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Rise and Shine in the Valley: Oxbow Market (Napa, CA)

The sign for Oxbow Market beckons just beyond the Napa branch
and outdoor Oxbow merchant Gott's Roadside Diner
San Francisco's Ferry Building Marketplace (as detailed in this prior blogpost) is certainly the most well known of the Bay Area's food-oriented market-style buildings, but it certainly is not the only one.

Oxbow Public Market in Napa, California, opened in December of 2007, is a closer match in terms of retail space and general feel with Columbus' North Market than their San Francisco-based cousin. Unlike Columbus' North Market, Oxbow had struggled originally to attract foot traffic due to a combination of unfortunate events: loss of a major anchor partner in the COPIA art/wine/food center, ongoing road construction which limited egress into the area, and a generally suppressed Bay Area economy during its first few years of operation. However, things have swung for the better for this market, which has found itself at at or close to fully leased status in the last couple years with 22 merchants and a couple of kiosks.

The interior of Napa's Oxbow Market, which has seen a turnaround in its fortunes
We dropped by Oxbow twice during our recent California trip to grab some breakfast. Our first visit brought us to one of Oxbow's most successful vendors in combination with a transplant from San Francisco.

In its four years of existence, C Casa has become a hot spot for locals craving their gourmet tacos and other Mexican-inspired dishes as well as baked goods. Along with their focus on using environmentally raised produce and meats and their offering of craft beer and wines, their entire food menu is gluten-free.

Gluten-free baking is something of an art; those purveyors who can make you forget that your baked goods are such are something of a treasure, and C Casa for the most part has reached that level. I had dropped by just a couple months after their opening and scored a coffee cake that could hold its own with most and one of the most delicious brownies I have ever had. On this visit, we couldn't NOT grab another one of those brownies for later (yes, they were still as good as I had remembered) and grabbed two more additional pastries for more immediate consumption.

My spouse chose what turned out to be a wonderful Apple Fritter, with nice big chunks of apple , perfectly airy and donut-like interior, and a sweet but not too sweet glaze. My order of a Sinnamon Bun, on the other hand, did show just a touch of its gluten-free origin: the flavor was perfectly fine, but its texture was dense and a little chewy, in contrast to the more traditional airy and flaky textures of a typical cinnamon pastry. Despite that, I was more than happy to finish off this treat.

C Casa's delicious gluten-free pastries and a couple cups of
Ritual Coffee pour-over java were a great combination
For our java, we stopped next door to the lone location outside of San Francisco for Bay Area roaster Ritual Coffee. I missed seeing their Iced Coffee on their menu (one of my most favorite iced coffee versions ever was an iced coffee using their beans brewed by San Francisco's Salt House when they for a short time served breakfast) but both my spouse and I were quite happy with her cafe au lait (an item that wasn't on the menu but more than happy to oblige in making) and a latte. Similar to One Line Coffee in Columbus, customers can choose from a selection of beans for pour over coffee or a coffee flight for $10; if coffee or espresso style drinks aren't your bag, tea and hot chocolate are also available.

On our next to last day on our trip, we stopped by another Oxbow Market vendor to start our day. St. Helena-based Model Bakery has provided their bread and other bakery goods at their St. Helena location for approximately 90 years. In 2008, they expanded their reach with a location at Oxbow, which has become a steady destination for locals since their arrival.

The place really has not changed much since our last visit last year with one notable (and happy) exception: Blue Bottle has replaced Peet's as their roaster of choice. Otherwise, their usual selection of breads and baked goods along with cafe style offerings such as sandwiches and quiche were available to all.

Model Bakery has their usual assortment of baked goods, an upgraded coffee
roaster in Blue Bottle, and their to-die-for English Muffin
I personally have thought of Model overall as a half-notch below the best of the Bay Area bakeries in terms of everything is good to very good, but not eye-poppingly great...save for one item. The English Muffin, which has received national attention via The Food Network's "The Best Thing I Ever Ate" show, is a glorious construct, with its crisp golden-brown cornmeal-coated exterior (helped immensely via the use of ghee) and delightfully light, airy interior, this would be my permanent McMuffin-style sandwich bread if I had my druthers. We went for the delayed gratification in our ordering this morning: while a couple of their muffins plus Blue Bottle coffee was a perfectly nice breakfast on this morning, our purchase of a six-pack of English Muffins to-go was the real treasure. We happily savored each one of them on several morning breakfasts back in the Buckeye State upon our return.

Oxbow Public Market
610 & 644 First Street
Napa, CA 94559
(707) 226-6529
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610 First Street
Napa, CA 94559
(707) 226-7700
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Model Bakery
644 First Street, Building B
Napa, CA 94559
(707) 259-1128
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Ritual Coffee
610 First Street, Ste. 12
Napa, CA 94559
(707) 253-1190
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