Reagan’s Country Café
Ronald Reagan Presidential Museum and Library
40 Presidential Drive, Simi Valley
There are lots of reasons to visit the library and museum of our nation’s 40th President Ronald Reagan in Simi Valley. There are Air Force One, a replica of the Oval Office, interactive green-screen videos (where you can read lines and then see yourself appear opposite the future president during his Hollywood heyday), videos of Reagan speeches, historical events and much, much more.
Unfortunately, the Ronald Reagan Country Café is not one of those great reasons. Despite pleasant, vast views, from both indoor and outdoor seating areas where you are in proximity to a piece of the Berlin Wall as well as within sight of President and Nancy Reagan’s final resting spot, the cafe is little more than a cafeteria-style self-serve spot to stave off hunger.
Two entrances are demarcated for when the lines are long. (There weren’t any lines the day I had lunch there with a colleague.) One is for ready-to-grab deli items from a refrigerated case: salads and sandwiches; the other for cooked-to-order hamburgers, hot dogs, pulled pork and Reuben sandwiches (the latter two items recommended by the line cooks), pizza and the like.
A colleague and I hit both. First, we labored over the salads and premade sandwiches on display in plastic boxes: Cobb, barbecue chicken, Double–Scoop (tuna and egg salad). The Cobb appeared the most appealing. We also grabbed a turkey-and-avocado sandwich on squaw bread ($9.50) that came with potato salad, which looked better than it tasted.
Granted, the California Cobb Salad ($9.95), a sort of do-it-yourself affair that requires mixing and tossing with Ranch dressing, would benefit from a big bowl rather than the packed-to-the-gills plastic box. Ingredients were plentiful. The lettuce mix — buried underneath squares of turkey with little flavor, chopped tomatoes, diced cucumbers, bacon, a hard-boiled egg (cut in half), plenty of blue cheese (yay!) and a nice separate container of avocado in lemon juice — was a good mix of crispy romaine and spring mix with radicchio. But once composed, the Cobb left me, well, underwhelmed.
From the hot deli, I noticed some homemade potato chips and requested a side (80 cents) with the Southern Pulled-Pork Sandwich ($8.95). The chips were one of two “highlights,” and I did compliment the friendly woman chef who made them. The dry pork, piled high on an onion roll and accompanied with plenty of decent house-made cole slaw, benefited only slightly from the side of barbecue sauce. Potato salad was institutional and not made in house.
There are wine and beer, sodas and the like. We had bottled water, but perhaps a glass of wine might have helped.
Dessert, a huge slice of seven-layer carrot cake ($5.50) with a not-too-sweet cream-cheese frosting, plenty of walnuts and toasted coconut was our favorite. My friend, a tour guide who once owned a fine patisserie, said that’s what she’d have for lunch next time. The staff is great, from the line cooks to the garbage collector, as are the volunteer docents (over 400) throughout the museum.
After lunch, I wound my way around the museum to Air Force One (yes, you can climb aboard and even have your photo taken as you board) and Reagan’s Pub, which had more of the same prepared sandwiches and salads, but also lots of house-made sweets like brownies, cookies, Rice Crispy treats and fudge in a variety of flavors. I grabbed a small box of chocolate walnut Reagan fudge ($6.95), which was sadly dry and not creamy like the homemade holiday versions I remember from my childhood.
With so many art museums throughout the land with great dining venues, like The Getty and others, it’s hard to decipher why more effort wasn’t put into this one.
On the other hand, where else can you have a beer or fill your belly under the belly of a presidential plane with views of our parched landscape?
There are a lot of interactive facets to the museum, and one is an etiquette quiz with questions like where to place your napkin when you finish dinner at the White House and when to sip champagne (before or after that toast?). Nancy Reagan, who famously entertained on a $208,000 set of Lenox china (paid for by a donor), would probably roll over in her grave if she had to eat on the plastic plates we dined on.
As for the former President? Apparently he always kept cake on Air Force One in the event it was someone’s birthday. Hope it was good.
There are plenty of his favorite jelly bellys for sale in the gift shop, as well as a portrait of “The Great Communicator” made from 10,000 jelly beans that, for this visitor, would have made for a much more fun, and probably satisfying, lunch.