For the past two months, Simply Sara's has settled into its new digs in a historic Colonial Revival building in Ortega, once home to The Village Store restaurant. After relocating from an unassuming Murray Hill strip center with no seating, the new spot offers seating for about 100 inside and outside.
Celebrating two years in business, Simply Sara's is family-owned-and-operated, and emphasizes simple Southern comfort food in a laid-back family-friendly atmosphere. Many neighborhood residents frequent the spot with kids in tow.
"We want to remember everyone's names," co-owner James Mangham said.
While you will find families, you won't find processed foods, anything dumped out of a can or anything that needs microwaving. Everything's created fresh, using Mangham's tried-and-true family recipes, like his great-aunt's barbecue sauce and his mother's pimento cheese spread. All of the salad dressings are made in-house. His wife, Sally, specializes in desserts like cookies, cakes and pies.
Intrigued by the eggplant "fries" with homemade ranch, I ordered a basket and received a heaping portion of thin, seasoned, cornmeal-dusted eggplant strips — I gobbled them in record time.
Pimento cheese sandwiches aren't an everyday menu item, so I had to have one. It was thick and flavorful, with noticeable shreds of sharp cheddar on toasted multigrain. I chose a side salad of chunks of cucumbers and tomatoes marinated in a slightly tangy yet sweet balsamic vinaigrette with honey.
The fried chicken sandwich with tomato, lettuce and mayonnaise featured a generously sized chicken breast, so juicy and tender, perched between a not-too-dense toasted Kaiser roll. For sides, we ordered crinkle-cut fries and knife-cut corn, though the fried corn on the cob and fresh pole beans were also tempting. (Note to self: Try on next visit.)
Dinner entrée offerings (complete with your choice of two side items) rotate each evening. The few bites I had of the barbecue bone-in chicken entrée, served with cornbread, were divine. The muffin-shaped cornbread was sweet and moist, with a nice crisp crust, and the chicken was flavorful and moist.
Anything from the lunch menu may be ordered for dinner, and when you ask for hot sauce, you can choose between Crystal or Louisiana hot sauces — no watery tabasco here. There are also several items available to take home, like thin crispy cookies, jellies, salad dressings, barbecue sauce and several varieties of pimento cheese spread (garlic and white pepper, chipotle and smoky bacon cheddar).
Desserts change daily. And while they won't tell you what's in their popular Milky Way cake, all you need to know is that it's delicious. A fluffy cake topped with a not-overly-sweet, thin layer of icing was the perfect ending to our meal.