Hillside Cafe is a diamond among the rough landscapes and farm-town feel of Etters, just off Interstate 83 in Fairview Township.
This family owned and operated steak and seafood restaurant is brand new – despite the fact that the Hillside Cafe has been serving hungry locals for more than 60 years.
In September of 2012, a fire struck the local landmark, which had built up a stable of regulars over a period of decades thanks to its classic fare – especially its renowned steak and crab cakes.
The fire completely devastated the old wood-framed building, necessitating a rebuild from the ground up – a process that took owners George and Loula Sgagias two years. The new Hillside occupies a dramatically modernized and enlarged space.
“The bar is significantly bigger,” says the Sgiagas’ daughter, Christina. “That was one thing we could never add on to in the previous location.”
The old bar was very small, and the atmosphere was archaic. Now, the bar seats 30 guests around a modern grey-and-black bar top with black cabinets suspended above.
This is not the kind of establishment you expect to stumble upon when driving through Etters.
The bar features two rows of high-top tables with hanging blue orb lights in the center, wrapped with booths around the outside. The walls are lined with vintage bar and sports memorabilia, along with nine giant TVs. The Hillside Cafe bills its new bar as a proper sports bar and features the NFL Sunday Ticket this fall and wing specials for all NASCAR races.
The new bar has 24 beers on tap. Some are local craft beers from breweries like Lancaster Brewing Co., Tröegs and Liquid Hero, while the rest are a mix of big-name craft brewers like Dogfish Head and Starr Hill and standard domestics. The bottle selection is small, but there, too, you’ll find a variety of domestics, imports and craft beers.
Despite these big changes, the restaurant features the same food customers grew to love since the Sgagias family bought the venue in 1987.
“The (space) is new, but it’s the same owners and the same quality food,” says Christina. The soups are always home made, the steaks are fresh-cut in house every day, and the ribs are slow-cooked overnight. Some of the desserts are even hand-made by Loula.
The Hillside features a few signature entrees, including several surf-and-turf combinations. The prize steak is the filet mignon, but porterhouse, T-bone, New York strip and Delmonico cuts are also available. The signature entrees are often paired with Hillside Cafe’s famous broiled jumbo lump crab cake. The crab cake is served sizzling hot with a lemon, and there’s almost no filler. Lobster tail, sweet sea scallops, shrimp and an assortment of fish are also available daily.
I enjoyed the classic house special on my visit, which includes a jumbo lump crab cake, a 6 to 8 oz. filet mignon, and two sides (I got the garlic mashed potatoes and seasonal grilled vegetables).
The plate came out sizzling hot and continued to sizzle for almost five minutes. The filet was cooked to a perfect medium rare – exactly how I ordered it. It wasn’t heavily seasoned, but it also wasn’t under-seasoned – it didn’t demand additional salt and pepper or A1 sauce. As filet mignon should, it simply melted away in my mouth and was very enjoyable.
The crab cake lived up to the hype as well. It wasn’t a traditional patty of filler and crab – it was more like a seasoned scoop of steaming crab, barely sticking together with a light breading.
The garlic mashed potatoes were perhaps too lightly seasoned, demanding a little salt and pepper. The grilled mixed vegetables made up for the mashed potatoes, though. The broccoli, carrots, zucchini and peppers were nicely seasoned and still held their natural flavors, as well as a healthy crunch.
Loula made the tiramisu the afternoon I was there, so I had to try a piece. The lady fingers were still firm, but moist. The coffee liqueur was light, but the rich flakes of chocolate provided plenty of flavor. It was creamy and not overly sweet – a wonderful finish to my dinner.
I enjoyed my time at the Hillside Cafe. The atmosphere was quiet and inviting – not overstimulating like some more generic steakhouses – and every member of the staff seemed genuinely kind and attentive.
As expected, the local regulars are happy to have the Hillside Cafe back in business. But this recently reborn steakhouse is also an excellent stop for hungry out-of-towners heading up or down I-83.
• 589 Salem Road, Etters
• Daily, 11 a.m-2 a.m.