Port Costa is an historic Contra Costa County village nestled into an unlikely corner of the East Bay just off the Carquinez Straight. Built in 1878, it was once a shipping port and something of a boom town, but then was pretty much abandoned.
Today, Port Costa has been reborn as a quaint get-away from surrounding urban areas. Although it’s smack in the middle of Metropolitan sprawl, it feels hidden and is thus an ideal spot for the Bull Valley Roadhouse. Once you step inside the bustling dining room, you will see that it’s a very well-known secret, especially among bikers cruising around the Bay.
The roadhouse was built in 1897 and has operated off and on since then. The recent renovation has been a hit, successfully combining the old and the new, including modern roadhouse fare. Cocktails focus on pre-Prohibition American classics, but the scope of the menu is ambitious and modern. For teetotalers, there are virgin cocktails and excellent French press coffee.
The food is slick and chef-driven, but not devoid of soul. Fried chicken has a sweet smell and richness that suggests the use of tallow in the fryer oil. Coleslaw is fresh and laced with thinly-sliced jalapeños, a nice Californian touch. Chunky cream gravy is a smart add-on to this plate, pairing well with its biscuits. The real star of the chicken dinner is pepper jam. Tangy and chili-flavored, it tastes like jelled Tabasco: an ingenious complement for fried chicken
Entrees are said to be for sharing. They may be big enough for two moderate eaters, but really aren’t much larger than normal truck stop portions. The chicken and biscuit entree is two large cat-head biscuits and half of a small chicken.
Sides aren’t very large for family-style but would make a good light meal for one. Roasted macaroni gratin is rich with gruyere and grana padano cheeses, and comes well browned from the oven. This and a cocktail would be a pretty nice meal for one at the Roadhouse.