Sometimes, cold weather adds a layer of pleasure to dining and entertainment. Steaming hot chocolate tastes better, and brisk walks turn exhilarating when the mercury plummets.
Café Sierra, a newcomer to Lower Greenville, gives me more reasons to appreciate mid-winter chill: the warmth of a stone hearth fire, cozy seating and an eclectic menu peppered with hearty, wintry dishes.
On our first visit, we arrived early enough for happy hour (5-7 p.m.). That meant 50 cent draft beers, $1 bottled domestic beers, and $1.50 imported beers and well drinks. This was my first 50 cent brew since college.
But Café Sierra is no hole-in-the-wall college joint. The casual but stylish interior helps make it a gem of a neighborhood dining spot. Golden mustard colored walls, sculptural metal sconces and a wood burning pizza oven create a warm atmosphere. A homey fireplace anchors the smoking section.
A complimentary basket of warm bread accompanied by a crock of garlic-herb butter whetted our appetites. We devoured the bread while contemplating the menu, which featured a hybrid of Southwestern, Greek and Italian cuisines.
Crostini with Wild Mushrooms ($3.95) proved a winning, light appetizer. The toasted ovals of French bread were slathered with tangy goat cheese and topped with woodsy, wild mushrooms and chives.
Smoked Chicken fusilli ($6.25 lunch/$8.95 dinner) consisted of spiraled pasta tossed with tender chunks of smoked chicken, red onions and wilted, wild greens. The dish was bound by a cream sauce with a welcome hint of heat from red chili.
My dining companion first balked at the warm wilted greens scattered throughout the dish. “I don’t understand warm lettuce,” he muttered. But Midway through the dish, he embraced the concept, scarfing every wilted leaf.
The dish came with a generously sized house salad of romaine and Boston bibb tossed with a Mediterranean artichoke vinaigrette, croutons and shaved Parmesan cheese.
Café Sierra’s wood-fired pizzas boast exceptional crunchy crusts and out-of-the ordinary toppings. We shared the Mykonos Pizza ($6.95), a Greek inspired spinach pizza that was light enough for dieters, but savory enough for any foodie. Roma tomatoes, fresh herbs and feta cheese played well with the spinach.
The barbecue chicken pizza ($8.25) made a satisfying meal for two on a subsequent lunch visit. Its crust held a smoky homemade barbecue sauce, gouda cheese and barbecued chicken sprinkled with cilantro.
The Mesquite Grilled Smoked Turkey Sandwich wowed us. Served on focaccio bread, the sandwich held sun dried tomato spread, Asiago cheese, sauteed wild mushrooms and wild greens.
Sierra Nachos ($4.95) came piled high on a platter, topped with molten Jack and cheddar cheeses, black beans, caramelized onions, tomatoes and jalapenos. We ate almost all of them.
Blue Corn Meal Calamari ($5.50) didn’t send the adults in our group, but remarkably, our two 4-year-olds polished them off, passing on the aioli sauce.
A cup of the potato leek soup was thick with cream, but tasty. Other dishes, not tried, include Grilled swordfish served with couscous and a Mediterranean hearts-of-palm vinaigrette ($13.95), Mediterranean Pork Chops ($11.50), Mesquite Grilled Ribeye with bleu cheese butter ($13.95), and Pan Seared Salmon ($13.25).
The restaurant also features an extensive coffee and dessert menu. Three Berry Country Tart ($4.25) and Chocolate Layer Cake ($3.95) are the big sellers, along with Café Mocha ($2.95) and Cappuccino ($1.95).
Although Café Sierra makes an enticing dinner spot on a cold winter’s night, its appeal should endure through warm weather, as well. The empty patio fronting Lower Greenville should be teeming with diners when spring rolls in.
Café Sierra is located at 2900 Greenville (827-1813). Hours are 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-1:30 or 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday. Live music is scheduled Friday and Saturday nights from 8:30 p.m.-1:30 a.m. Happy hour is weekdays from 2-7 p.m.