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.