The Movie Train Cafe
501 Santa Clara St.
A while back, a fairly upscale restaurant opened in Fillmore, and it appeared the foodie revolution was extending to the easternmost rural ends of Ventura County. Sadly, that restaurant has closed, but now, in its place (at Santa Clara and Central Street) is the delightful Movie Train Cafe. Chef Sassy Wright claims to have learned her trade from “down-home southern cooking,” and many menu options reflect this heritage: buttermilk biscuits with bacon inside, topped with bacon gravy and pepper; chicken and dumplings; and cinnamon roll pancakes.
The décor of the Movie Train Cafe is trains, trains and more trains. Movie posters from any movie mentioning or about trains line the walls, a cabooselike structure at one end of the patio, welcoming bright red awnings outside, and an open/closed sign that was a train signal in a previous incarnation. None of this is surprising since the cafe’s owner is David Wilkinson, who is the co-owner of the Fillmore & Western Railway Co., which offers riders a glimpse of the heyday of the American rail travel era.
Breakfasts are hearty and old-fashioned; I like the chicken fried steak, but the previously mentioned buttermilk biscuits with bacon are a particular standout. Eggs are perfectly cooked to order, and the very friendly and sometimes over-attentive staff makes sure one’s coffee cup is never empty.
Lunches are not particularly inventive in design or description, but certainly reflect the chef’s attention to flavor and preparation. There is a grill on the patio whose succulent smoky barbecue aroma almost forces the diner to order the tri-tip sandwich. It is a delicious sandwich (I’m not sure if the sauce is homemade) and at $6.95 is a great bargain. On my last visit I opted for the patty melt —good but not overwhelming (it could have used a few more grilled onions) and the ordinary bread made me wish a heartier bakery could be found.
Chef Sassy is known for her soups, and I have not been disappointed in that area. The vegetables in the minestrone were fresh, succulent and not overcooked. The broth was full flavored and the addition of rice made it a good filling, soup option. On several visits I’ve noticed lots of diners ordering the hot wings, which are served either atomic hot, mild, honey, barbecue, teriyaki or garlic parmesan; they certainly appear appetizing and a crowd pleaser.
The sides are not plentiful, but adequate and tasty nonetheless. A very creamy potato salad, a small bowl of mixed greens, pasta salad and a side of chili beans are the only options. I had fries with my patty melt, and they were crisp and freshly cooked. It is always a good idea for a restaurant to build options as the restaurant grows and settles into its space; I look forward to chef Sassy’s additions to her salad menu.
I’ve yet to go to the Movie Train Cafe for dinner, but glancing at the menu the rib eye steak looks great (at $16.95), and given the great taste of the tri-tip (in the sandwich), I’m sure the beef is cooked exactly to the diner’s specifications. Other dinner options include pork chops, garlic shrimp scampi, a 14-ounce prime rib (at $18.95, the most expensive item on the menu), and a garlic Alfredo chicken. Vegetable offerings include fries, mashed potatoes, rice pilaf and seasonal vegetables.
While the menu is not vast, and the style is down-home cooking, the Movie Train Cafe is a fun and interesting dining option in the eastern end of the county. For train buffs the décor is right on the mark. In fact, I recently had lunch there and a Hollywood production was filming the charming exterior and inviting design. If you choose to sit in the upholstered maroon settee, you might even think you are in a dining car of yesteryear heading to the wild, Wild West for a great adventure.