Stepping into The SideCar Restaurant in Ventura, Calif., I knew I was going to love every bite. How could I have a bad meal in a restaurant housed within a historic 1910 Pullman dining car with old-fashioned arched train windows, classy white tablecloths, and mini-chandeliers?

The SideCar restaurant in Ventura, Calif., serves local, seasonal cuisine in a 1910 Pullman train car.

I could just feel the glory days of old Hollywood at this restaurant. In the Thirties and Forties, movie stars who were invited to lavish parties at the Hearst Castle (farther north) drove up the coast and stopped for a nice meal at The SideCar.

Grilled Cheese Night and Jazz

I was lucky enough to dine at The SideCar on Tuesday, which is Grilled Cheese Night featuring live jazz. Really, any evening at The SideCar is perfect, thanks to Chef Tim Kilcoyne’s inventive and farm-driven gourmet menu that features Ventura’s local, seasonal, sustainable and organic produce. But Tuesday and Thursday’s Burger & Martini Night light up midweek evenings.

On Tuesday night, the place was packed with a comfortable mix of older and younger clientele—all bobbing their heads to the Gil Valencia Trio jazz combo. When a guest vocalist launched into “It Had to Be You” I was hooked!

Now, grilled cheese sounds a bit mundane, but Chef Kilcoyne’s menu in mid-October included not just traditional cheddar cheese but lavish “specialty” grills such as:

Tuesday is Grilled Cheese and Jazz Night at The SideCar.

  • Triple-cream brie with roast turkey and fig-honey jam (made with figs from the restaurant’s fig tree!)
  • Herb havarti, blue cheese, red onion, oven-roasted tomato spread, and roasted garlic
  • Goat cheese and apple-walnut relish

All the sandwiches are served with scrumptious creamy tomato-basil soup.

As I enjoyed both soup and sandwich, I toasted my first dolphin sighting (see “Wild Dolphins Ahoy”) with a Ventura Lemonade, a tasty concoction of  Ventura Limoncello (created from Ventura-county lemons including those from the organic Limoneira farm), Meyer lemon-infused vodka, fresh lemonade, and homegrown mint served over ice. It was refreshing, and I could taste the California sunshine in the fruit and mint.

Sophisticated Menu

My friends and I didn’t stop with grilled cheese. We ordered salads, entrees and desserts from the menu, which lists in-season foods and the regional farms that supplied the evening’s fresh flavors. We passed dishes around the table for all to sample.

SideCar cocktail: the organic Ventura Lemonade, plus a dolphin magnet (in honor of seeing my first wild dolphins).

The pepper-crusted filet mignon with Yukon Gold mashes potatoes and creamed Swiss chard was outstanding. Even a side order of sweet-potato fries with roasted garlic aioli was a special treat.

And for dessert, our group couldn’t decide whether the pumpkin tiramisu or the blackberry crisp was more divine.

Oh yes, did I mention the wine list consisted only of California wines, many of them made with organic grapes? You can do this sort of thing in California, where fine wine abounds within just a hundred miles of any part of the state.

What’s Cooking at Your Thanksgiving?

If your tastebuds are tingling from reading this blog post, tell me what you’re cooking for Thanksgiving this year. (Leave a comment below.) I’m certainly thankful for the organic bounty of local family farms!

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

Showing 12 comments
  • Melanie Mulhall


    I love the idea of unconventional grilled cheese sandwiches!

    It will be simple this year at my house, but traditional (as always). Along with turkey and stuffing (yes, the in-the-bird kind that no one seems to want us to do these days, and with lots of sage), there will be other traditional dishes, including cranberries in port sauce and cranberries with tangerine and ginger. Also elderberries in wine.


  • Laurel

    Your traditional cooking sounds divine! (Wow: elderberries in wine: that’s unique!)

    And yes, why suddenly is in-the-bird stuffing suddenly such a big taboo? Have I missed something? Like millions becoming sick from botulism or salmonella or whatever happens if stuffing is still “raw.”

    I’m going to give brining a shot this year. Again, something I’d never heard of before and voila–everyone is talking about it. (Then again, I haven’t been the turkey roaster in at least 10 years, so perhaps brining is so last decade!)

  • Beth Partin

    Sounds like a great place to visit. I love restaurants that do something new with something old, like reinventing grilled cheese.

    • Laurel

      Yes, and doesn’t grilled cheese sound so right with jazz?

  • Rosemary Carstens

    My daughter and I are doing food prep volunteer time in Denver this year and forgoing the big home-cooked meal. But I usually like to have something less traditional along with my turkey–last year it was two kinds of enchiladas. I despise those mushy green beans with canned onion rings on top as well as the canned yams with marshmallows on top, so you won’t ever see those on my table. I did discover a terrific yam recipe that I DO like tho and will probably fix it for Xmas dinner this year. Whipped yams, lots of butter, evaporated milk, white and brown sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, and chopped pecans.

    This meal you just wrote about made me SO hungry–time to quit work for the day and rustle up some vittles!

    • Laurel

      Yum! Enchiladas with turkey! That’s a great way to dazzle up the flavors of Thanksgiving. Have a wonderful time volunteering for a Denver meal.

  • James Carling

    Hi Laurel,

    We are so glad you found this gem in our town of Ventura, CA. Chef Tim’s Grilled Cheese night is truly unique. I appreciate that you mentioned our Ventura Limoncello, but I need to clarify. The Ventura Lemonade (created at The Sidecar) is made with Ventura Limoncello (from the Ventura Limoncello Company), we do use Limoneira lemons in our limoncello (they are one of the Ventura County lemon growers we use), but we are separate companies. If you find yourself in Ventura again, let us know. We can give you a tour.

    James Carling
    Ventura Limoncello Company

    • Laurel

      Thanks for correcting me! I’ll make some changes in the copy: that’s the beauty of the blog!! I don’t suppose you sell your limoncello in Colorado, do you? Unfortunately I didn’t get to a liquor store while I was in Ventura, otherwise I would have stocked up.

      • James Carling

        Hi Laurel,

        Thank you for the correction, it IS the beauty of the blog (I know how that is). Unfortunately, Ventura Limoncello is currenly only available in CA and AZ. We are working hard at adding additional states. There are retailers who ship if you are interested.

        Hope you had a nice Thanksgiving.

        • Laurel

          Sounds like I’d better order a bottle for Christmas! Cheers!

  • Allen Cox

    Thanks for sharing such great finds from your travels. Sustainability and green tourism are such important issues, and it’s exciting that more and more travelers are educating themselves and demanding responsible travel providers. And it’s even more exciting that witers like you are helping your readers tell authenticity from lip service. I enjoy your blog.

    You might be interested in a travel writers conference on the subject of sustainable and green travel and tourism in the Seattle area in May. If so, check out


    • Laurel Kallenbach

      Thanks! Your blog is great as well! And thanks for the link to the travel writer’s conference in May. Could be a lot of fun to meet kindred souls!

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