Monday brought the opening of an eatery that offers a tribute to an original community leader and revives his namesake restaurant while providing the community a new and exciting place to hang out.
On March 28, Michael Dunsford and his new business partner, Nicolas Montanez, opened Johnny’s Restaurant and Bar in the Mount View Hotel on Lincoln Avenue
Johnny Ghisolfo opened the original Johnny’s restaurant in the 1920s. Now Dunsford, the co-owner of the Calistoga Inn, and Montanez, Calistoga Inn’s executive chef, have set out to re-create and reinvigorate what had been a local hangout for 50 years.
“We’re excited to be resurrecting Johnny’s,” said Dunsford. “We want to make a really good first impression. When guests walk in the door we want them to feel welcome and have a great experience by comfortably enjoying great food, wine and beer. There’s a lot of details to get right, but it has come together and we’re all really excited.”
The restaurant consists of two distinct areas: a bar side, located in what was formally Barolo, which is open for breakfast from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. daily and then serves a bar menu from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. On the other side, in what was JoLe’s former location, the table side of Johnny’s serves dinner from 5 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. daily.
James Cerda worked as the general manager for JoLe and is now general manager of Johnny’s.
“It was a shock when JoLe left, but I am really happy to be here helping manage this new venture. I am excited for this new challenge,” said Cerda. “I like how the concept is a throwback to one of the most successful restaurants in Calistoga’s history. Johnny had it for 50 years, and it was really a local watering hole. Hopefully we can do the same and make this a nice place for locals to come in and feel comfortable and well taken care of — we want to be a good part of the community.”
Dunsford’s partner in the project, Montanez, oversees the food operations, but Johnny’s chef de cuisine, James Richmond (the former executive chef of Bistro Jeanty in Yountville), manages the day-to-day kitchen.
“It’s an exciting new adventure,” said Montanez as he prepared for the opening. “We put our heart and energy into this to make it happen. I hope everyone can come in and enjoy what we’ve created.”
“Before working at Bistro Jeanty I was at Windsor’s Mirepoix,” said Richmond. “With the menu we are trying to showcase the cultural heritage of the Napa Valley, including the influence from Italy, Germany and even a little bit of Mexican culture, showcasing the people of the valley. My culinary background is French, but this has been fun so far. I’m excited.”
For breakfast the bar-side offerings include standard omelets and egg dishes as well as Huevos Motulenos, described as crispy tostadas topped with refried black beans, ham, peas, sunny-side-up egg, roasted tomato-habanero salsa and fried plantains ($14). Its afternoon and evening menu options include an eclectic mix of duck carnitas tacos ($12), a selection of sliders (beef, chicken, pork and mushroom—$8 for any two) and “Schupfnudeln” (seared German dumplings) with sauerkraut and bacon ($16). The bar also serves a few slightly more standard items such as a kale and romaine Caesar salad ($12) and Buffalo wings ($13).
“We had the sliders and found them to be wonderful — maybe the best in Calistoga,” said Tom Abbey, a retired Calistoga teacher who came in for a quick bite with his wife, Peggy. “The price was right, too. We also appreciated that wines offered included many non-Napa options and could be purchased by the glass, ‘pitchet’ or by the bottle. We chose the pitchet because that gave us just the perfect amount of wine for two glasses.”
As for must-haves for dinner Richmond suggested guests try the Creekstone beef filet with horseradish potatoes and oak-roasted mushroom sauce ($42), or the pan-roasted Bronzino filet alla Livornese with skordalia (mixture of whipped potatoes and nuts), olives, basil, tomato and white wine ($32). As a starter Richmond suggests the “Flammkuchen,” a German flatbread with formage blanc, bacon and onions ($14).
The first diners at the newly opened restaurant were Calistoga residents and self-titled lovers of all things Calistoga, Doug and Barb Herrmann.
“It was great,” said Barb. “We’re just happy that this beautiful building and space is reopened. Everything we tried was excellent, and we are really happy with the way the place feels.”
“We were having a hard time picturing the menu when we read about it,” added Doug. “But we now get it and are ready to come back and explore what is really a new type of menu here in the valley — there are many things that we don’t see very often, and we want to try many of them. We’ve had flammkuchen before, and this version tasted authentic.”
“I think this is a fantastic concept,” said Chris Canning, mayor of Calistoga, as he enjoyed a glass of wine at the bar before dinner. “Bringing back one of Calistoga’s first restaurants and honoring the tradition and authenticity of the early stages of our culinary history is fantastic, but then allowing it to evolve so as to celebrate the future is what Calistoga is all about. As the valley continues on its path to becoming one of the world’s culinary meccas, Calistoga has its own unique spin, and Johnny’s will certainly be one of those trademark kind of places that people want to visit — Dunsford and crew are putting their own special mark on what it means to be a food destination in the Napa Valley.”
Johnny’s is located at 1457 Lincoln Ave.
Originally published in the Weekly Calistogan, March 2016