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COX: The Big 3 best known for great breakfasts

The Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa is an upscale oasis in a downscale part of Sonoma, but it does have a casual bistro called The Big 3, known for its great breakfasts.

Today it's called The Big 3 because it combines a restaurant, wine bar and shopping area selling clothing and other SMI ware. But 40 years ago, according to people who knew it then, it was less genteel, combining a soda fountain, butcher shop and grocery store that served the inn's patrons as well as locals. And you hear stories, mostly likely apocryphal, that 100 years ago, when San Franciscans would come up to the spa villages of Boyes Hot Springs, Fetters Hot Springs and Agua Caliente to take the waters, it was a restaurant run by three husky chefs.

Big 3

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These days, its connection to the upscale inn is reflected in its prices – $20.50 for fish tacos, $18.50 for an entr? of mac and cheese, etc. While The Big 3 may combine excellence and disappointment in equal measure, SMI has one of Sonoma County's best restaurants in Sante, a renowned dining room in the main building. The spa facilities are world-class and the swimming pools are refreshed daily by the naturally hot water that runs underground throughout this part of the Sonoma Valley.

At The Big 3, the soda fountain is long gone, replaced by dining room tables. A wood-burning oven has been installed in the kitchen, turning out creditable thin-crust pizzas. The first one listed on the menu is "Classic Margarita Pizza." I think they mean a classic margherita pizza, not the Mexican cocktail. Our table ordered the Italian Pizza ($18.50 **?) and found the crust crispy, the mozzarella bubbled deliciously brown, and the toppings of canned, sliced black olives, pepperoni, Italian sausage, diced tomato and herbs to be yummy as well as pricey. On a second visit, the same pizza was just as good.

The wine list offers 45 bottles, 14 of which can be ordered by the glass, mostly from the Sonoma Valley but, strangely, without vintage years noted. Still, a glass of St. Francis Merlot turned out to be from vintage 2007, a fine year, and was a good match for the pizza.


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