Since I live in close proximity to Napa and Sonoma Valleys, I try to make a point of getting up there at least once a month to do a little wine tasting. On one of my many trips up to the valley, I always used to pass a run down burger place on highway 12/121 called Babe’s. I never made it to Babe’s but I heard that it was a really good dive with a couple of “kiss my grits” kinda ladies running the place. The property sat vacant for quite some time before a new place that uses local and organic ingredients called The Fremont Diner opened up in July of 2009.
I met up with fellow burger aficionado Mitch Engleman for lunch at The Fremont Diner on a warm summer afternoon. When we arrived there was a line out the door – unusual for a weekday after the typical lunch rush. The Fremont has been getting its fair share of press in the past few months and the once quiet restaurant is drawing big crowds – even during the week. As we inched our way up to the counter to order we perused the chalkboard menu that takes up an entire wall. There were many things that sounded good like chicken and waffles but we were here for the burger. Making a decision on what burger to have was easy as there was only one burger to choose from, The Fremont Burger ($9.99, includes fries). It is a very simple burger with 7 oz. of Marin Suns grass fed beef on an ABC potato bun with housemade pickles and sauce. That’s it.
The interior of The Fremont is probably nothing like how it used to be when Babe’s was slinging grease. The cleaned-up room has been revamped with a shabby chic vintage farmhouse look that made me feel like I had been transported back to 1950’s rural America or into a well staged home that is being featured in a Country Living magazine photo spread. It is fun to look at all the well thought out displays of knick-knacks and art to kill some time waiting for your food. There is also a pretty good selection of off-the-wall candies and gifts pertaining to bacon – like the bacon air freshener.
After we quickly toured the inside we headed out to the patio to find a seat at one of the several turquoise picnic tables with big umbrellas. From the tables you have stellar views of a rolling vineyard – well, at least I did. Mitch sat on the wrong side of the picnic table and had an exceptional view of the parking lot. There were strings of lights that criss-crossed above the tables which I imagine looks great at night but I wonder when they get used since the restaurant closes at three in the afternoon. The picnic area would be a great place to host a BBQ and drink wine while looking at the vineyards – or parking lot if you choose the wrong side of the bench.
Our burgers took a little while to come out and when they did there was some confusion about which was the medium rare and which was the medium. Mitch and I took a knife to both and we discovered that neither one was cooked properly. My medium was now pretty much close to well done and Mitch’s was barely medium. We decided to just go with it instead of being the bummer customer and risk having someone spit in our food. I dove in to the Fremont Burger with hopes that the over cooking wasn’t going to be too much of an issue.
First impression was the flavor of the beef. This was excellent quality grass fed beef with a solid beef taste. But, with little fat content and too much time on the grill, she was a little dry. With the nicely grilled potato bun and only two other ingredients, the pickles and the sauce, there was nothing to provide moisture to counter the dryness. If there had been a little more of the tangy sauce, that had a slight hint of Worcestershire, it might have better. That said, the simple ingredients worked well together and I think if I could have added something I might have put on a little mustard to go with the pickles. By the way, the pickles were great as were the hand cut fries.
I think this burger was well intentioned and appreciate that it was made with fresh quality ingredients. I would really like to come back and give it another try and see how it would be with properly cooked meat. Cooking grass fed beef can be tricky and a minute too long on the grill can result in a hockey puck of a burger. I like that they are part of the slow food movement – supporting local farms and featuring organic meats. I also really dig the slogan “praise the lard” that is printed on the back of their business cards. I’ll give an Amen to that.
RATING: 3 out of 5
2698 Fremont Drive
Sonoma, CA 95476
Hours: Monday – Friday 8:00AM – 3:00PM
Saturday – Sunday 7:00AM – 4:00PM