lettuce, tomato, pickle, onion, seed roll, plain roll, sourdough sliced, wheat, rye, salt and pepper and NVM (translation: Napa Valley mustard) for $3.75; a cold dill pickle costs 75 cents.

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