The tiny village of Glen Ellen in northern Sonoma Valley boasted a population of only 784 in 2010. That number was surely lowered by the devastating Nuns Fire last year, which destroyed many homes nearby. Yet despite its small size, the town has become one of Wine Country’s top dining destinations.
Otherwise best known for Jack London State Historic Park and Benziger Family Winery, Glen Ellen primarily serves locals from Sonoma to Santa Rosa, as there aren’t many lodgings nearby. These small-town eateries provide an insider’s taste of Wine Country for visitors.
Owned by Sondra Bernstein and John Toulze of The Girl and the Fig, The Fig Café will seem familiar to those well acquainted with the Sonoma restaurant. Like its sister restaurant, it features country French home-cooking made with local ingredients and exclusively serves Rhône wines. thefigcafe.com.
Chef Ari Weiswasser of Glen Ellen Star spent two years at The French Laundry before opening this establishment with a casual feel and distinctly California sensibility. The Star also puts a strong emphasis on sourcing ingredients from regional producers–including its own certified-organic two-acre farm–but sets itself apart with its wood-fired cooking. glenellenstar.com.
Another authentic local hangout is The Saloon at Jack London Lodge. Steeped in the history of the area, the saloon serves comfort food and burgers until 9 p.m. and Wine Country sips until 2 a.m. every day. jacklondonlodge.com.
Also at the Jack London Lodge is Umbria. Chef-owner Giulio Tempesta has relocated and reinvented his famed San Francisco original in Glen Ellen. It might be a new location, but Umbria is still serving up the best of classic Italian food: spaghetti and meatballs in chunky ragu meat sauce, pizza, and a breaded chicken breast atop grilled polenta and spinach. umbriaglenellen.com.
Visitors can also find new faces in Glen Ellen at Les Pascals Patisserie et Boulangerie. The Pascals in question are chef Pascal Merle and his wife, Pascale, who—along with baker Sean Perry—craft pastries and breads customers can eat on the go and serve breakfast and lunch in-house daily as well. The café is casual, but very French. lespascalspatisserie.com.
Mixing the old and the new, Glen Ellen Inn Martini Bar and Grill has reopened after renovation. It offers fresh California cuisine, without fuss. glenelleninn.com.
Any and all of these dining spots will offer visitors an excellent example of Glen Ellen’s blossoming culinary scene. Call ahead to check for hours and reservations, but don’t hesitate to venture out and discover these hidden gems.