Santa Cruz Good Times

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Mar 27th
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Piece of Cake

dining_steakFreedom's Wooden Nickel Bar and Grill serves up huge plates of fresh, flavorful comfort food
It had been a decade since I last met friends at the Wooden Nickel Bar and Grill. The place had been described to me as a dive bar. But this 30-year old establishment is bright, with natural light from real windows. And from the boisterous laughter spilling into the adjacent restaurant as we waited for dinner, I could tell it was a welcoming neighborhood bar, the kind where everybody knows your name.

The restaurant seemed to be an addition, as rough-hewn timbers supported weathered bricks forming an open doorway from the bar. The decor was rather Pacific Northwest mountain cabin-style with moose wallpaper borders, carved wooden totems, and a mounted pair of antlers. On each table was a full complement of condiments including three styles of Beaver brand Oregonian mustard and A.1. Steak Sauce. Under the glass that protected the tablecloth, I was surprised to see a full-page wine list.

Entertainment is also occasionally offered. On Fridays from 7 to 8:30 p.m., live music emanates from the baby grand, and the piano is also available on open mic night, which occurs on the first Thursday of every month between 7 and 10 p.m., and welcomes the spoken word as well as music.

Our server was charming, attentive, and enthusiastic. She pointed out the specials of the day which included homey meatloaf with mashed potatoes and gravy ($11.95), which is served every Tuesday, and fresh grilled salmon ($21.95). On Wednesdays, you'll find spaghetti and meatballs ($11.95). While making our decision, a Full Caesar Salad ($9.95) passed by on an entrée-sized platter, along with an order of puffy, golden Fish and Chips ($10.95).

The side Caesar Salad ($4.95), which was almost a meal in itself, came complete with tomatoes, herbed croutons, shredded parmesan and anchovies. It was evenly coated with classic Caesar dressing, and served with two buttered, broiled slices of seed-studded baguette.

The tender, smoky New York Steak ($21.95), broiled just a hair past medium-rare, was topped with minced parsley and sautéed mushrooms and accompanied by a melted butter-laden baked potato, cauliflower, and asparagus, and a cube of moist chocolate sheet cake. It came with a large side salad of lettuce and baby spinach with corkscrew fusilli pasta, cucumber, carrot, and strings of pickled beets. The tasty side of honey Dijon mustard was not overly sweet.

The Nickel Burger ($9.95) was served on a shiny French roll. It would easily have made two meals if I was hungry, but with all that wonderful salad, I didn't stand a chance of eating much. The hefty burger, well-done as requested and with a flame-licked flavor, was piled high with sautéed mushrooms, soft, chewy bacon, three slices of Swiss cheese, avocado and sprouts. It was served with a huge heap of crisp, skin-on fries, a spear of deli pickle, coleslaw with chewy raisins and a sweet dressing, and its own piece of cake.


Wooden Nickel Bar and Grill, 1819 Freedom Blvd. at Green Valley Road, Freedom, 724-2600. Full bar. Serving breakfast daily 9 a.m. to 11 a.m., lunch 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekdays and until 2 p.m. weekends, and dinner Monday through Friday at 5 p.m.

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