Based on a couple of recent visits, it appears dinner hasn't yet caught on at Satellite Cafe. We're not sure why.
The Heights isn't overrun with decent dinner options, and Satellite is doing a pretty good job with its smallish menu of interesting, decently priced dinner offerings. It is a familiar destination for so many who for years have crowded the place for lunch and even more so for weekend breakfast/brunch. (The restaurant has built a large legion of breakfast/lunch fans since it moved from downtown into the former location of Hall's Drug Store 11 years ago.) There's a great happy hour that includes $1 off already low-priced mixed drinks and glasses of wine. And our server was as attentive, helpful and friendly as he could be in an unobtrusive way.
However, it was almost as if we caught our waiter off guard when we ordered a full dinner – one appetizer, one soup, two main courses, one dessert, wine, a cocktail and a coffee. He told us a family emergency had sent the head chef out of town, that there was no duck (the menu description made it sound very appealing), and that the vegetable terrine wouldn't be accompanying the tilapia as advertised. And, of the five desserts on the menu, the chocolate creme brulee was the only one available.
But, hey, the things we could get and did get were all pretty dang good. We were worried there wouldn't be enough quail clinging to the tiny carcass to make it worth splitting as an appetizer, but we were wrong. Lightly fried, moist and juicy, the quail ($9) was a hit, though it's wise to watch out for tiny bones. The tortilla soup ($3.50) was aggressively spiced with cumin and was ample, hearty and filling.
The pan-seared tilapia ($15) was an excellent and excellently prepared piece of mild, delicate fish, crisped just a bit but very succulent inside. With no veggie terrine to accent it, our sub-chef decided on a bed of wilted spinach, and it worked very well, melded with the slab of gruyere that was supposed to be atop the terrine. Nice save by the kitchen!
Our ribeye ($21) was cooked just like we wanted, and while a little fatty it was very flavorful, and plenty ample to box up the remains for another meal. The accompanying scalloped potatoes were sinfully rich, tender slices of potatoes drowning in a thick white sauce. The excess sauce was perfect for sopping with the slices of ciabatta our waiter kindly grilled with a bit of olive oil when we requested bread. Again, nice touch – served quickly, hot, and with no sense we were burdening anyone.
The chocolate creme brulee – is there any mid-range restaurant that DOESN'T do brulee these days? – was soupier than most, but no less decadent than its firmer cousins. A side order of vanilla bean ice cream was thrown in gratis, maybe because of the frowns we exhibited when we learned there were no fried pies.
We'd split a piping-hot, crisp-crusted apricot fried pie topped with rapidly melting ice cream on a previous lunch visit, and it definitely made us want another. We started that meal with two soups – white bean chicken chili and seafood bisque, the soup special that day. The broth-based chili was flavorful, but lighter than we'd expected, almost delicate. The bisque was as rich and creamy as you'd expect and left us scraping the bottom of the cup for remaining droplets.
There's a lot to like about the juicy drug store burger ($7.50) – it's a decent-sized, hand-formed patty that is allowed to cook slowly without being smooshed. It was shy on the salt and pepper though and could have used a little garlic powder to liven it up. The accompanying fries were crispy shoestrings, and there were plenty for two.
The steak and brie sandwich ($13) also needed some help. Meat, cheese and bread alone is fine for a 9-year-old's cheeseburger, but this sandwich had great potential. It just needed a fancy mayonnaise, maybe some grilled onions or even lettuce and tomato to make it more interesting. The steak was a little chewy, but that is understandable. Fork-tender filet isn't going to show up on a sandwich this size and price.
Breakfast remains the bomb at Satellite; it is the variety and creativity that separate Satellite from greasier-spoon breakfast spots. Blueberry pancakes, huevos rancheros, design-your-own omelets, French toast made with whole-grain breads and cinnamon apples are just a few of the competitive differentiators.
Satellite has a good vibe all the way around. It's a booth-only restaurant – plus stools at the bar – and comfortably funky in a bohemian sort of way. There is live music two nights a week, and the recorded music played the rest of the time is generally good as well. Folks are friendly, and it's a great place for conversation, or checking e-mail or just hanging out. There's even a drive-through for picking up to-go orders.
For all those reasons and then some, more people need to try Satellite Cafe – especially for dinner.
5923 Kavanaugh Blvd.
Happy hour is a good deal at Satellite, with $2.50 highballs and $1 also off on glasses of wine. And stick around for dinner afterward. You'll be glad you did.
7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Mon., 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tues., 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. Wed. and Thurs., 7 a.m. to midnight Fri., 7 a.m. to midnight Sat., 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sun.
Full bar. Credit cards accepted.