Why: About four years ago, I stopped in at the Pioneer Street Cafe for dinner and was not at all impressed. Soon after placing my order, the waitress made her way to the kitchen and then the hum of a microwave filled the air — but that was then.
Recently, I decided to give the cafe another try after learning that the ownership had changed approximately two years ago. Now, selections are made from scratch; and on a busy night, the kitchen is busy with the bustle of meal preparation. Much of the menu reflects Italian and Greek influence, though there are some good old American staples such as the Grilled Cowboy Ribeye Steak and the Smokehouse Beef Brisket.
Atmosphere: The name is perfectly fitting for the decor, which feels somewhat rustic and worn. It was a full house on my dinner visit, and with the mercury still at 87 after a hot afternoon, my dining companions and I opted to sit at one of the three picnic tables on the side patio behind a low fence. The only drawback was the absence of outdoor lighting. Once twilight set in, visibility was limited.
What I tried: I decided to order from the First Friday menu, which offered arangini-fried Italian rice balls, an Italian cabbage roll with beef and lamb filling, and for dessert, the Molten Chocolate Cake with Sambuca Crème Anglais. My dining companions tried the Grilled Cowboy Ribeye Steak and the Greek-style penne.
Warm ciabatta bread with a plate of olive oil and balsamic vinegar was provided after we placed our order. Personally, I appreciate this pre-dinner nibble. Many restaurants have fallen out of the practice of serving oil and vinegar with the bread. I would have liked to have seen a bit more vinegar with the oil. As it was, there was only about two tablespoons dispersed throughout the oil. I did note that the server, upon clearing the table next to us, dumped the unused oil in the planter on her way indoors — a bit tacky.
We shared the rice ball appetizer, which came with two dipping sauces: a spicy marinara and a lemon-garlic. The rice balls contained a soft rice and cheese filling with a dark golden crispy exterior. They had a delicious mild flavor on their own, which took on more personality once dipped. The spicy marinara presented a strong oregano presence, and the lemon-garlic reminded me of a light tartar sauce.
Our entrees arrived piping hot. Unfortunately, my dining companion’s steak was well done instead of medium as requested. He opted to eat it well done in lieu of waiting on another and found it satisfactory in light of its doneness. The steak was topped with a generous amount of mushrooms and onions (other topper options for diners are barbecue sauce or blue cheese sauce) and served with homemade scalloped potatoes and green peas. The potatoes were cheesy with browned top layer and paired well with the steak. The peas were nondescript, as peas are.
The Greek-style penne that my other dining companion ordered consisted of kalamata olives, tomatoes, onions and oregano along with the pasta and smothered in a feta cream. If not for the olives, my dining companion said the feta cream was very meek and the dish was more Italian than Greek.
My Italian cabbage roll was served on a thin bed of roasted garlic mashed potatoes and topped with marinara. The cabbage leaves were filled with a mix of ground beef and lamb seasoned with garlic, parmesan and fresh herbs. Overall, this was a very tasty dish that brought the two meats together in a way in which neither could be readily identified on their own merit, but rather offered a new profile that was appealing and satisfying.
Dessert was a scrumptious experience — as dessert should be. The moist, flourless chocolate cake had a soft chocolate center and was topped with a dollop of whipped cream. It sat in the sambuca creme anglais, which had a velvety texture and hinted of anise seed. Chocolate-covered espresso beans were scattered amid the sauce.
Menu highlights beyond what I tried: The Jes’ Pizza, topped with pepperoni, pineapple, artichoke hearts, green onion, bacon and mozzarella, sounded intriguing.
I also thought the spinach salad would be one to try. The spinach is combined with pickled onions, Israeli cous cous, fresh orange, lime and grapefruit wedges tossed in an orange-shallot vinaigrette.
Other observations: The wait staff was friendly. On our visit the ratio of servers to diners was not in their favor, and the result was very slow service.
The bill came to $74.48 for the three of us — this was without alcoholic beverages. We felt this should have constituted better execution of our meal. If you have a lot of time on your hands and “flawless” isn’t a top priority, you may find the Pioneer Street Cafe a worthwhile stop.
Cost: Appetizers are $4.95 to $7.95. Salads come in a starter size for $4.95 to $5.95 and an entrée size for $7.95 and $9.95, other than the house salad which is $3.25. A cup of soup is $3.25 and a bowl is $5.25. Pizzas are available in three sizes for $11.95 to $22.95. Entrees start at $7.95 and top out at $21.95.
Hours: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Friday; 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 to 8 p.m. on Saturday; 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sunday for brunch.
Where: 207 N.W. Pioneer St., Ridgefield.
Health score: Pioneer Street Cafe received a score of 2 on April 26. Zero is a perfect score, and Clark County Public Health closes restaurants that score 100 or higher. For information, call 360-397-8428.