South Pine Cafe
If it is true – that when you want something good to eat watch where the locals go – then there is no contest in Nevada City. South Pine Cafe wins hands down for breakfast.
It is there you’ll find friends lingering over their last cup of coffee, having animated conversations or reading the newspaper. The mood is laid back even when crowded. The decor is pleasantly funky. And the food deserves lots of superlative adjectives.
South Pine Cafe is the breakfast place for Nevada City residents.
You can tell that because of the bikes parked outside, the line of people patiently waiting for Sunday brunch (when they serve about 300), and the fact that they use about 1,300 eggs on the weekends to feed everybody. “It’s a meeting place for locals,” says the cafe’s dapper bearded owner George Dyer, 41, “and in fact we cater to them by doing such things as keeping prices reasonable.”
This, of course, also applies to visitors, as many a lucky tourist has found after being directed to the cafe – just off busy Broad Street.
This small (1,500 square feet) cafe that seats about 50 has been in business on this site for 10 years. When Dyer and his wife Suzie, 39, bought it six years ago (they wanted something homey and healthy), he cooked and she waited tables with their baby in a pack on her back. Now she takes care of their two children, and he oversees things with the help of kitchen manager Jason Fuentes, 31, a longtime employee.
There’s a drill to follow when you arrive, especially on weekends. If tables are full and there is a line, sign your name on the clipboard hanging on the post. Then get in line and check out the art on the wall – local artists at their best. Usually the wait is no longer than 15 minutes at the busiest time. (During the week an instant seat is usually the case.)
Unless you’re a regular and know what you want, reading the menu may take some time. Gastronomic delights from all over the world await the breakfast lover. A scramble from Thailand or Mexico. A Greek omelet oozing with feta cheese and those wonderful Greek olives. And corn cakes from our very own Southwest.
Two of the most popular breakfast dishes are Huevos Rancheros and the Cajun omelet – a spicy little number. Overheard at the next table, a diner says to his companion, “You need to get this.” Soon they were both smacking their lips over the Louisiana hot sausage, salsa, and jalapeno hollandaise – all parts of the Cajun omelet.
I order something more tame – pesto potato pancakes – from a young waitperson with a bare midriff, sandals, and a leg tattoo.
Actually she is considered a “normie” I am told later. Some of the wilder waitpeople sport spiked pink hair and body piercings in interesting places. But not to worry about the unconventional appearance of the waitstaff – they’re all efficient, polite and clean.
The first thing I notice when my breakfast comes is its color – a carnival of reds, greens, yellows, and browns. Frankly, I’m used to potato pancakes looking a little grayish and gushy. These, however, are golden brown and firm.
The eggs, which I chose to have scrambled, are light and perfect (not too cooked and not runny). The moist muffin is loaded with chunks of apple, pear, and walnuts. This dish is a feast for the eyes as well as the palate and is a total hit with me.
The child in my party, a precocious 6-year-old named Kobe, orders one of two breakfasts from the kid’s menu – mouse cakes for $2.50. Clever marketing, I’d say, because they actually turn out to be three pancakes, that with the help of whipped cream and strawberries looked like a mouse head and two paws.
The chicken apple sausage is a success at our table (just the right hint of spice), as are the home fries, which didn’t taste at all greasy.
“That’s because,” says Dyer, “we use just a tiny bit of oil on the grill, just enough to give a crust to the potatoes. We use no hydrogenated oils, just olive and canola. And, notice, when you came in you didn’t smell grease. That’s because we don’t even have a deep fryer. It got tossed years ago after it broke down.”
Prices, by the way, are most reasonable, especially considering that you often end up taking home some of your breakfast for a later snack. They range from a short stack of pancakes for $3.75 to an elegant shrimp and brie scramble with portabella mushrooms, garlic and roasted peppers with jalapeno hollandaise for $8.75.
“The cafe,” says Suzie, “is everyone’s kitchen away from home when the power goes out. It’s a place where you can come to eat by yourself yet always seem to find others you know – sort of like ‘Cheers’.”
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