Unlike its coastal cousins, the city of Pasadena to the immediate southeast of Houston is not usually considered a getaway destination. Thanks to its association with the 1980 film Urban Cowboy, Pasadena tends to conjure images of industrial refineries and roughnecks cutting loose on honky-tonk weekends, testing their mettle on a mechanical bull.
The Pine Street Café at the Silver Sycamore
5111 Pine Ave., Pasadena
But in a Pasadena neighborhood just a few blocks inside Beltway 8, a surprising destination defies such expectations: a compound known as the Silver Sycamore. This charming enclave of restored older houses, newly constructed buildings, and tiny cottages includes a café, a bed-and-breakfast, and an entire re-created Western town complete with an inn, saloon, chapel, and jail—all situated on nearly six landscaped acres dotted with gazebos, pergolas, and a pond.
Local residents Jackie Spigener and her husband, Gary Spigener, are the visionaries behind the Silver Sycamore. In 2005, after about 25 years in the construction business, they decided to try something different. They converted their construction yard into a reception hall for weddings and corporate events, and they fashioned an adjacent 1930s home into a tearoom, the predecessor of the Pine Street Café.
Enjoy country cooking like chicken and dumplings and BLT sandwiches jazzed up with jalapeño-infused bacon.
The Spigeners put their construction know-how to work in stripping the old house down to its original wooden walls, and Jackie, who has a background in interior design, decorated the interior with antiques and vintage photos to give it a cozy atmosphere. “That ‘grandma’s house’ feel is something people yearn for,” she says. She developed a menu based on country cooking—fare like hearty chicken and dumplings, sliced roast beef au jus on a bun, and a BLT sandwich jazzed up with jalapeño-infused bacon and roasted garlic aioli, all made from scratch. Jackie served as the chef for the first eight years of operations before hiring extra help. “At the time, I had no restaurant experience,” she confesses, with a laugh. “I had never even worked in a restaurant.”
Yet the tearoom proved to be a success, and its popularity prompted the Spigeners to expand its hours and services: About three years ago, they rechristened it the Pine Street Café at the Silver Sycamore and began serving a full breakfast and lunch menu. Just last year, the café earned accolades from the Houston Chronicle for having one of the best burgers in Pasadena. Jackie attributes its favorable ratings to the fact that she uses only the freshest Angus beef combined with her own special (secret) seasoning, and the fact that the burger ($10.99) can be customized with a selection of cheeses, caramelized onions, sautéed mushrooms, and especially the jalapeño-infused bacon (another secret recipe). Other favorites include the turkey burger, served on a sourdough bun with grilled apples and brie, and the spinach and bacon quiche—a holdover from the café’s tearoom days.
Yet above all, the weekend brunch is worth waking up for. Alongside standard morning staples like bacon, eggs, sausage, and pancakes, the café serves up some inventive dishes to tempt more adventurous eaters. Take, for instance, the “Tipsy Chicken n Waffle,” ($14) which features a subtle hint of whiskey in the syrup sweetening the crispy chicken tenders. Another concoction to satisfy the sweet tooth is “The Elvis” ($11)—French toast spread with peanut butter and topped off with a decadent portion of bananas Foster. Those seeking savory options have plenty to choose from as well, like “The Sloppy Pig,” a flaky croissant smothered in a peppery sausage gravy. And you can even have a breakfast burger that comes with a fried egg and bacon marmalade.
As if running a restaurant and a special-events facility wasn’t enough, the Spigeners expanded their operations in 2007 by adding a bed-and-breakfast. They spruced up an existing 1930s home to rent for weddings or getaways and added three quaint little cottages just behind it. These diminutive handmade houses measure a mere 200 square feet and were fabricated from materials salvaged from old buildings. Inspired by the rustic feel of the cottages, the Spigeners decided to build a Western town at the back of the property as a way to increase their events capacity and provide additional overnight options—and Sycamoreville opened for business in December 2015. Its Saloon includes three upstairs accommodations, and Reilly’s Inn, just next door, features a spacious room that is fully ADA accessible. A hot breakfast from the café comes gratis with an overnight stay.
Even though the Spigeners have left the construction business behind, they can’t seem to get away from buying and fixing up old houses, especially those near the Silver Sycamore. Over the years, they have beautified several homes on the block, and in 2012 they repurposed one as a coffee shop called Sycamore Grounds. Here, locals gather to enjoy hot brew from fresh-roasted beans provided by Houston-based Amaya Roasting Co., not to mention pastries and pies straight from the kitchen of the Pine Street Café. “I love coffee, and it was cheaper for me to build a coffee shop than go to Starbucks,” Jackie jokes.
This charming enclave of restored older houses, newly constructed buildings, and tiny cottages encompasses a café, a bed-and-breakfast, and an entire re-created Western town.
The Spigeners use their various venues to encourage the arts within the community. Sycamore Grounds showcases work by area artists on its walls and also hosts an open mic on the last Thursday night of the month. In the spring and fall, the Silver Sycamore spotlights local talent at its monthly Beer, Burger, and Band Night, an outdoor barbecue picnic with live music. And this past October it launched an Art Walk & Wine event, in which artists plied their creative wares from booths set up along the main street of Sycamoreville.
Jackie plans to organize similar events on a regular basis. She explains the motivation behind her ever-expanding empire: “I want to help Pasadena grow. It’s so central to Houston and Galveston and Kemah. People can stay here where it’s nice and quiet and get anywhere in about 20 minutes.
“Young people don’t know about Urban Cowboy,” she continues. “They want a place where they can hang out, drink coffee, have a meal.” That being said, she admits that her corporate clients frequently request a mechanical bull for events. “We set it up in the middle of Sycamoreville,” she says. “It may be a cliché, but people like it.”