Pine Cone Cafe

            For decades, the Pine Cone Café was a fixture on Main Street in Sebastopol.  It had a fifties-vintage ambience and a menu to match, even though a vegetarian friend of mine went there faithfully because they made a mean grilled cheese sandwich.  The Sebastopol cops used to take their coffee and lunch break there.  You know the kind of place; Naugahyde booths, old linoleum floors, and a counter you could eat at if you didn’t mind sitting on a stool.

            Then the Julius family sold the business and new owners took over.  It took them a while to renovate but now they are open.  I ate dinner there last night.

            I ate dinner there because I stopped on Main Street to hit Copperfield’s Books for some last minute gift cards. I was tired and cold.  The wooden floor, pale wood tables and clean look of the new Pine Cone seemed warm and attractive.  The menu had curries, Indian dishes, and a number of burgers; turkey burgers, tempeh burgers, pesto burgers, as well as soup and salad.  The Indian and eastern cuisine seemed to dominate.  Only two tables were occupied. They have managed to fit a good number of tables into the space.  It’s a little surprising. 

The south wall has been stripped back to the dark red brick and is currently hung with several large paintings by the same artist. Brick is a wonderful texture and this was a great choice. I took a seat by the wall facing the windows so I could people-watch.

            My server was a slender woman with curly brown hair, very friendly, maybe a little over-invested. You know that type of person who gets just a little too far into your personal space?  Who shakes your hand just a little too long, who stares just a little too intently when they talk to you?  She was like that. 

            I ordered the chicken curry.  The menu says all entrees come with brown rice unless you request otherwise, but she asked me what type of rice I wanted.  “Brown,” I said.  She went away.  I had a book and it was a good thing, because I had quite a wait. A few more people came in.  A group of three stood at the bar, which used to be the lunch counter and is now an uncluttered wine-bar.

            When my order came my server apologized for the white rice because they had run out of brown.

            The curry was served in a separate casserole so that you could spoon it over the rice.  There was a small salad of mixed greens with a sweet and tangy dressing and a basket full of naan.  The curry was steaming hot, spicy without being too spicy, and very tasty. The rice had peas in it.  I like peas, so that worked for me.  The naan was good and there was a little tub of the spicy green dipping sauce that I forget the name of.

            The meal was good.  I don’t understand how you run out of brown rice when it’s your staple menu item and you’ve been open two weeks (and only three of your tables are occupied) but I guess that could happen to anyone.

            I also had dessert; a square of bread pudding.  I chose it because I was curious.  Bread pudding; I either really like it or leave it after two bites.  This fell into the first category.  It had raisins or currants in it, a nice little sauce that wasn’t too sweet.  I felt special.

            When these new owners took over, they advertised the place as somewhere “the old Pine Cone crowd would feel comfortable.”  I don’t think they’ve achieved that.  The food is good.  The place looks nice.  The menu is competing with East West Café, about six doors down the street.  The environment competes with GTO Seafood, in the next block.  Possibly people who like East West but want a quieter setting would come here; or people who like the look of GTO Seafood but don’t want to pay those prices. You’ve also got the Bistro. All in all, this seems like a risky business for a menu that isn’t that different from what you can get in three other places on the same street.

            They do have a good location, though, and if they, of all the Main Street restaurants, decide to stay open later on nights the Sonoma Repertory has performances at the Main Street Theater, they could potentially snag the coffee-and-dessert crowd. They’re not going to get the “old crowd” though.  No grilled cheese sandwiches and potato salad served from an ice cream scoop were on display last night. There was no waitress who knew your first name, which of your kids was in the army and which grand-daughter is taking dance lessons.  The place is nice.  Comfortable?  Homey?  Not quite. Not yet. 

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