My wife and I went to wine country in Northern California recently and spent time eating at fancy restaurants, tasting reds and whites at wineries, and touring some of my favorite breweries. I could tell you about one of those fancy meals at a Michelin-starred mecca, but you’ve heard those stories before. Instead, I’m going to tell you about having a chili dog and bacon milkshake at a little dive in a small Sonoma town.
America’s two most famous wine regions are the counties of Napa and Sonoma in Northern California. These are places where you can drive down twisting roads covered on both sides by vines stretching into the hills. Some of the best wine in the world is made in this area, and to go with this amazing wine, you can eat at several of America’s finest restaurants.
Bouchon, a Michelin-starred foodie mecca in Yountville helmed by famed chef Thomas Keller, will give you one of the best meals of your life. Chef Cindy Pawlcyn has two great Napa restaurants, Mustards Grill and Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen, both of which are worth a trip. All of those places are well-known, visited by tourists, and can be tough places to get a seat, but fame isn’t always an indicator of good food.
There’s Always a Bacon Milkshake
Petaluma, a small town in Sonoma County perhaps best known for its Lagunitas Brewery, is home to one of the best chili dogs and milkshakes I’ve ever had. In the muddy parking lot of the Petaluma Livestock Auction Yard sits Roy’s Chicago Dogs at The Yard. This is the definition of a dive. A very small restaurant that is mostly a counter with just a few tables, Roy’s is a real treasure.
We went to Roy’s on a cold, rainy day. My wife and I had just returned from a trip to the Point Reyes National Seashore. We endured driving rain, winds that nearly blew me off a hill, and quintessential rolling fog to see one of America’s prettiest views. Oh, and cows. Lots of cows staring at you through a fence with a look on their faces that said, “So, I hear you’re from Texas. It’s sunny and warm there, right?” After that rain-soaked experience, we needed something warm and comforting to eat. We needed chili dogs.
When you walk into Roy’s you’ll see a long counter ahead of you. Behind it is a wall full of fryers, grills, and small refrigerators, and above the equipment are records and music memorabilia mostly from the 1950s and 60s. Framed albums of BB King, the James Harman Band, and Big Joe Turner sit above the kitchen equipment, looking over the room of hungry patrons. The smell of French fries, grease, and authentic small-town America hang in the air. Roy’s is where locals eat, where the working man grabs a quick lunch before getting back to the daily grind. It was exactly what we needed.
A Nostalgic American Meal
The menu at Roy’s is pretty simple: hot dogs, fries, shakes, and soft drinks. I got one of each, taking the cholesterol hit and future need for Pepto for you, my dear readers and fellow foodies. My hot dog came in a basket with a red and white checked liner, nearly buried in dark, steaming hot chili, and topped with shredded cheese. This isn’t a hot dog you eat with your hands. No, you need a fork and knife for this bad boy.
I’m a huge fan of chili cheese dogs. Ever since I was a teenager, chili dogs have been one of my favorite lunches to grab with a friend, whether it was on the weekend after seeing a movie, or while skipping school, they just hit the spot. So when I sat down to the counter at Roy’s and looked at the menu, I knew exactly what I wanted. I was not disappointed. This is one damn good chili dog. The chili is meaty, the perfect consistency, and is great on top of the hot dog and pillowy bun. I squirted a little mustard on top and dug in.
Now, to go with a great hot dog, you’ve gotta have some good French fries. Roy’s fries are crinkle cut. Straight out of the fryer, covered in this great pink sauce reminiscent of thousand island but a little different, these are the fries you want to eat with your hot dog of choice.
What to wash all this down with? A milkshake of course, and not just any milkshake, I’m talking about a bacon milkshake. Man, was it good! Topped with whipped cream and sprinkles of shredded bacon, Roy’s bacon milkshake was something to behold. Not too porky, not too salty, this is the shake that dreams are made of, seriously. It was the perfect, creamy accompaniment to the chili dog, fries and RC Cola.
So if you ever visit wine country and want a real, honest to goodness American meal, make some time on your schedule after the wine tours, before you have a three-figure meal at a famed restaurant, and head over to Petaluma, into the muddy parking lot at the stockyard, grab a seat at Roy’s counter, and enjoy a bite of tasty American exceptionalism.