The Fremont Diner, hidden away among Sonoma’s vineyards and pastures, is the sort of place every traveler dreams about stumbling into, but rarely ever does.
Oozing nouveau decrepitude, a heavy dose of John Deere chic and the irresistible lure of a butter and pork-soaked menu that would bring a tear of recognition to grandpappy’s eyes, the diner is everything good about, well, roadside diners. Here, “Praise the Lard”, isn’t just a quirky tag line, but a mission from 7am to 4pm daily.
The former burger stand, which stood empty for more than a year, had long been a serviceable plastic basket eatery called Babe’s Burgers and Franks. It’s most redeeming quality the 70’s-era Pepsi sign out front and the fact that it stood at the halfway point between the Sonoma and Napa Valleys.
After some jittery opening months, the diner has gelled into sweet Southern Sunday morning perfection with breakfasty-brunchy dishes like the Almost Famous Biscuits & Gravy (sweet cream biscuits with lush sausage gravy, $7.25), Black Pepper Brisket Hash (oak smoked brisket with caramelized onions, potatoes and a fried egg, $9.25), Buttermilk Waffles ($6.75), Cheesy House Ground Grits ($4.25) and Braeburn Apple Donuts ($5).
Walk-up and order, grab a mug of Taylor Maid coffee and one of the Mr. Potato Heads scattered around, and stake your claim at one of the reclaimed wood tables inside (in warmer months, there are outdoor picnic tables) or the kitchen bar (for ringside seats).
Reinforcing my long-held notion that caterers truly make some of the best chefs (at least when it comes to comfort food), St. Helena’s Chad Harris (of Caridwyn & Sons, formerly Rising Sun Catering) is the chief spatula behind the diner. Along with the diner grub, Harris also sells homey jams, jellies and sauces, coveted Rancho Gordo Beans, “throwback” sodas and other regional goodies.
It’s worth a return trip for lunch, when the Fremont Diner stokes up the grills again with The Fremont Burger (a Marin Sun grass fed burger with all the fixins, $9.50); Whole Hog Sandwich (oak-smoked pork with coleslaw & pickles on an egg bun, $8.99), Nashville fried chicken with macaroni ($10.25) and a Wild Shrimp Po’Boy ($11.50). Sides include fries, collard greens, Rancho Gordo bean sand milkshakes. For dessert: Fried pies (natch), giant cookies and sweet milk chicory coffee.
But get there fast. Locals and savvy San Franciscans have already found this hidden gem, and it won’t stay a secret long.
Fremont Diner, 2660 Fremont Dr., Sonoma, (707) 938-7370. Open daily 7(ish)am to 4pm.