Two Trees Cafe   
7822 Telegraph Road

It all started with a beer, Pliny the Elder to be exact. This long-sought-after beer from Russian River Brewing Co. is in short supply and high demand; and we’ve even driven as far Westlake Village to track it down. So imagine our surprise when Two Trees Cafe in Ventura’s East End started spreading the word via social media outlets that it had Pliny the Elder. Was it a hoax? Nope, it was for real. For a short time, it was serving up bottles of the hard to find, super hoppy IPA.

It was this fabled beer that made me take a closer look at Two Trees Cafe, a small restaurant sandwiched between Ace Hardware and Albertson’s that while, best-known for its breakfast menu, recently added dinner service plus beer and wine. Pictures of fried chicken and meatloaf and tall cold glasses of draft beer kept coming up on my Facebook feed. It was only a matter of time before I went to check it out.

We went for dinner on a Friday night, and the first thing I noticed was how clean the restaurant is, courtesy of a recent remodel. Clean off-white walls are decorated with tasteful photos of local scenery, and light-colored wood tables and booths fill the orderly, rectangular space. Vintage-inspired light fixtures, complete with Edison bulbs, hang from the ceiling and hint that much thought went into the new look of the space.

As for the food, the dinner menu at Two Trees Cafe is a broad one: from steak to shrimp, Mexican specialties like enchiladas and chile rellenos to diner classics like burgers and French dip sandwiches. Whatever you’re in the mood for, they’ve got it covered.

While it no longer has Pliny the Elder, it does have a rotating selection of three draft beers (think Stella Artois, 805 and Firestone) in addition to bottled beers like Surf Brewery’s Mondo Cream Ale. For me, the meal started with a White Rascal, a Belgian-style white ale from Avery Brewing Company. Crisp and refreshing, with hints of citrus and spice, it was the perfect foil to the hot September weather. A small selection of wines is also available by the glass, as well as the house Michelada, a beer cocktail flavored with hot sauce, Worcestershire sauce and lime juice.

We ordered four entrees for the table to share: fried chicken, meatloaf, a chipotle chicken sandwich and the fish tacos.

The tacos are filled with grilled red snapper, thinly sliced cabbage, shredded cheese and sliced avocado. While they offer a generous amount of fish, our tacos were overstuffed and the accompanying tartar sauce a bit watery, leaving the overall flavor a bit muted. Though flavorful, the long-anticipated meatloaf appeared to have been reheated on the flattop, leaving it a bit tough and tired. The accompanying mashed potatoes, topped with a beef gravy, arrived at the table barely lukewarm.

In contrast, the chicken dishes did impress. The fried chicken — a generous serving of four small pieces — was moist and sweet with hints of honey in the golden batter. It came with mashed potatoes finished with a decadent cream gravy flecked with bits of ham and black pepper. The chipotle chicken sandwich is built on a foundation of thick-sliced sourdough bread and filled with boneless chicken breast, bacon, avocado and a tangy chipotle sauce. The flavors worked well together, and the soft chicken and avocado were the ideal balancing act for the crunchy bacon and toasted bread. It was served with onion rings with a dark crunchy batter and a hint of salt.

The dessert options at Two Trees are tantalizing, like that slice of chocolate cake with Chantilly cream that was posted about on Facebook a while back. (Yes, I still remember it.) Desserts are not made on site, but rather come from a local bakery. We finished our dinner with a towering slice of tres leches cake drizzled with a sauce reminiscent of maple syrup.

Throughout the evening, service was a bit weak — perhaps a case of being understaffed on a busy Friday night. We waited a good while before our server appeared, and the bread plates we requested never came. Service was friendly and our server was doing her best to keep up, but something was amiss.

Yet, I have to say, there is something about this place that makes me want to go back. I like what they are trying to do: create a neighborhood eatery where you can bring your kids or a date, have a burger and a beer, shrimp scampi and a glass of wine, or a turkey sandwich and a soda. Though there are still a few kinks to be sorted out, I would still raise a glass — preferably a glass filled with cold draft beer — to the Two Trees Cafe.

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