The Fremont Diner
2698 Fremont Drive, Sonoma CA 95476 (map); 707-938-7370, thefremontdiner.com
Cooking Method: Griddled
Short Order: Potentially good burger with great ingredients and poor execution
Want Fries with That? Good hand-cut fries, but could use salt
Price: Freemont Burger, $10.99; milkshake, $5.50
At the south end of Sonoma Valley among the vineyards on the Carneros Highway lies The Fremont Diner, a small, unassuming-looking shack with an old truck out front. It's been a restaurant for a while, previously called Babe's Burgers & Franks, but only since mid-2009 has it been run by the current owner, Chad Harris.
The Freemont Diner's menu consists of classic diner/truck stop fare with a farm-fresh twist, like brisket and chicken and waffles. Many, if not all, of the products are sourced from fields behind the restaurant or nearby farms.
The interior is littered with antiques and farmhouse memorabilia—even the photo booth inside, though modern, is paneled with what looks like recycled barn wood. Inside, you have your choice of a few tables, or you can sit at the counter for a front row seat to all the action in the kitchen. Outdoors, there are several shaded tables where you might catch a glance of chickens roaming around the dining area, which is decorated with old rusty signs. Judging from the many posted notices directing customers how and where to order, as well as the prominent sign-in sheet, it seems like the place can get pretty busy on weekends. Luckily we went on a weekday afternoon with great weather and, though it was busy, enjoyed the outdoor seating without being cramped.
The Fremont Burger ($10.99), made with local Five Dot Ranch beef, is a typical diner-style griddled burger. It came out looking beautiful, with its smashed patty sticking out beyond the bun, showing off an amazing crust. But biting into the burger, which I ordered medium rare, revealed the flavor had been cooked out to the tune of well done. Although the patty's salty crust wasn't bad, it couldn't save the rest of the burger.
Maybe it would've been better if I had remembered (or if my waiter had asked me) to add cheese or their amazing house cured and smoked bacon. The default toppings were lackluster: The lettuce arrived limp, having been steamed by the patty, and the sauce, which tasted like Thousand Island with pimento, was kind of boring. The real winner was their housemade pickles, which I stuffed generously between the patty and bun after removing the lettuce. These crisp, vinegary, spicy pickle chips had a hint of sweetness and were worth ordering alone. They kept the burger from being a total failure. The sweet and soft potato bun was also pretty good.
The hand cut, skin-on fries had a good crunch and were very flavorful, but they could have used a bit more salt.
Out of their menu of milkshakes, the salted caramel flavor caught my eye. The milkshake was so large our waiter split it into two full glasses for my friend and me. The rich, creamy milkshake was smooth enough to drink with a straw and tasted refreshing in the 80-degree heat, but I couldn't help but think that maybe we'd been given the wrong one. It lacked a prominent salted caramel flavor and tasted more like a plain vanilla shake. It wasn't a bad shake, and it was a great value for $5.50, but I wouldn't get your hopes up expecting something packed with salty caramel goodness.
Despite what I would call a failed burger experience, I'm tempted to go back again. Maybe for the burger (next time I will make sure to get cheese and bacon and stress how I want the burger cooked), which seems to have so much potential, but more likely for the many other drool-worthy menu items. And also the fact that the location was charming enough to distract me from ordering cheese and bacon.
About the author:Wes Rowe is a photographer and eater based in San Francisco who believes there is no such thing as too many burgers, and when given the opportunity, likes to spend the whole day smoking brisket. Follow him on instagram @wesrowe