South Pine Café for “breakfast, lunch or beer”

THE SIGN IN FRONT of the South Pine Café sums up its mission with humor: “Breakfast, lunch and beer.”
The family run restaurant, with locations in Auburn, Grass Valley and Nevada City, has been dishing up fresh, homemade comfort food for years—making it a Sierra Foothills institution.

Locals and out-of-towners line up for the good eats at South Pine. Some of them come all the way from Lake Tahoe. “The food is awesome, and the wait staff is super friendly,” says Ann Lindemann, whose family has made the outing a Mother’s Day tradition for years.

South Pine epitomizes a new generation of comfort food—a healthier, more upscale version than Grandma used to make, all at affordable prices. Comfort food is booming, partly because of the recession.

South Pine’s menu is unique and eclectic. Breakfast dishes include the South Pine omelet, which is spinach, red onions, corn salsa, mushrooms and jack cheese topped with homemade red and green pesto; Lobster benedict; and ollalieberry pancakes.

The restaurant’s signature blackberry mango jam is made from scratch.

Lunch includes a spicy Jamaican chicken burrito with jerk sauce topped with chipotle sour cream and avocado; a vegan or regular BLT with avocado on multigrain bread; and the South Pine salad, with greek olives, mushrooms, homemade croutons, corn salsa, cheese and veggies tossed in a garlic feta dressing.

The burgers are to die for: The Smoldering Pine burger includes bacon, chipotles, grilled onions, mushrooms, swiss cheese and dijon mayonnaise. The vegetarian nut burger is made from scratch with pecans, brown rice, garlic and cheese with sun-dried tomato pesto, lettuce, tomatoes, dijon may- onnaise and brie cheese.

The cafe’s children’s menu is fun and affordable: For $3 you can get dishes such as a “Mousecake” (a Mickey Mouse-like pan- cake with fresh fruit), a plain burger with fries or a quesadilla.

South Pine is owned by George and Suzie Dyer, who moved to Nevada City from the Bay Area in 1995 to raise their family in the “safe and habitable” Sierra foothills, as George says. It didn’t help that somebody
had driven off with the Dyer’s boat, parked in their driveway, about the same time they decided to move.
“Our idea was to create a restaurant that would appeal to any type of clientele, from the biscuit and gravy connoisseur to the vegan, and anyone in between,” he says.

The Dyers are experienced restaurateurs. George graduated from the restaurant management program at City College of San Francisco, one of the top U.S. culinary programs.

In the 1980s, they ran Moriarty’s Restaurant in the “gourmet ghetto” of North Berkeley, just down the street from Chez Panisse. Later they opened George and Suzie’s cafe in nearby El Sobrante.

The Dyer’s acquired the original South Pine Cafe, on South Pine Street in Nevada City, in 1996. George cooked and Suzie waited tables. She could pour coffee with her daughter, Madeline, at her side.

“It was perfect,” says Suzie. “We lived just three blocks away, and I could come and go with the kids.”
What started out as more of a “hippie joint” now attracts a diverse mix of diners at all three locations, including families such as the Lindemann’s, the local high school football coach and Grass Valley City Council members.

The original restaurant’s success, whichincluded people lining up outside for breakfast, prompted the Dyer’s to open a second location in downtown Grass Valley. They refurbished a historic building on Richardson Street that once was the site of a bar called the “Office,” a convenient excuse for patrons to call home and report they were still at “the office.”

A focal point of the South Pine restaurant is the old-fashioned mahogany bar, where patrons drink freshly squeezed juice for breakfast as well as craft-brewed beers and local wines for lunch. A tile spittoon is
underneath, though it’s out of commission. The restaurant’s ceilings have been raised to their original height, making the dining room bright.

The newest South Pine restaurant is in Auburn, which opened about a year ago. It also features a handsome bar—this one made from stained concrete and distressed wood. The building is newer than at the other locations, featuring a modern, open look and an outdoor patio.

But the menu is the same, featuring the old standbys of omelets, BLTs and burgers. In an added twist, the South Pine’s Auburn restaurant also is open for dinner, featuring a mixed grill, Cajun sauteed chicken breast and fresh halibut.

Throughout South Pine’s expansion to three Foothills cities, George and Suzie’s motto has remained the same: “It’s like eating at home with my family.”

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