Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

From the outside, Simple Simon’s Bakery and Bistro in downtown Riverside looks like a high-end sit down restaurant with floor to ceiling windows and a fancy logo, which is why I was shocked once I actually stepped in.  Right away my ears were greeted by the loud chatter of the 1 o’clock lunch guests as I surveyed everything around me.  Red bricks lined the walls with a wide open industrial ceiling.  Tall wooden booths were lined up against the walls with tables scattered in between. The atmosphere was relaxed, which immediately made me feel welcomed.  The menu was displayed on two large green hanging chalkboards behind the tall long counter which reminded me of an old fashioned soda shoppe.

The person taking my order was friendly and patient as I glanced at the many choices, especially the sandwiches. Grilled Pastrami, Tuna Melt with Swiss, Italian Grinder, Chicken Apple Sausage, Vegetarian and many more.  Each one made my mouth water more than the next through its description.  There was also a variety of soups and salads.  At the suggestion of the person helping me, I ordered the Grilled Marinated Chicken Breast sandwich which came with my choice of potato salad, pasta salad, fresh fruit or raw veggies; I chose the pasta salad.  I then walked along the long counter to pay at the register.  After getting a fountain drink, I made my way to one of the wooden booths along the wall to wait.  No more than five minutes later, my name was called over a microphone which reminded me of a fast food restaurant like McDonald’s or Burger King.  Not surprisingly, the comparisons stop there.

The moment I picked up my tray, I caught a whiff of my food and instantly my taste buds were dancing.  The distinct smell of olive oil and pesto instantly hit me.  The first bite was glorious.  And the next, and the next, and so forth—you get the idea. The olive oil that I had smelled was coming from the bread, which was warm and crisp, yet moist.  Every bite was flavor-filled. The sandwich also came with provolone cheese, tomato, romaine, Parmesan, pesto and Caesar dressing.  And of course the chicken.  Although the other ingredients complemented each other well, the bread and the pesto are what made the sandwich.  The pesto sauce, which is made of basil—an herb especially popular in Italian dishes—also consists of olive oil, which is why those two flavors were very rich.  Not wanting to neglect my pasta salad, I took a bite and was instantly pleased.  The red bell peppers gave it a hint of spice which made for a zestier flavor.  The cold pasta contrasted nicely with my warm sandwich.

When ordering food, one cannot help but look at the display of the many desserts offered at Simple Simon’s.  There was a variety of pies: Apple, Pecan, Pumpkin and Strawberry Rhubarb.  I couldn’t resist a slice of the pumpkin pie with some whipped cream on top. From the first bite, the flavor was rich and extremely moist.  You can definitely tell it’s pumpkin pie.  The crust was just the right amount of crunchy.  It was the perfect way to top off my meal.
Although everything is served on plastic plates, do not be deceived—you are receiving a high quality meal.  The menu options are a bit pricey; for example, my sandwich and pasta were $9.95, but the quality and size are definitely worth the price.  Everything, from the bread to the pastries are made fresh from scratch. You can even purchase a bag of their specially made bread to take home with you! They also offer a breakfast menu which includes omelettes and French toast and is served 7-10:30 a.m. on weekdays and 7:30-11:00 a.m. on weekends.  Lunch is served until 5 p.m. on weekdays and 4 p.m. on Saturday.  An assortment of beverages is also offered, including coffee, lattes and bottled sodas as well as beer and wine for the 21 and over crowd.

If anyone is looking for a new eatery to try here in Riverside, or even for a place to study for a couple hours if you don’t mind a bit of noise, Simple Simon’s is a charming place to go—especially if you’re looking to try something unlike your ordinary fast food or sit down restaurant. Simple Simon’s is simple yet extraordinary, and we are lucky to have them here in Riverside.