Three dishes to try at the Freeport Wine Country Inn
The allure of a close-by Delta day trip is hard to resist, especially in the flowery green spring of a rainy year. There’s just one dilemma: the restaurants. Delta dining is typically quirky, throwback or both. So when a reader recommended the newish Freeport Wine Country Inn and Bistro, I was interested to see and taste whether there’s anything new by the river.
At the far southern end of Freeport Boulevard – which becomes Highway 160 – Freeport Wine Country Inn is not just close to Sacramento. It’s actually within city limits. Still, the place feels like it’s out in the country, until you turn east in the parking lot and realize you can see the Hobby Lobby at the Delta Shores development. Still, if you choose to cross the Freeport Bridge, wind around the levee roads, or maybe take a short jaunt over to the wine-tasting at Clarksburg, you can make a day of it.
Carvalho Family Winery, of nearby Clarksburg, owns and operates the Freeport Wine Country Inn and Bistro. Wine, especially local wine and the Carvalhos’ port, is thus a focus.
The wine list isn’t terribly long, but you can get a nice pour of Carvalho tempranillo or port, bubbles in a tall tumbler, local rosé, a couple of interesting Portuguese wines, your basic Chardonnays or some rather odd, sweet fizzy sangrias. All the wines are available by the standard 6-ounce pour or a larger 9-ounce, a trend I’ve been seeing more places. I’d rather have 3-ounce pours so I can taste one or two wines without getting lit, but if you’re not driving I also see the appeal of downing a big glass.
Freeport Wine Country Inn, which as the name implies also has rooms for rent, attracts a decidedly older crowd. The menu is simple and crowd-pleasing; unadventurous diners will find nothing to upset them, but the cooking is largely honest and comforting.
There’s overlap between the lunch and dinner menus, but also some distinct dishes. One that overlaps is an appetizer of lamb meatballs, served disconcertingly naked-looking on a bed of marinara on one side of the plate, garlicky tzatziki on the other. They were juicy and tasted better than they looked, with the sauces a fine complement.
If you’re looking for flashy style in general, you won’t find it here, where the bar is pine, the vibe is homey and the food is mostly unadorned. A bowl of clam chowder may or may not be, as the menu claims, the best in the Delta. It was good, though, thick and rich and loaded with clams. It reminded me of going to the late Spenger’s in Berkeley with my grandparents, right down to the sadly stale oyster crackers.
A special at lunch, chicken pot pie was creamy, topped by a big golden pillow of puff pastry. Oddly, it was a little hard to find much chicken in it, but there was a nice flavor of thyme and vegetables.
The reuben had thick hunks of tender pastrami, just a little more dressing than it needed (which made the rye bread a touch soggy), but nice tangy, crunchy sauerkraut to balance its richness. It made a fine lunch on a sunny spring afternoon, especially with light, crisp housemade potato chips with an equally tangy flavor.
Burgers are big and lavish, with nice crispy bacon and a toasted brioche bun on the Angus burger but a dry patty that took it down a notch. Bison and lamb burgers are also available. Waffle fries alongside were pleasant, but also the one thing this kitchen sent out that seemed like they came straight from a freezer or food service truck.
If by now you dimly suspect Freeport Wine Country Inn fits more in to the throwback category of Delta eateries, the news that they offer fettuccine alfredo will probably seal the deal. The fresh pasta (not made in-house but still local, our server said) was perfectly al dente but seasonal vegetables mixed with the thin cream sauce were a little disappointing. Chicken, added by request, was simple but pleasant.
The very phrase “seasonal vegetables” is itself a tell, indicating a certain old-school approach to menu design. The New York steak, medium rare and nicely chewy and flavorful, came with broccoli, summer squash and Brussels sprouts, plus garlic mashed potatoes. The latter were of the red-skinned type, creamy and not overly garlicky. The best thing about the dish, I thought, was a very creditable mushroom and caramelized onion sauce on top, deep brown and savory.
Those mashed potatoes are one of the options for sides; another, risotto, was a little less successful, being perfectly pleasant but bland. It now feels retro to see an independent restaurant that’s doing mix-and-match sides instead of deliberate, composed platings, but at a small operation like this, with a limited menu, it probably makes sense.
My companion ordered a red wine-braised lamb shank, but unfortunately the kitchen had run out. Instead, our chatty, delightful server Marnie – also the namesake for a port brownie on the dessert menu – suggested ribs, which were fresh out of the smoker. Tender and properly smoked pink, in a lavish portion, the ribs were very good but the barbecue sauce, I thought, overbalanced a bit to sweetness.
About that port brownie: it was sugary and hot and gooey and filled with both chocolate chunks and the fruity whisper of the port, and it was very big, with lots of ice cream melting on top. Like the other dishes here, the brownie wasn’t new or innovative, nor particularly refined. It tasted pretty good and made everyone at our table, especially a certain 9-year-old, happy for a few minutes.
This restaurant, close to downtown Sacramento though it is, is firmly in the mode of the Delta, a land that time forgot. Here, you get Andes Mints with your check. Culinary trends and fancy plates, stylish décor and cheffy flourishes are all more or less unknown. But if you want to go drive a Chevy on a levee on a sunshiny spring day, and stop in afterward for a pretty decent steak or some other big plate of comfort food served with a kind smile, you could do worse.
Email Kate Washington:. Follow her on Twitter: @washingtonkate. For an archive of all her reviews:
Freeport Wine Country Inn and Bistro
8210 Freeport Blvd., Sacramento, 916-665-9500, freeportwinecountryinn.com
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday.
Beverage options: Wine list is on the short side and includes some sweet options and local Clarksburg wines; a few draft beers plus soft drinks.
Vegetarian friendly: The non-meat options are limited to salads and fettuccine alfredo.
Noise levels: Modest; even live music on one visit was on the quiet side.
Ambiance: Knotty pine and a timber-trussed ceiling with give the informal dining room and bar a comfortable country-farmhouse feel that matches the old-school menu.
Simple but honest food in a friendly setting is the draw, plus local wines. Dining in the Delta can be a vexed prospect, but if you settle into the idea that you won’t find culinary adventure here, you can get a good cup of clam chowder and big plates of food, plus a warm welcome.
Homestyle but honest cooking is the rule here, with hits including steak with savory mushroom sauce and a gooey port brownie for dessert, misses include a dry Angus burger. Diners won’t find culinary innovation, but most food is solid and safe.
Service is personal and warm, though perhaps not overly polished, befitting the casual, family-run vibe.
Big hearty helpings of comfort food are reasonable for the portions, with dinner entrees running from $16 to $34 (the latter for a large steak).