This story was originally published in July 2016. It re-aired on Nov. 25, 2016 as part of The California Report Magazine's "Hidden Gems" series.
Driving through the farmworker town of Ducor (population 600), you’d never expect to find a high-end gourmet restaurant where the fixed-price menu runs you about 80 bucks a person.
It’s called the Dutch Frontier, and it’s neither Dutch nor a frontier. It's a steakhouse, where the filet mignon is tender and the rib eye draws people from miles away. They’re also famous for their lobster tail, French onion soup and homemade dried-blue cheese salad dressings.
Ducor is short for “Dutch Corners” -- the site where four Dutch immigrants with adjoining farms decided to drill a common well. The restaurant is housed inside the town’s original general store, which used to serve as a stagecoach stop for people headed up to California Hot Springs in the Sierra.
The decor is all wagon wheels and rustic wood, with some cheesy touches, like the stuffed bobcat on top of the old player piano churning out hokey tunes. I had my dinner under a very large elk head.
Locally sourced takes on a different meaning in Tulare County than for foodies in big cities: It means Land O'Lakes butter from local dairy farms on the dinner rolls.
But the food is worth the trip, grilled to perfection. The family that runs the place dotes on each customer. They get only about 30 people a night -- all folks who have called well in advance. You can’t just stop by the Dutch Frontier. You have to buzz your way in through a locked door, by appointment only.
“A surprise out here in the middle of nowhere, isn’t it?” laughs owner Mary Galusha, a gracious hostess and server who murmurs a motherly “night night” as regulars leave the restaurant. She also makes a mean cheesecake.
“I like to say we’re a diamond in the rough,” adds her son, Nick Galusha, who’s the bartender. This is a totally family-run operation. Dad Buddy runs the grill. All of the Galushas' five kids have worked at the Dutch Frontier.
“I started doing dishes here when I was 6 years old,” says Michaela, the youngest daughter. “They’d stick us back there, and we’d be so overwhelmed with all the dishes. By the end of the night, we’d quit.”
Nearly 45 percent of families in Ducor live below the poverty line. The Dutch Frontier, where fixed-price menu with lobster runs $90, doesn’t cater to locals. But it has stayed busy since it opened in 1965.
“It’s just really word of mouth and tradition for a lot of people,” she adds. “Pretty amazing how word travels.”
That’s how Mark Stainer, and his dad, Greg, found the place.
“When you think of fine food, you’re not thinking of someplace 30 miles outside of Bakersfield in Ducor, in a town of a couple hundred people, really,” says Mark.
“I like the lamb, I like the French onion soup, the salads I mean, we like the whole shebang,” adds Greg. “The same family has owned the restaurant for years. Their son has been waiting on me since he was 9 years old. He could barely reach over the table to fill my water glass.”
When I tell him we’re doing a radio show about hidden gems, places off the beaten path in California, Greg Stainer urges me not to broadcast a story about the Dutch Frontier. He’d rather keep it a Central Valley secret.