“Diner.” That’s all it says on the road sign. “Diner.” What else do you need to know, right? Situated along Highway 121 in the Carneros wine region that straddles Napa and Sonoma, the diner’s aromas waft across its parking lot and onto the Highway as cars drive by, either coming into or out of Napa Valley. It would be easy – and a mistake – to judge this book by its cover. The modest signage might lead you to conclude that the advertised joint is not worth any additional words, or a proper name. This “diner,” however, is simply too good to need to waste its time on fancy signs or worrying about getting its name out there.
For the record, the diner does have a name: the Fremont Diner. Open since 2009, it has become a virtual cult favorite for local Napa and Sonoma residents as well as visitors from the Bay Area and beyond. When we stopped by last week, there was a 40-minute wait to be seated. What’s the attraction? The Fremont diner meets all of the expectations of a place called “diner” – deep-fried foods on the menu, a dedication to a variety of pork dishes, and traditional Southern staples owner Chad Harris refers to as “Grandma” food. In other words, comfort food made the old-fashioned way, with little concern for low-calorie, low-carb, low-fat or, frankly, any other diet plan you might conjure up. Unlike many traditional diners, however, the Fremont diner also has a commitment to locally-sourced and seasonal ingredients. The result is delicious food that will make Southerners reminisce about their favorite hometown diner.
For the past 18 months or so, we have been on a mostly carb-free diet. For our visit to the Fremont Diner, we agreed to throw that out of the window and have one of our infrequent “cheat” meals. This menu is simply too tantalizing to attempt to work around carbs. It might be possible to just eat meat and veggies, but why? One of the first menu items that caught our eye was the Nashville Style Chicken, a fried chicken platter “so hot it’ll set a cheatin’ man straight.” We haven’t been able to validate this claim, but it was in fact very spicy and delicious. We opted to have the chicken served on a waffle for a classic chicken and waffle breakfast plate.
In addition, we ordered the chilaquiles plate, which comes with smoked pork, with a side of the house-made Fremont bacon. We opted to sit outside as it was a sunny day and were able to check out what people at the other picnic tables were ordering. The variety of food at Fremont Diner is impressive, ranging from traditional breakfast items such as pancakes and French toast to Southern staples like biscuits and gravy and shrimp and grits. Other menu items include a po-boy-style oyster sandwich, hush puppies, cracklin (fried pig skin) and the Hangtown Fry (scrambled eggs, fried oysters, arugula, potatoes with remoulade, and bacon). Now that the season has turned to Autumn, we’re looking forward to more brunches and lunches at the Fremont Diner’s outside patio.
For those that don’t have the time or desire to wait 40 minutes or more for a table, the Fremont Diner has a takeout option. At the far end of the patio, there is an airstream-style trailer where a range of drinks (beer ,wine, coffee, tea, juices, and horchata) can be ordered, along with food items from the regular menu. This was a popular option the day we visited due to the lengthy wait times.
Since our first trip to the Fremont diner, we have frequented it once more for takeout from the trailer, and ordered food to go twice more to feed an army of guests staying at our house. As a result, we’ve made our way through much of the menu. The verdict: a gourmet greasy spoon – and we mean that as a compliment.
John & Irene Ingersoll
October 1, 2016