Monday, October 8, 2012

Urban Diners in the North Bay

A good urban diner makes me smile.  That is the simplest way I can put it.  Combine good food, engaging people, and an urban setting and you’ve hit my sweet spot.

In recent posts, I’ve offered kudos to urban diners around the Puget Sound, throughout New England, and even in Suisun City.  I might have given the impression that the North Bay is bereft of good urban diners.  That would have been a false impression.  Today, I’ll offer thoughts on some of my more local favorites.  And if any of you have favorite urban diners in the North Bay that I haven’t mentioned, please share.

As I’ve noted before, I restrict myself to urban diners, diners that are in walkable locations and aren’t surrounded by parking lots.  I love the funky setting and ambiance of the Fremont Diner in Sonoma, but it’s the antithesis of urban, so doesn’t make my list.  Also, chains need not apply.  A diner has to have a local, not corporate, feel.

Hallie’s Diner, Petaluma – Hallie’s is the gold standard, at least in Petaluma.  Located on Keokuk, a block from downtown, Hallie’s continuing popularity is attested to by the crowds of folks standing on the sidewalk awaiting tables on virtually every Saturday and Sunday morning.

And the food mostly justifies the wait.  I’ve had a few meals that wouldn’t have been better than 6s or 7s, but many more that were 9 or above.  I like the potato pancakes so well that I must convince myself to try something else when I’m there for breakfast.

Hallie’s menu also contains an adventurous side.  A diner that offers fried plantains is pushing the envelope in a good way.

Butter Cream Bakery and Diner, Napa – While covering a family obligation, I often have free mornings in Napa.  I’ve been seeking a local diner in which to enjoy a leisurely breakfast during those mornings.  After a recent visit, I think I’ve found one.

It was the people who first struck me at the Butter Cream Bakery and Diner on Jefferson Street in Napa.  I took a place at the counter next to a father and son.  Their breakfast dishes had been cleared away, but apparently there was still time before the start of the son’s school day.  So the two were playing Uno.  The waitstaff seemed fine with that use of their counter.  And the card play was good parenting time.  The father was winning most of the games, but was consistently encouraging about his son’s strategic decisions.  It was fun to observe.  Any diner that facilitates good parenting is worth frequenting.

In the other direction was a pair of Napa old-timers, catching up on old friends and acquaintances, both living and dead.  It was another example of the positive interactions that a good diner can support.

Unfortunately, my breakfast didn’t quite measure up to the level of the camaraderie among the patrons.  The potato cakes were interesting and enjoyable, but the omelet, despite good ingredients, seemed flat, both literally and figuratively.  Plus the biscuits lacked the flakiness that I’d prefer.

But the Butter Cream environment was easily enough for me to return again, looking for menu items that might be more to my liking.

Dierk’s Parkside Café, Santa Rosa - On a recent Friday morning, Dierk’s Parkside Café on Santa Rosa Boulevard in south Santa Rosa was bustling.  Unlike Butter Cream where the patrons seemed to be enjoying a slow-paced morning, the Parkside patrons seemed more likely to be grabbing a bite before heading onto their offices or jobsites.  But the fact that they choose to eat their breakfast at a diner and not a take-out window was still a good thing and spoke well of the Parkside Café.

The diner was nicely appointed.  It’s been a while since I’ve seen a moderately-priced urban diner with a granite counter.

And the menu was interesting.  I went with the smoked salmon hash, a choice that the waitress praised.  Although I found the hash both hearty and nice-presented, it lacked the flavor which I’d expected.  Nonetheless, the evidence of a diner full of busy people in the middle of a Friday morning was sufficient reason to try the Parkside again.

If you have any urban diners in the North Bay to recommend, please let me know.  I’ll be happy to expand the options listed above.

As always, your questions or comments will be appreciated.  Please comment below or email me.  And thanks for reading. - Dave Alden (

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