A Dining Car, BBQ Lunch at Sonoma’s Apple Junction Smokehouse

Wednesday January 18, 2017

Yes, it really is inside a dining car. Which is awesome even if you don’t like trains because 1) come on, we’re all train enthusiasts deep down inside, and 2) eating in a dining car in Sebastopol really shines a light on the folksiness and charm of Sonoma that can get lost behind all the swanky vineyards and high end dining.

So, backtracking, we stopped by Apple Junction Smokehouse after our tour of the Charles M. Schulz Museum. We arrived in the parking lot unsure if we were in the right spot. The looming brick red exterior of Gravenstein Station looks like a massive, and shuttered, converted market. But, a neon “Open” sign pinned to the back of a caboose beckoned us in. Promising!

Inside, we hesitantly followed signs for the Apple Junction Smokehouse through the cavernous former train depot, weaving through idle converted train cars. At which point we all broke out in huge smiles. THE TRAIN CAR IS THE RESTAURANT. Just unabashed glee. And this came from the adults, not the child.




Apple Junction Smokehouse is a southern style, barbecue restaurant. The menu starts out with whether you want one meat or two, and then you pick your sides. You know, a classic barbecue restaurant.

And, because this is California, the menu includes tri-tip. And because this is Sonoma, you better believe everything from the animal to the vegetables is grass fed and organic.

I was happy to see, and order, country fried tofu, which does not appear on enough menus across the country for my liking. (Likely because it’s usually terrible and greasy and oddly heavy and flavorless, but I always feel bound to give it a whirl, purely as a show of gratitude for the effort.)

The restaurant also serves a variety of hearty sandwiches and burgers, if anyone in your group doesn’t like barbecue? Or fried things. (Is that possible?)

Our order arrived incredibly fast. A good feature since the menu had us salivating. I’m pleased to report the country fried tofu was delicious, and you are probably wondering, “but how can that be?” And I will confirm: absolutely delicious. The gravy and tofu were satisfyingly salty and seasoned; if not anything proximate to country fried steak, at least a solid, satisfying vegetarian nod towards it.

The tangy apple cole slaw lived up to its name, full of fresh crisp apples and vegetables, with more complexity than I’m used to at a barbecue joint (we are in Sonoma after all). The baked mac n’cheese was obviously solid, but again, with hints of pleasing spices to elevate it beyond the usual fare.

Across the table, my parents had ordered ribs and brisket to share, but with one taste of their own plate, they cowered over their order reluctant to give any up. I can only speak from inference at this point, as their side of the table delved into silence with some brief mutterings about how very tender the meat was. I will say, though, that my dad — MY DAD — finished off the green beans before he even got to his brisket. Which I believe must say something magical about those green beans.

The service was overall excellent, with our server coming across as your sweet next door neighbor who also happens to run the nearby barbecue restaurant.

After one meal, this has become one of my favorite affordable Sonoma restaurants.

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