The dining room is done in a kind of contemporary Empire décor, if there is such a thing, with fanciful oversized snowball light fixtures mid-room and curlicue silver appliqués on the far wall with the roaring fireplace. “It’s definitely not what you’d expect from Solvang,” Hadsten House’s Bill Phelps said, “but what you might expect in a small restaurant in Santa Barbara. It’s a romantic, dark space.” But the hip look leaves the place far from haughty, especially when your server downsells you some wine. She talks me out of a more expensive, more renowned bottle (rhymes with Pitching Host), leading me to a delicious Ken Brown Sta. Rita Hills pinot noir, for less, especially with the evening’s 50-percent-off sale.
Turns out our waitress, Sue, has been with Hadsten since day one. But she’s more than just a convivial server, for she also runs Little Orphan Hammies, a pot-bellied pig rescue; in fact, when we were there for dinner, she had spent the day filming with Jack Hanna. Makes you think twice about ordering that bacon-wrapped pork chop.
“If we make everyone feel welcome, we’ve done our job,” Phelps asserted. “That’s what hospitality is all about. Luckily we’ve got a really good staff.” Hadsten House, however, is more than hospitality—it’s a cleverly remade take on the motor inn (think of the statewide Joie de Vivre chain, say). It was last a Vagabond Inn before a transformation that began six years ago; the Iqbal family from San Luis Obispo put in “somewhere between four and five million dollars,” according to Phelps, fully renovating the property. That means a new pool, new Jacuzzi, new sound-proofing between all the rooms, and most importantly for this article, a restaurant. “There was no food service, no restaurant, nothing,” Phelps claimed. “The dining room was actually a game room attached to the old pool. All that had to be ripped out, and the bathrooms and kitchen had to be built.”
Phelps, who has also worked as the general manager at Fess Parker’s Wine Country Inn and was a food-and-beverage director prior to that, insisted, “Our goal is if we want to do it, we want to do it well. You can eat at Taco Bell for five dollars, but you’re not going to brag about it. I want people to walk away from Hadsten House and talk about it, and it should be ‘wow.’ Sometimes we hear ‘it’s too rich’ or that the portions are too big, but those kinds of complaints I can live with. I’d rather have people say it was too much or it was too rich than people say, ‘Why did I spend that money?’”
That approach extends throughout the American comfort-food–centered menu, right down to the Hadsten burger. “What burger would I want to want, being a confirmed foodie?” is the way Phelps described it, and it’s so good, it even tempts him from his mostly vegetarian ways. “I want it to be the best beef, and I want a lot of cheese, and not American; I want grilled onions, I want avocado, I want bacon. We bake the buns every day. We wanted it to be over the top and most people do order it ‘all the way,’ including with a fried egg. Then, of course, they can’t eat it all.”
Hadsten House has been fortunate to have executive chef Aaron Dixon since the remodel. “Aaron was the sous chef then, so he helped put the original menu together,” said Phelps, pointing out that nearly everything is made from scratch for the intimate 50-seat restaurant. “We sell a lot of our dinner packages,” he added. “We get a lot of people who come up from Santa Barbara; some come once a month.” That package, good Sunday through Thursday evenings, is good for a deluxe room and a three-course meal for two, and it starts at $189 a couple.
That deal includes a full American breakfast, as does any stay in the lovely rooms. “We originally started with a continental breakfast, but our goal has always been to not be like everybody else,” Phelps explained. Now the American buffet features still fluffy scrambled eggs, Danishes (it is Solvang, after all), crispy bacon, etc.
“Solvang kind of reminds me of Knott’s Berry Farm,” Phelps mused. “Everyone’s been there, but no one’s been there in a long time. Solvang was kind of like that, but it’s not anymore. It’s kept its charm, but it’s updated a lot of things; it’s a lot more contemporary. There might be 15 tasting rooms in Solvang. We market ourselves as Santa Barbara wine country, but that’s not exclusive from us being part of Solvang.”
Have a wine-country feast at Hadsten House Inn & Spa (1450 Mission Dr., Solvang, 688-3210 or  457-5373, hadstenhouse.com).