Secret Sebastopol Diner is a Culinary Gem
by Heather Irwin
Hidden in the suburban camouflage of northwest Sebastopol is a blip of a restaurant you’ve probably never noticed. Perched on a concrete jetty at the intersection of Highway 116 and Covert Lane in the Fiesta Market Center is Fandee’s Restaurant. You may have missed it behind the bank ATM and jigsaw puzzle of parking spots.
There’s limited signage other than a very necessary placard reading “Main Entrance” next to the front door. Clearly, I’m not the first person to pull on a service door or walk all the way around the building looking for a way into Fandee’s.
Put on your culinary pith helmet and find a path, because this not-especially-noticable diner is a rare find. A longtime favorite of locals, this neighborhood diner has always been good, but a recent menu overhaul has grabbed the attention of diners who insisted I check it out again.
With prices between $7 and $24 (the sweet spot is around $13) Fandee’s isn’t trying to be a palace of haute cuisine. It’s creative comfort food that doesn’t have to be as good as it is. Fandee’s is about scratch-made cabernet sauces and tiramisu, salmon roulade with lentils in a creamy pan sauce and juicy fried chicken with hand-cut Kennebec fries.
Owner Tarek Alrehani, 33, is as subdued as his restaurant. A native of Jordan, the soft-spoken cook came to California to work at his uncles’ diner, Adel’s at age 17. Learning the ropes of all-day dining, from pancakes to steak dinners, he set out on his own when the former Farmhouse diner (not to be confused with the Farmhouse Inn) closed in 2013.
After a six-month remodel, he renamed the diner in honor of his grandfather, Fandee. Spending his younger years on a Jordanian farm with his grandparents, he learned the value of eating fresh food grown on the property. Milk, he says, was purchased from Bedouins and made into cheese. The rest was from the gardens.
And while there are a handful of Middle Eastern dishes inspired by his family — the hummus on the mezze plate is his mother’s recipe — and there is an eggplant shakshuka on the breakfast menu, the menu is mostly all-American.
Alrehani works out each recipe, focusing on using fresh, local ingredients to make the food he and his family would want.
“We know how much a family with two kids can afford,” said Alrehani. “But we want to cook it like I’d cook at home, preparing each plate. This is what I want for my family,” he said.
Portions are generous (not ridiculous), so prepare to bring an appetite and go home with leftovers.
Salmon Tournade with Lentils ($20): The menu description does no justice to this dish. A filet of salmon is tied into a round disc, pan fried and set atop creamy lentils in a cast iron skillet. The green lentils have give, but don’t turn to mush, swimming in the tart cream sauce. The bite of peppery arugula completes the power-packed punch of flavor.
Fried Chicken ($17): So many chefs try way too hard to get this simple dish right. Brined in lemon and honey and pressure cooked with a light crust, it’s crispy, light and juicier than a summer peach.
Corn Fritters ($7): Pops of sweet yellow corn stud a lightly spiced jalapeño and cheddar batter. Hush puppies look hang dog next to these corn balls.
French Onion Gratinée ($7): This deceptively simple savory-sweet stew is actually a complicated dance of long-caramelized onions and beef broth with a whisper of wine and a sliver of bread below a bubbling cape of Gruyere cheese. This isn’t exactly that, but it’s surprisingly excellent and grandmotherly in its warmth.
Mediterranean Mezze ($10): A true Mediterranean platter with warmed pita bread, Kalamata olives, briney Feta cheese and a creamy hummus from Tarek’s mother’s recipe.
Tiramisu ($7): Rich mascarpone cream with plenty of strong coffee. Less sugar makes it easy to eat the whole piece.
Ribeye Steak with cabernet reduction sauce, sour cream mashed potatoes ($24): A bronto-sized slab that’s cooked perfectly. Mashed potatoes are other-worldly.
Other great bites
Sliders ($12) with balsamic onion jam, cheddar and whole grain mustard; Chicken citrus salad ($13) with chicken breast, oranges, cranberries, blue cheese and citrus vinaigrette; Pork chop with honey mustard glaze, pear chutney and smashed potatoes ($18).
Overall: Surprisingly excellent cafe cuisine at a family-friendly diner makes this neighborhood spot a special find.
7824 Covert Lane
Open daily from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. for breakfast, lunch and dinner
This article originally appeared on Sonoma Magazine.