Piner Cafe…and steakhouse?

Fried chicken and steak: The humble Piner Cafe offers up a chef-driven steakhouse menu for the dinner crowd.

Piner Cafe Surf and TurfPLEASE NOTE: Chef Cheyenne is no longer at the cafe and is currently working at Spoonbar in Healdsburg. BiteClub has not been to the cafe since his departure.


Chef Cheyenne Simpkins is no one’s fry cook. This young, CIA-trained chef has spent time in some of the top kitchens in the country, including a stint at Charlie Palmer’s Dry Creek Kitchen.  Suffice to say he knows his way around a mise en place.
Which makes his spanking-new Thursday through Saturday night gig at Chris Schilling’s folksy Piner Cafe so unexpectedly delicious. Three nights a week, Simpkins takes over the grill, turning out hearty comfort food and steakhouse classics at rock-bottom prices.
The menu: Inspired by his East Coast roots, Southern influences and nods to, well, the fact that it is, after all, still a diner, the menu ranges from fried chicken and grits to surf and turf. This is serious dude-friendly dining.
Starters: Rhode Island style calamari with cherry and banana peppers ($5.95), Buffalo wings ($5.50); fried mozzarella wedges, Tilapia ceviche; shrimp and cheese grits ($5.95); grilled mushroom salad with eggs, bacon, spinach.
Entrees: You’re here for the fried chicken and steak, which are towering entrees are worthy of two, or even three subsequent meals. Louisiana Style Fried Chicken (his grandma’s recipe) with Red Pepper Gravy ($14.95) kills, as does a 10oz ribeye with grilled shrimp and roasted garlic sauce ($18.50). Also hot: Roast Chicken with crispy skin and Thyme Jus ($14.95).
What seals the deal, however, are “slammin sides” (two included with each entree) that don’t just phone it in, but haunt your every stomach-growling moment for days. Prepare yourself for the Best. Mashed. Potatoes. Ever. (which I don’t say lightly). I would knock my mother over for another bowl. She’d probably do the same to me. We understand each other like that. Garlickly greens, polenta and thoughtful mac-n-cheese also deliver.
Dessert + Wine: Chris still holds the fort on desserts, with homey classics like chocolate cake and brownies with ice cream. The cafe currently doesn’t serve beer or wine (though they’re working on it), so plan accordingly.
For what it lacks in elegant ambiance, the Piner Cafe’s dinner menu makes up for in value and quality: Well under $50 for an appetizer, two entrees, four sides and a brownie for dessert (plus two massive take out boxes). Not to mention a ambitious young chef at the helm who truly wants to impress you. Score.


35 thoughts on “Piner Cafe…and steakhouse?

    1. 02-23-2012, I visited the Piner Cafe with a friend. Upon entering the cafe the waitress told us to sit where we wanted. My friend joked that he wanted to sit were some customers where already sitting next to a window seat. She looked at us and said someone else is sitting there. We said we were just joking…… Then I was ordering and I was going to get the Ranchos and asked about the salsa if it was homemade. The waitress said, “Yes and No!” I wanted her to explain her answer and she got mad.. So, I decided to have the blueberry french toast and demostrated how I wanted the toast to be moist in the middle. The french toast was the dries toast I have every had served to me at a restaurant. When I told the waitress the toast was a little dry, she rudley said, “What do you want me to do about it!” I was stunned and shocked about her answer and said, “I don’t know!” She walked away. Before I knew it the manager came to our table and said, “I heard nothing but complaints from you.”, in a rude tone and spiteful expression. I told her I didn’t like her attitude and I didn’t know what she was talking about. She said the waitress told her we had complained about seating. I told her we were not complaining, that we were only joking about the seating where ever we wanted like the waitress said. I told her I was inquiring about the salsa and I told her the toast was dry. The manager told us to leave and not to come back.
      If you want good waitresses and good food go to Sam’s For Play Restaurant. The waitresses are friendly with good senses of humor. The manager is great and the salsa is homemade and well seasoned.

  1. Whatever Cheyenne was doing right, is no longer happening. What an incredible disappointment.
    Based on your review we decided to give it a whorl. The staff was very friendly, but that was about it. The food was SO mediocre. We were told Cheyenne was gone, but the owner has been cooking great food for years. We had dry over-cooked salmon w/ gloppy floury mac n cheese. The fried chicken was dry and flavorless. The mashed potatoes were nothing to write home about. This is definitely a good-ol-boys place and most likely makes a decent breakfast – greasy spoon style. Skip it.

  2. Wow! I don’t know where those Debbie Downers were eating.
    I enjoyed dinner at the cafe this evening and it was a super supper. I had the double chop, polenta and mash and my mom had the petite steak, grilled veggies and polenta. We both had well-made arnold palmers and got some dessert to go.
    The polenta was the second best I have ever had, next to Willow Wood’s. The mashed potatoes were not to salty, wet or dry and the chop was cooked well with the sauce. My mom’s steak was a little less done that she requested, but still tasty and she made a point to tell the staff how much she enjoyed it. Her grilled veggies were just tender enough and well seasoned, not dripping with sauce, as can happen so easily.
    The dessert was tasty. We got the southern orange cake and the strawberry shortcake. The short cake was perfectly sweet and the whipped cream tasted/looked like homemade. I am not a fan of walnuts so I liked the orange cake less, but the frosting was great.
    Basically, the food was spot on seasoning wise for each particular dish and you could tell there was no time wasted getting the dish from the kitchen to our table. I was surprised to read that the original chef was no longer there, but that didn’t seem to be an issue with the food or service. The place was still about half full when we got there close to 8 pm and it was a mix of what I like to call “fancy” people and neighborhood folk. I hope that they find a way to continue to make the dinner service be profitable. I will definitely be back and bring others, too.

  3. Best.mashed.potatoes.ever? Not.even.close. My husband, daughter and I went this evening based on this review. For a Saturday night, it was surprisingly and thankfully not packed. The service was attentive. We ordered mozzerella wedges and shrimp and grits for apps. The mozzerella wedges were sad. Three overcooked tiny cheese sticks on a giant blue plate. If you’re going to serve a small app, put it on a small plate with maybe a garnish. They were bland and weird, but no one was expecting a culinary breakthrough in a cheese stick so that’s fine. The shrimp and grits appetizer was rockin. So flavorful and well prepared.
    My husband ordered the fried chicken and it lived up to the hype. My daughter and I split the surf and turf with mashed potatoes and mac and cheese. The ribeye was a little tough, the shrimp were bland and lackluster. The mac and cheese was tasty enough, not amazing, but the potatoes were the biggest bummer. They were fine. Not.period.emphasis.great. I’m Irish and I know my way around a potato. I offer my throwdown to best potato status any day.
    I hope the dinner service does well for Piner and clearly this chef can make that happen, but let’s be real. It’s decent food, not earth-shattering.

    1. Ready to throw down? I honestly want a gander at your mashers. I’m always on the hunt for the best.

    2. We just had dinner here. Ordered the fried chicken, mashed potatoes and garlicky greens. Sorry to say, all had NO FLAVOR. Chicken was OK at best but NO FLAVOR! Potatoes were dry and should have had brown gravy on them, also NO FLAVOR! Greens NO FLAVOR of garlick at all. Bread was bad choice also.We were really looking forward to trying this place out but were very, very disappointed. Other dishes might be better. Hate to say this but KFC is better. Sorry for the sour review!

      1. Dear readers as of tues. 6/15/2010, I am no longer at The Piner Cafe as the dinner Chef, I truly wish them the best, but because of some differences, we decided to part ways. Please give the piner a second shot, I think without my talent they still can produce solid dinner fare. With that said I truly wish Chris Schilling the best both professionally and personally…. I do have some projects in the works so please look out for me in the near future.
        Cheyenne S.

    3. Wow first of all I don’t think this place should even get a star, but I had to give them one, that is at least not for dinner, but based off of what I seen for dinner the breakfast/lunch thing must be bad too. What was Heather Irwin thinking???— I love her column, but this place SUCKED. We just ate there tonight and the food was inedible, the fried chicken was greasy, flavorless and gross, the was no flavor to anything, I don’t have time to talk about the apps but they were bad too, the fish smelled about a month old and was overcooked—- the sides oh my lord the sides NO FLAVOR, the maccaroni and cheese tasted like chalk. My friends steak was overcooked on one end and undercooked on the other I didn’t think it was possible, and so so so so salty it had a strange flavor, and it was as tough as shoe leather (cheap meat, hello) her shrimp were like chewing rubber bands she said. I have never had food this bad in my life, the Chef is on crack and he need to explain how garlic greens had no garlic flavor in them The waitress I had must have supplied it to him the drugs. She was the most incompetent server I’ve ever had, she talked too fast, she had her thumb in my food (it was still bland and greasy by the way), she had dirty nails, smelled of cheap perfume and limped a bit when she walked (which made me feel bad for her, by the way). It was the worst meal I ever paid for, in the worst restaurant I’ve ever seen the carpet was stained and smelled, the windows were splattered with God knows what, there was a rank smell to the joint (plus our cracked out waitresses perfume hurt my stomach), our waitress acted is if she was doing us a favor by serving us the crappy food of her chef and OMG the F-IN bathrooms were gross too. The whole thing was, it was like a bad joke, like any minute some has been actor was going to pop out from the kitchen and say got ya…you’re all on some lame reality show! Heather Irwin please remove them from your biteclub, they shouldn’t be on it, just pretend it never happen, I still love you girl and you ever need a gay husband Holla.
      Oh wow I’m sorry to the chef, he’s not there anymore—- I just read the other reviews about the piner to see if anyone else hated it as much as me and apparently the chef is no longer there, he seems to have left kind of abruptly. Why would he leave/quit/ get fired a week after a big review???? So that’s why the food sucked so much. Maybe he couldn’t deal with that tweeker waitress we had.
      All things aside the food on a scale of 1 to 10 was a -2 (yeah that bad)
      the service was really bad too, I can’t even say anything else about it except our waitress looked like the neighbor from something mary (leather skin, and one too many hits of acid). The restaurant itself was dirty there were flies and it smelled.
      I WILL NEVER GO HERE AGAIN I ADVISE ALL TO STAY AWAY NOT EVEN FOR BREAKFAST OR LUNCH, but I am curious to know what happened to Chef Cheyanne give us a little more info about what happened man, no one believes that friendly I wish you the best BS there got to be some dirt—- enquiring minds must know

    1. If only it were true.
      BTW: Anyone reading Bourdain’s new book right now? I’m sooo hooked.

      1. Finished it yesterday, was hooked as well! His mixture of humility and snark is always fun to read.

  4. My family and I had dinner there last night. It was INCREDIABLE!!! My husband and son both had the Fried Chicken. My son said it was life changing. My husband thought it was the best fried chicken he has ever had. I had a rib eye with roasted potatoes and spinach. Yum! This place is great. You can tell that everything is fresh and made from scratch. Piner Café is just as good as some of the most expensive restaurants in the Wine County and you get a lot of food for your money. By far one of the best dinners out that I have had in a long time. Great prices too. If you love good food you are going to love this place. I know we’ll be back!

  5. Chef Cheyenne is my cousin and I could not be prouder to say that! Iam actually planning a trip to Cali later on in the year and can”t wait to stop by and eat some of my grandmas/Cheyenn’s chicken among other things. Way to go Chey! The sky is the limit for you baby. Kiss the baby for me and tell Amber I send my love.

  6. pork chops need not be dry!
    brine your chops. just for an hour. it makes all the difference in the world!
    not necessary to cook modern pork to 250 degrees celsius. cook to a doneness maybe between beef and chicken and you will live and so will your gastrointestinal tract. even better you will have juicy tasty pork chops that you will go “AH HA! That’s What I’ve Been Looking For!!” yummers.

  7. My family and I were invited for dinner there last Friday night by our neighbors (who are regulars at the cafe for breakfast/lunch). everything we ate was fantastic & with excellent portions. We ordered two calamari apps which were quickly devoured…my husband had the Fried Chicken, I ordered the pork chop, my son had the steak….all cooked wonderfully and very tasty…my pork chop wasn’t dried out!!!! I liked that they had several side dish options which all looked delicious. the food was all prepared & presented fantastically (liked the white, square plates), but what was even more evident was that Piner Cafe has a lot of “regulars”. I think that every person that came in that night for dinner was welcomed with a big hug & friendly smile. This is someplace that I could definitely see myself driving my family across town again for dinner. I never could have imagined that such good food was being prepared behind the walls of such a funky old building. Nice work.

  8. Mr. Simpkins is my nephew and I am so proud of him. I knew that he would be great in cooking from the time he was a little guy. He would love to be in the kitchen and always asked questions. Chy, keep up the great work your family is so proud of you. Cant wait for that meal you will prepare for your Auntie. Love you much and God Bless.

  9. Great Job!! I often hear about you from your mother. I too hope to visit soon so that I may meet you and have a excellent eating experience. Keep up the good work and I know that success will follow you. You are truly gifted and you make your family proud!!

  10. Chef Simpkins is my nephew and I am so proud of him. I’ve always encouraged him to work hard and always do his best. Hard work and dedication always pays off. Keep up the good work and I will continue to pray for your success.

  11. Cheyenne is my brother! He has worked so hard to become the talented Chef that he is! I am so proud of him and I can’t wait to visit Cali so I can try everything on the menu!Love you Lil Bro! Keep striving to be GREAT! lOVE BIG SIS…KISS MY BABIES FOR ME!

  12. I have had their desserts the day after, during ( instead of) breakfast. Delish. Thanks for the pic, I know this will be the next dinner out we have.

  13. Sounds yummy, will definitely have to check it out!
    Minor quibble, did you know the link goes to an with an error message “Oops, go here” with a link to this page?

    1. Thanks ER. I was trying to change the permalinks to be more SEO friendly, if you really want to know the ugly truth.
      It backfired. Sorry!

  14. I love hearing stories like this!… taking an existing well-received establishment and boosting it up a notch. Kudos to Piner Cafe and to Chef Simpkins for giving it all they got! Can’t wait to visit for my 1st Dinner experience of much-beloved and missed GRITS (can I get some okra with mine?!)! *yum* 😀

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