Discerning Diner: Dining al fresco at Sierra Madre Saloon
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Discerning Diner

Discerning Diner: Dining al fresco at Sierra Madre Saloon

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The Sierra Madre Saloon has been a mainstay in our area for decades, but it’s been some time since I visited the establishment.

I’m not sure how it slipped off my radar, but it could be that the smoking policy had something to do with it. Suffice it to say that if smoke bothers you, you’d be more comfortable dining outside. I did poke my head in to ask if there was a none-smoking section and was informed that there is not, but judging by the crowd gathered there drinking and playing pool last Thursday evening, I’d say the regulars like it that way.

My interest in visiting the venue was piqued around the time our county was transitioning to the “green phase.” My travels take me down the Carlisle Pike quite often, and each time I’d pass by I would see diners enjoying food and drinks outside. Before long, I, too, wanted to do the same.

My husband and I decided to visit the establishment last Thursday night and found a convenient space in their ample parking lot. We walked to the outdoor seating area when an employee spotted us and informed us that we could have our choice of tables. Because half of the seating area is beneath an overhang and shielded from the sun, we chose a seat there, although we would have been happy elsewhere since all of the diners are protected from the sun by umbrellas at each table.

As I viewed the menu and reached back in my memory to recall the Sierra Madre’s lineup of dishes, I recognized much of the same “South of the Border” choices now as I did back “in the day.” Among them are quesadillas, chimichangas, burritos, fajitas and my choices, a hard chicken taco ($5) and a chicken tostada ($8).

A selection of “starters” includes personal pizzas, nachos, peel-and-eat shrimp and wings with heat levels ranging from mild to the amusing “widowmaker.” My husband chose to try the Philly Cheesesteak rolls ($8) to start off his meal.

If you enjoy salads, you’ll likely find your favorite one here. A selection of 10 include everything for Caesar, to house, chopped, Greek and Cobb. If you’ve been to Primanti Brothers, you’ll understand the Pittsburgh salad, which tends to negate the concept of eating light. It is comprised of romaine, iceberg, red onion, peppers, eggs and cheddar jack, topped off with a serving of fries and is likely to satisfy any appetite.

Paninis, subs and sandwiches with ingredients like pit beef, tenderloin, crab cakes, turkey and fried fish round out the list of casual fare.

Finally, there’s a “North of the Border” category, which includes steaks, crab cakes, grilled chicken, and my husband’s choice, the meatloaf stack, topped with beef gravy ($12).

The service was relaxed, but at no time did we feel like we waited too long in between courses. Within 10 minutes of ordering, our starter arrived piping hot. My husband said he enjoyed the mini fried cheesesteaks, saying the firmness of the deep-fried wrapper enhanced the soft texture of the cheesy meat filling.

I was surprised when my taco arrived next with a side of refried beans and rice—a steal for $5. I did notice that I was charged an extra $0.75 for a side of sour cream and $0.50 for a side of salsa, but at $6.25, I still consider it quite a bargain.

Our main entrees arrived shortly thereafter, and I was quite impressed with the meatloaf my husband ordered. Not only was the portion large, but the flavor was also savory and scrumptious. I usually skip ordering meatloaf for fear of the sugar factor. It’s as if some cooks can’t refrain from adding sugar to an otherwise good meatloaf. I can say that certainly didn’t happen in this case, and if we return, I will likely be ordering it.

I also enjoyed my dish of tortillas topped with refried beans, shredded chicken, crisp iceberg lettuce, cheese, red peppers and scallions. The portion was so large that I was unable to finish it all.

As we finished our meals, we realized that it has been many months since we enjoyed dining al fresco, and it was a nice change of pace.

If it’s been as long for you as it’s been for us, I can recommend the courtyard at Sierra Madre Saloon for good food at a fair price and service that is well paced. I know that I won’t wait as long to return again.

Next Up: Lunch at John’s Hideaway Restaurant in Carlisle

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