When I was regularly reviewing burgers in the Sacramento area on this site I found at least three restaurants that served some of the best burgers in town that were easily within walking distance from my office. Esquire Grill and Grange made excellent burgers, but the best burger in the neighborhood was from Ella’s; an exquisite specimen made from Wagyu beef, Gruyere, and topped with a sunny-side up egg! All of the above were, and I imagine still are, nice places to eat where the burger will run you from $15 to $20. I don’t spend that much on lunch anymore nor do I eat much beef–it’s easier on the digestive system and on the planet to stick with poultry and veggies. On the occasions when I eat out, I take it easy on my wallet. One place that is more practical and yet very good is La Cosecha: a patio-style Mexican restaurant in Cesar Chavez Plaza here in Downtown Sacramento. Its main customers during the week appear to be civil servants, like myself, on lunch breaks, but from its impressive website, La Cosecha is also open for dinners and weekend brunch, so this only shows what a homebody I am. La Cosecha, or in English “The Harvest,” is impressive considering its small footprint and funky design on the west side of Cesar Chavez Plaza.
The place used to be called Cafe Soleil and it had less of a restaurant, more of a taco stand feel: line out the door because the food was good and the understaffed crew seemed unorganized. The windows and glass doors were covered in pastel-colored copy paper that featured the latest new and scratched menu items. Some of these signs were misspelled and often used unnecessary quotation marks that only gave the place charm. I don’t remember what kept bringing me back, the excellent breakfast burritos or the unintentionally humorous signage.
When the owner died after a long bout with cancer, her partner took over, but could not make it work and Cafe Soleil closed in or around early 2015. This was mostly due to renovations the City was doing to the plaza that made it difficult for the restaurant to attract customers with construction signs and fencing perpetually around. After Cafe Soleil closed the structure remained vacant for a couple of years and the eves of the building became a respite for the homeless that claimed the plaza after hours and on the weekends.
When the building reopened as La Cosecha in May of 2017, it was with a consistent menu, a full wait and kitchen staff and inviting details that made it look less like a taco stand and more like a sit-down restaurant. The only thing quirky I noticed about the place is how customers were discouraged to use the convenient side doors near the to-go window herding them through the front door even if they wanted to pick up an order. It’s a little confusing, but not a big deal.
La Cosecha’s menu features a lot of great sounding stuff. If I don’t watch it I’ll be camped here every lunch until I have tried all the dishes. Also, their Saturday/Sunday Brunch items make me want to get up early on the weekends and make the trek. Normally, though I stick with either their fish or chicken tacos. On this day; however, I wanted to try a torta and found just below the two tortas entries, a hamburger. I had to check it out–GI tract and environment be damned! I’ve been to run-down Mexican drive-ins that have called their hamburger a torta, but I believe that is a misnomer. La Cosecha clearly makes the distinction on their menu. So, in the spirit of honest labeling, I am having today, the Mexico City Burger.
The Mexico City Burger (CDMX) is an eight ounce beef patty, topped with melted cheese, mild poblano chile peppers, pickled onions, arugula, Cosecha’s special sauces on a large sesame seed bun. The poblano and the pickled onions give the Mexico City Burger a one-of-a-kind taste. I can’t say it ranks with any of the burgers I listed at the top of this post, but it is also about four dollars cheaper and a very different experience. The melted (or Fundido) cheese also gives the burger a festive taste–like nachos on a burger. This is not the kind of dish you want to order on a first date–it is messy with each bite the molten cheese pulls apart so that you often have to use your other hand to manage the stringy cheese. As for the arugula, well that’s just the chef’s damn good taste! Oh yeah and the waitress and Google helped me with the trailing parenthetical acronym: CDMX stands for Ciudad de Mexico or Mexico City. Thanks, waitress!
The fries aren’t bad, but lack the character of the main event: plain, but crispy steak fries where I was hoping for some Mexican seasoning or some other element that made them stand out. The dish is served with a ramekin of ketchup and a steak knife. I didn’t need the ketchup, but as I struggled with the molten cheese I knew I should have used the knife! I was grateful the bun held up and didn’t disintegrate as so many buns do when handling these kinds of ingredients.
As I write, this I can tell I am jonesing for some more La Cosecha. This burger is worth a reprise, but there are so many other things to check out: Carnitas De La Plaza, Tijuana Caesar Salad, and maybe one (or both) of the two real tortas. Buen provecho!
My friend and fellow blogger Chip told me as we were driving out of Downtown Sacramento last Wednesday night that the taco stand we were passing served his favorite hamburger. I looked at the sign as we drove by, Taqueria Jalisco. His statement and the stand’s name were incongruent. Did he mean his favorite Torta? Nah, if he said the hamburger, he meant it. Anyway, there are plenty of ethnic restaurants that serve other types of food.
As it turns out, Taqueria Jalisco states it is a Mexican and American food restaurant. When I pulled up to the stand the following Saturday it as much right on the sign, I just couldn’t see it when we were going past it at forty miles an hour. The menu didn’t have very many American-style items, but it did feature five different hamburgers. None of them exotic: Burger, Cheese Burger, Bacon Cheese Burger, Double Cheese Burger, and Pastrami Cheese Burger.
I ordered the Bacon Cheeseburger (I can’t handle the parsing!), along with fries, and a Diet Coke. Unless I missed it, their french fries are not on the menu. I did find Carne Asada Fries and wondered if they are as good as the Flaming Grill Cafe’s offering, but didn’t want to go there today.
Someone told me Taqueria Jalisco sells the only real tequila in town. I don’t drink and when I did, I only had one shot of tequila and that was enough! I don’t know what”real” tequila is–I’ve seen enough bottles of the stuff and have never seen a label that said “fake tequila,” “imitation tequila,” or “synthetic tequila.” I asked a drinker of the stuff, and he told me Taqueria Jalisco serves Tequila Tapatio, Casamigos Reposado, and Cazadores Reposado. My drinker continued, “Like champagne, true tequila is made only from fermented blue agave. Unlike champagne, tequila isn’t specific to any one region, as agave plants are fairly hardy.” He also sent me this nugget of Mexican trade law: “Mexican laws state that tequila can only be produced in the state of Jalisco and limited municipalities in the states of Guanajuato, Michoacán, Nayarit, and Tamaulipas.” So, I got educated on something that I really don’t care about and I question whether anyone who reads this post cares, as well. Aside from tequila, the joint also serves Irish whiskey, various alcoholic drinks, Voss, that ridiculously over-priced Norweign spring water, and fountain drinks, like the Diet Coke I’m drinking. Okay, enough of the booze interlude. On with the review of the burger.
Taqueria Jalisco’s Bacon Cheeseburger consists of what I believe to be a 1/3 lb. beef patty, cheddar cheese, bacon, mayonnaise, Thousand Island dressing, lettuce, tomato, pickles, on a “specialty bun.” If it sounds pedestrian, I would typically be with you, but wait until you taste it. The beef has a high-fat content (translation: it is juicy and flavorful).
Sure, there isn’t anything ground-breaking or experimental: no Gruyere cheese, no smoked paprika, no cilantro aioli, and the burger isn’t topped with a fried eye. And while I don’t think it matches Scott’s Burger Shack’s Fat Boy–another not-so-fancy burger that hit’s it out of the park–it is an excellent traditional burger. This burger is the kind of you would be served in a small backyard barbecue hosted by someone who really loves the traditional hamburger, loves it big, and doesn’t skimp on the ingredients (though I wonder why no onions). The bacon looked and tasted like the buyer bought it for himself–he didn’t skimp! It was thick, not fatty, and probably not cheap. The bun–specialty or not–was rugged enough to not dissolve by all the juices. There are fancier burgers available in Sacramento, but this was one of the best at least in the None Designer Catagory. (Yeah, I just made that up.)
Finally, a word about the fries. I didn’t ask the guy at the window, but the fries seemed to be battered. They had that crunchiness that is reminiscent of the way Cod, or Calamari is prepared at a good fish and chips place. I love these kinds of fries. There was no need for ketchup.
I will definitely return to Taqueria Jalisco–it is close enough to my house I can get my family in on this. The dilemma is, do I try the Mexican food that looks so good (street tacos!) or maybe I order the bacon cheeseburger again. Decisions, decisions!
Skip is talking about jury duty and how, in his retirement, he gets summoned more than ever before. “I’m so tired of getting picked for jury duty. The next time a lawyer asks me what do I think of black people I’m going to tell ’em ‘There’re great. I think everyone should own one.’ Maybe then they’ll leave me alone.” Skip is a crusty old white man about 75 in a faded plaid shirt and wearing a beat-up, greasy San Francisco Giants cap with the bill bent in multiple angles almost looking like a half octagon. He is sitting two seats to my right. He’s talking to Jesse, another white septuagenarian (I’m also estimating) who is also wearing a plaid shirt albeit newer. Jesse is sitting between Skip and me at a counter of a Denny’s near my doctor’s office. It’s Tuesday, a scheduled day off for me. I have planned some errands to run after my doctor checks under the hood.
Lyn, a plump 40ish waitress, carries a coffee pot around and freshens all our coffees including the young woman on my left swiping through her iPhone. She missed the racial slur Skip made because she has had earbuds in since I arrived, only popping one bud out to hear whenever Lyn has to say to her whenever she stops at her spot across the counter. The waitress slides an All-American Slam in front of me: three scrambled eggs, hold the Cheddar cheese, two strips of bacon, two sausage links, hash browns and two slices of white toast. A better writer would keep his ears open, but my food is here and I don’t multitask well when food is in front of me.
What am I doing at a counter of a Denny’s? If I get a day off for appointments and errands, I almost always go to a neighborhood restaurant that serves a good breakfast, but today, thinking about writing a post on diners, I decided to throw caution to the wind and eat at this place. The original idea was to eat at the counters of a half-dozen diners to take the pulse of “Real Americans,” but felt the triteness of the subject wasn’t worth the extra lining of arterial plaque, so this post is mostly about my personal history of diners.
Lyn speaks to Skip, Jesse, and the young woman (who I’m guessing is in her 20s) as if they are regulars–cracking wise with Skip and Jesse and talking to the young lady with the earbuds in an empathetic tone. At one point the young woman apologizes to us for tuning us our–she says she is a healthcare professional who works a night shift in a skilled nursing facility and is really tired. All of us tell her it is okay. She smiles and pugs her earbuds back in. “When are you going to put cod back on the menu,” Skips ask Lyn. Before she answers, I feel some java coming up thinking about eating fish in a Denny’s. Skip presses the issue. Lyn tells Skip she doesn’t make the rules. Jesse, in a disgusted tone that I relate to, wants to know if Skip eats fish for breakfast. “No. You know I eat dinner here most nights!,” Skip snaps back. I look over at my neighbor to the left. She is oblivious to the fish banter.
I used to go to diners like Denny’s quite often. First, there were the times in the 1960s. I was somewhere around seven years old. My Grandfather used to take me to the Sambo’s only a block away from my his hardware store on the corner of 65th Street and Folsom Blvd. here in Sacramento. I vaguely recall enjoying the murals above the lunch counter that told the tale of “Little Black Sambo.” Of course, I was oblivious to the racist content at the time–it just seemed like a story to me. The NAACP, among other offended entities, saw it differently.
Because of that early exposure to the diner-style eatery, I have always had a fond memory of that kind of restaurant but had little interest in eating in places like that in the mid-’70s when I got wheels and a disposable income or at least that’s how I felt initially. In the ’80s I occasionally had late night snacks at diners when my friends and I would finish our night clubbing at local places like Club Can’t Tell and Danseparc or after attending local punk/New Wave concerts, usually at Galactica 2000/The 2nd Level. If we went to the now-defunct Carrows, we were often waiting on by a woman who was dating a friend. (She would later become my wife!) But in between the nightclubbing phase and before my marriage, there were my late-night coffee and homework visits to the Peppermill on Arden Way with my co-dependent girlfriend, Judi, one of those visits ending in a parking lot meltdown. (Intriguing? You’ll have to read about that incident in my post The Ballad of the Codependent Rat, but beware, it is not for the faint of heart.)
This would be a good time to mention an experience I had not too long ago. I have been living or working in the area of Broadway since 1980 and from that time the diner Pancake Circus has been a fixture in my mind. It has always looked creepy from the outside: worn down, dull, with the feeling that if you touched the building you would have to scrub that finger with acetone to get the ick off. And then there’s the whole circus motif with balloons and clowns. Surprisingly Pancake Circus has a presence on the web–well, sort of. It’s more like a placeholder, but includes a handy OpenTable reservation tool–I shit you not! It also has a photo gallery that doubles down on the whole creepy feel including an Easter Bunny that is so evil looking it would make poor little Johnny wet himself!
Until recently, I knew of only one person who has been in the place. In fact, if I remember correctly, Geoff Wong ate there every weekday morning. A local attorney, novelist, and host of “Geoff Wong Adventure Theater” that ran in the 70s, Wong was once my old Peppermill-patronizing, co-dependent girlfriend, Judi’s boss! The one time I visited his office to pick Judi up, she introduced me to him. He was eating his lunch standing up. I didn’t think much of him standing while eating, but when Judi and I were leaving she told me that he always eats his lunch standing up. “He says it better for his digestion, but…” I phased her words out at this point, as I often did with Judi, and envisioned the local celebrity barrister in Pancake Circus eating his breakfast standing up, ready to bolt when he saw one of those clowns coming for him!
That was the only person I ever met who had eaten at Pancake Circus and lived to tell the tale. That is until a year ago when I received a text from my East Bay buddy Paul informing me he was in town to visit family and they had decided the whole family would go to Pancake Circus after attending Mass. I reminded him how creepy that place always looked when we worked at the Tower Theatre down the street and to advise him to eat his pancakes standing up. I later received the adjacent image on my phone. Then, from his sister’s house, he texted me that the place was actually alright.
This led me to challenge myself one day to have breakfast there, just as I did this morning at Denny’s. It was about as creepy on the inside as it is on the outside. And the wait staff acted as if they stepped out of a wormhole from the 60s–all “Honey” and “Hun” and “Sweety.” As it turned out despite expecting Pennywise to appear in the service window with my omelette au Rohypnol saying, “Tasty, tasty, beautiful fear–uh–I mean eggs,” the food was good–even standing up. (Okay, I’ll stop.) The breakfast was on par with most diners, I doubt I will ever return, though. I don’t remember seeing any cod on the menu, but as I was leaving the place with a full belly I saw something on the sign I never noticed before: “Steaks Seafood Salads.” Ordering seafood there would be a challenge I would never take.
As I left the Denny’s this morning to ride to my doctor’s office, I found fresh vomit in the car lane next to my scooter. (“Fresh” meaning it wasn’t there when I parked my ride forty minutes ago.) A foreboding sign, to be sure, but my stomach felt fine. It dawned on me as I was riding to my doctor’s that I was scheduled to do some labs which required fasting. Oops. It’s incredible how my stomach lords over my brain!
Since my previous doctor retired, I now have a pretty blonde D.O. for a primary care physician. D.O. standing for doctor of osteopathic medicine. (Should be a DOM, but that was a previous post.) What is that, you ask. Here is how the website with the pithy name http://www.doctorsthatdo.org describes it:
Listening to you and partnering in your care are at the heart of our holistic, empathic approach to medicine. We are trained to promote the body’s natural tendency toward health and self-healing. We practice according to the latest science and use the latest technology. But we also consider options to complement pharmaceuticals and surgery.
Some may think that sounds like a bunch of New Age baloney. Not me! The books I have been reading on yoga, meditation, the chakra system, and Ayurveda have given me the impression that the first time I would see my new D.O. she would be wearing a sari, sitting lotus in the corner, chanting “Om mani padme hum” while incense burned. Nope, she walked in five minutes after me wearing white slacks, a lab coat and only smiled and said, “good for you,” in a near-patronizing tone when I tried to impress her by saying I practiced yoga. (Thank God I didn’t bow my head and say Namaste when she entered the examination room!)
Twenty minutes after leaving Denny’s parking lot I’m sitting on the examination table and whining about my sleeping problems and my weight. The irony is not lost on me here. Also, in the middle of my bitch session, I suppressed an All-American Slam burp into my fist. Was that bacon or sausage? Whatever. I excuse myself and go back to bitching about my weight.
This was my third appointment with my lady doctor and I’m not sure if she has figured out the walking contradiction that is me. If she got a whiff of the dead-meat burp that might explain her doling out some home-spun wisdom, “Don’t love food that doesn’t love you back” and the suggestion I see a nutritionist. I agree to the nutritionist referral knowing that person will not be prescribing All-American Slams for breakfast. I think about the vomit in the parking lot. Someone’s breakfast didn’t love him back, I guess. I ask myself the wrong question–why didn’t I order pancakes.
I don’t know what the punchline of that joke would be. It’s been so long since I lived the actual setup. The last time I had lunch with my friend Jimmy was over seventeen years ago. I miss our time together, our unhealthy attraction to food, my guilt for pigging out on the stuff and his utter shamelessness for bingeing.
I met James Tatsch at a party of Tower Theatre and Showcase Cinema employees way back in 1980 when I was a new Tower employee. I was my usual wallflower self–not talking to nearly all of the guests since I had just met some of them as fellow floor staffers and the rest being complete strangers to me–some Showcase Cinema floor staff and the remaining friends of Tower/Showcase employees. I would find a corner in this Midtown Sacramento house to inhabit or just walk around aimlessly–rarely stopping at a cluster of chatting attendees. At one point I wandered into a bedroom with a one-sheet of Lina Wertmüller’s 1974 film “Swept Away” on the ceiling. There sitting at a desk playing one of those now considered “old school” wooden labyrinth games was this morbidly obese man–older than anyone else in the party by at least fifteen years. (Yeah, that doesn’t seem much now that I’m 60, but the difference seemed significant at 23.) His isolation, WearGuard clothes, ankle-supporting leather hightop shoes, and his advanced baldness also added to his years, I suppose.
While I was stared at the sexy movie poster, Jimmy said hello. I said hello back and a perfunctory conversation ensued. While we talked–he working the labyrinth game and I staring at Mariangela Melato’s body. He rarely looked up when he spoke that night. He said his name was Wolfgang, a reinvention moniker after Wolfgang von Goethe–a name I would refer to him as until the last ten years of our friendship when I began to call him Jimmy–the name his family called him. I thought Jimmy was more endearing than Wolfgang or James.
He would only make eye contact briefly after he lost a game and just before he fetched the ball from the return and resumed the game. Was that rude? I don’t know. I liked that he was not so intensely engaged in our conversation. It provided an easy way out if it got uncomfortable and anyway, I was too transfixed by Mariangela Melato’s body. Later, I would find Jimmy fascinating, witty, charming, and–ultimately–tragic when others found him either weird, uninteresting or repulsive. Over the next thirty years, I found that most people chose one of the latter qualities rather than agreeing with my assessment of the man. We would become famous friends with many negligible things in common and one big one: we both liked to eat!
This post is about our friendship and mutual love for stuffing our faces. I originally wanted to write a comprehensive history of our friendship. Thanks to my poor memory I settled on the beginning and what I’m afraid is the end of our friendship and one element in between.
I have struggled with my weight since settling down with my wife. That’s not her fault. I have always been a little on the thick side. By the time I was in college–occasionally living (and nearly starving) outside the home–I was probably at my best weight. In fact, when I met Jimmy I might have been near my best weight. Yeah, I’ll blame my weight on him.
A few years into my marriage (in the early 1990s) I had gotten used to home-cooked meals again and was getting far too comfortable watching TV after dinner until bedtime. It was at this time Jimmy would come over about two or three times a month. We would sit and chat and often fetch fast-food dinners for the whole family. Other times he would buy some exotic food that he would share with my wife and I after the kids went down. We would sit at the kitchen table–Jimmy testing the tensile strength of the wooden chair he sat in–and chat and eat into the late night. So it was logical in that environment that I would gain weight.
Perhaps the best example of how the consumption of food was the bond between Jimmy and me was the night we chowed down somewhere in the ballpark of a dozen Jimboys Tacos. My wife had called from work or shopping to ask what I wanted for dinner. I replied, “Just bring home a shitload of Jimboys Tacos. Wolfgang (Jimmy) is here.” She didn’t disappoint. Jimmy and I ate somewhere in the vicinity of a twelve beef tacos along with some taquitos and plenty of Jimboy’s fake guacamole. We also emptied a 2-liter bottle of Diet Coke (being on a diet and all).
It’s funny how, at the time, my wife thought that the whole scene was grotesquely humorous–two fat guys going through a sizeable greasy-orange bag of taco and taquitos, our bald foreheads glistening with sweat from the hot sauce we didn’t spare. Those days are long gone. Now, whenever I down a large flauta (basically a giant taquito) and prep myself for Flauta No. 2, she says in, with absolutely no humor in her tone, “You’re not going to eat both of those?” She’s right, of course. I’m a lot fatter and older than I was when I ate all those tacos and I need my wife to remind me of that, but I miss Jimmy and the free-wheeling taco jam; and hey, why did she buy two of these things when she’s eating a taco salad?
Then there were the excursions. About twenty years ago I had to surrender my driver’s license to the DMV after I started experiencing seizures that are usually suppressed by the medications I have been taking since I was twelve. This problem, it appears, has passed and I have my license back, but for nearly ten years I was at the mercy of my family and the horrible Sacramento Regional Transit District to get around. Jimmy–always wanting to be the hero–offered to take me out to lunch every so often and help me run some errands. We would sometimes go shopping at off-beat places: Mexican, Chinese, Vietnamese markets where Jimmy–a student of linguistics–would try his hand at understanding the help that didn’t speak English. I bought stuff that I would have never purchased for my family. I’d show it to the household and Jimmy almost always took it home with him.
We would sometimes go to Morant’s Old Fashioned Sausage Kitchen where I would buy him some sausages and buy some landjäger for myself that I could take to work. (The stuff would keep without refrigeration for over a week!) Along with his bouts of Manic Depression, Jimmy suffered from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and an obsession to know virtually everything there is to know German sausages. We got kicked out of Morant’s once because Jimmy asked too many questions and when the butcher at the counter was through answering questions Jimmy dished out some of his choice sarcasm and the butcher told him to take a hike, shooting me a look like I somehow insulted him as well.
Whenever we went to a sitdown restaurant I had the misfortune to have an attractive woman wait on us. Despite his looks, Jimmy was a charmer, but his charm didn’t woo the waitresses. They always said their boyfriends were at the bar or waiting outside in the car or was “a line cook here–right on the other side of those doors”–pointing at the swinging doors as if to say if I scream he will hear me and kick the shit out of you. These waitresses would tell this to Jimmy as he continued asking them questions that got more and more personal. They always kept their cool but I couldn’t help thinking the replies to these queries were thinly disguised “back off, fatso” lines, and that these smoke signals were also intended for me, too, though I usually kept my face buried in the menu.
And if Jimmy was serious about flirting with the help his ordering completely obliterated what remote chance he had with these ladies. He ordered as if he were feeding two people and a small child. Jimmy also asked a lot of questions on various items, keeping the waitresses at our table and away from their other customers. The kicker came when we finally ordered he insisted on keeping the menu–on one occasion having a tug of war over the menu with the waitress. Jimmy won, placing the big laminated thing between his gigantic ass and the chair. (I dare you to try to snatch that menu now, flustered waitress!)
The weird menu-hoarding thing was because he had to “pavement checked” the menu before surrendering it. It was his OCD–he had to thoroughly scan the information and the actual physical menu before he felt secure enough to relinquish it. Also, he always ordered dessert. No matter how embarrassed I was, I also ordered something after our large lunches.
Bread was another thing. Whenever we ate at a restaurant that served a complimentary basket of bread, we would buzz through at least two baskets. Jimmy would stuff the un-eaten slices in his “bagatelle” (a double entendre for the brown paper bag he would carry with him everywhere that contained his glasses, a magnifying glass, tissue paper–trifles). He felt absolutely no shame in requesting additional baskets of complimentary bread. The waitress would come by asking “Is everything alright.” Jimmy would always be polite and say “Oh, yes!” or “It’s all excellent. Thank you.” Unfortunately, he took that time to ask something about the waitress: how long had she been working there, what kind of earrings was she wearing, does that ring signify you are married? As embarrassing as this was, he would always top all of this by waiting until the waitress was about two tables away before yelling, “AND MORE BREAD FOR MOPPING.” I wanted to slink down under the table grabbing my Penne Rustica and the remaining slices of bread on the way down, of course.
I ran into a clip from Louis C.K.’s FX TV show “Louie” and immediately thought of my lunch dates with Jimmy. I’m not sure how the reader feels of C.K. after his gross sexual misconduct. I am sympathetic of his and all other victims of sexual misconduct, but I also am selfish enough to wish the whole thing didn’t happen so he can keep making standup specials, TV shows, and films like the indefinitely shelved I Love You, Daddy. Anyway, below is a clip that is the closest thing I have ever seen on TV to my lunches with Jimmy. Jimmy would be Bobby, Louie’s friend: utterly shameless in his gluttony. I would be Louie: willing to stuff my face with my friend, but self-conscience about it.
For some reason, the lunches with Jimmy stopped. Maybe Jimmy ran out of places where he was welcome. I’m not sure, but around that time I got a scooter and I was pigging out on burgers alone and reviewing them for this blog. One of a few big reasons I do so few Burger Scoot reviews these days is because the empty chairs around me remind me of our Saturday lunches. His visits to my home were also on a less frequent basis.
In 2010, Jimmy overdosed on Lithium–a prescription drug his psychiatrist prescribed for his manic depression–which he had been taking irregularly since before I met him. I dropped in on him at the request of a mutual friend who could not reach him and was worried. I found him in a horrible state. I called 9-1-1 and saw the EMTs haul him off in an ambulance. I visited him in the hospital a couple of times. When he was discharged from the hospital his sister picked him up and delivered him to an assisted living facility in Washington. I called him about a year or so after he moved to his new residence, but now his medications were being managed by professionals and I was no longer talking to my old friend. It was like the meds killed the manic part and left him just depressed. I spoke with him a second time, but there was no change. He didn’t want to talk very long and I suppose that was a good thing: the old Jimmy–the Wolfgang I met at that Midtown house party back in 1980, the guy I ate a shitload of tacos with and got kicked out of Morant’s with–was gone.
As I type this Vivian, my lab mix is eating her dinner behind me. It hasn’t happened yet, but as soon as she wolfs her food down–not too different from the way Jimmy and I would attack our food–she will drink some water. When she is finished lapping up the water she will return to the empty kibble bowl with her wet mouth and lick the bowl clean. Aah, there she goes! Vivian doesn’t need bread, her tongue does all the mopping.
Along with Selland’s Market-Cafe, Sampino’s Kitchen at Joe Marty’s is an excellent new addition to the Greater Broadway District in Sacramento. This bar & grill is not new. It’s a storied place working under different names.
It was originally opened by its namesake, who played for the Chicago Cubs and later the Pacific Coast League club, Sacramento Solons. It started as a bar on J Street. In the 1950s Marty moved the bar to its current location at 1500 Broadway in partnership with El Chico Pizza. In the 1980s, when I worked at the Tower Theatre (which shares the same building), I remember thinking the name “Joe Marty’s El Chico” was kind of funny. Did the slugger name the place after his Latino child? Little did I know the place would have a different–equally long-winded–name thirty-seven years later.
When I worked at the Tower, I would often take my breaks at Joe Marty’s El Chico. I don’t ever remember the word pizza being in the name nor do I recall ever ordering pizza there, which is strange–me being a pizza hound back then. I would order broasted chicken and/or broasted potatoes. I vaguely remember liking the items, but the place was more of a bar for old salts back then.
I only remember eating at Joe Marty’s El Chico one time after I left Tower Theatre’s employment. I went there with my wife and one of her old high school buddies (Whose name happens to be–no, not Chico–Marty!). I recall he kept repeating, “This is a really nice place.” In my forties at the time, I looked around and thought, yeah, it is kind of a nice corner bar & grill. I don’t remember being bowled over by the food, and I still hadn’t picked up drinking, but I thought I would come back someday–it had a nice vibe to it, now that I was older. But, shortly after that visit, in 2005, a kitchen fire destroyed much of the interior, and the building sat fallow for years.
My wife and I would occasionally read in the newspaper or hear that someone or some people were going to fix it up, but nothing ever came of these stories. Over 10 years after the fire someone finally opened it up keeping the name (and thankfully dropping the odd El Chico). I was so excited it was re-opening. For someone who never truly appreciated it when it was open, I now was all dewy-eyed that it was back. Unfortunately, the food was mediocre. My wife and I visited once and decided it was nice it was back open, but we didn’t need to return.
Sometime early this year Michael Sampino took over the lease. More big TVs were installed and other items that appear to be new. Some of the best of the old Joe Marty historical wall hangings survived the fire: the giant aerial print of Edmonds Field–home of the Solons–where a Target now stands is the most prominent artifact from the old bar. Mike Sampino has also hung a couple of Sampino prints from the F Street restaurant/deli. Most importantly, the menu changed, and the food quality improved immensely. The place that I took for granted for so many years is now back and under the management of one of the best in the city. I couldn’t wait to check it out.
The first time I checked out this, the fourth iteration of the landmark, I bellied up to the bar so I could get a better look at the TV showing a game with my Oakland A’s. That initial visit Mike Sampino himself served me my Marty Burger. When I was leaving the joint, thoroughly stuffed and satisfied, I saw the owner outside talking to someone about a baseball jersey he just acquired. He stepped in front of me and asked what I thought of the burger. I told him it was great (overstating my opinion only a little). He smiled, shook my hand, and introduced himself to me. I was impressed by his warm smile and friendly tone. I liked his restaurant/deli on F Street, and now he has resurrected a Sacramento landmark from mediocrity.
I would return another time, trying his Sampanini, a panini with various salamis and cheeses. It doesn’t contend with the best sandwiches at Roxie Deli, but it is an impressive sandwich in its own right. One thing about the second visit was how slow the service was acknowledging me. I remember standing there a few minutes until a waitress saw me from clear across the room at the far end of the bar and lead me to a table.
When I visited this time, I noticed the owners had added partition separating the bar from the restaurant areas. Now the only staff member who could see me was the cook through the service window. After a few long minutes, the cook and I made eye contact, and he said something to someone hid by the partition and out popped a waitress who seated me.
I ordered the Marty Burger which is a half-pound beef patty, cheddar cheese, with lettuce, tomatoes, onions, pickles, with garlic aioli on a brioche bun. I added bacon–of course! I ordered it medium-well, which is something I have been doing in recent years. Friends and family have finally convinced me that there is nothing wrong with seeing pink in a burger if it is ordered at restaurants with cloth napkins. (That is, a place where you feel confident the beef is of a higher caliber.)
The Marty Burger is a big burger and comes with a steak knife that is needed. It is an awkward burger to wield–even when it is cut in half. Besides the large patty, Sampino’s Kitchen at Joe Marty’s stacks the Marty Burger with plenty of onions, tomato, and pickles. The garlic aioli along with the juices from the perfectly-prepared patty makes the burger a slippery affair. This isn’t the thing to order on a first date.
I’m nearly done with the first half, and I’m wrist deep in juices. Some serious cleanup is needed before attacking the second half. Thanks to the excellent brioche bun the bread doesn’t disintegrate like buns often do when the burger is this juicy, and the bun is of an inferior quality.
Virtually all the dishes at Sampino’s Kitchen at Joe Marty’s comes with a green salad and Italian dressing. The Marty Burger is no exception, which seems ironic looking down at it with my fingers covered in juices. Sampino’s Kitchen at Joe Marty’s offers battered fries for an additional price. The fries are exceptional and should not be missed. You get a side of ketchup with it, but why ruin the taste of the battered, extra crispy fries?
For over thirty-five years Joe Marty’s has been a fixture in my life in one way or another, mostly as a place I would drive/ride towards on 15th Street just before the street ends, and I turn up Broadway. And if other Sacramentians feel something similar no wonder it wasn’t exactly a hot spot to visit. Still, I know it was missed during those ten years it was boarded up, even if most of us didn’t necessarily miss the food.
Joe Marty’s was a part of the community, and the history behind it was not insignificant. Now, with good food, it is more than just a Sacramento landmark–it’s a place you might visit if you’re doing the dinner and a movie thing, or dinner and viewing whichever sporting event on the multiple screens or if you’re like me you can just stuff your face.
The bar’s (original) namesake is known for being the first Sacramentian to hit a dinger in a world series (1938). This version of his bar isn’t a bad homage either even with another local celebrity’s name attached to it.
Jack has a very unhealthy attachment to food. As overweight as he is, Jack would be twice as big if he had the full breakfast he desires every morning–every single morning. Instead, he has roughly the same thing every weekday morning: a cup of coffee with cream. On the weekends he usually has coffee with the same lousy 2% milk that he has on his lousy cold cereal (though he occasionally has a couple of frozen waffles and maple syrup instead of the lousy cereal and lousy milk). Even though he always have eggs in the fridge, he’s usually too lazy to make them for his self. (Lazy=Lousy.) It is ironic that his favorite meal of the day is the one he almost always skimps on. Some evenings, when he’s too tired to read, he’ll join his wife who is watching that lazy Cora Crawley, the Countess of Grantham in “Downton Abbey” still in bed when the rest of her household is up, a tray of messy plates and silver next to her, talking to Lord Grantham about how tough they have it. Breakfast in bed every morning and she still finds something to whine about. No wonder Jack can’t stand the show.
Oh, but I digress.
About once a month, Jack breaks this monotonous breaking of fast and pigs out. He’ll take a day off in the week (either because he has a doctor or dentist appointment in the afternoon or something is broken in the house, and he’s staying to greet and, ultimately, pay the handyman. Whatever it is Jack strategically sets up the appointment in the late morning or the afternoon, so he can ride out to a restaurant in the morning and treat himself to a big breakfast. He usually orders a scramble with a lot of stuff in it like cheese, sausage, onion, peppers, and avocado. He also gets home fried potatoes or hash browns, (sourdough) toast, and a side of bacon. The bacon is cholesterol overkill considering he usually gets sausage or ham in the scramble, but he doesn’t care. At least for now. Ask him if he cares after his first stroke, and he’ll mumble out of the functioning side of his mouth, “Fffoukk yuucsh.”
Jack’s usual choice for this morning feast is The Artist Formerly Known as Crepeville. Actually, it’s Cafe Dantorels, but that name is so clumsy that Jack’s brain refuses to consign it to memory, so he calls the place its previous name with a twist in honor of Prince. He’s not claiming Danto-whatever is the best place for breakfast, it’s just that it is close to his house and the food is good.
Some people may poo-poo Jack sticking with one restaurant and not venturing out, but he doesn’t believe in taking chances when it comes to eating out–especially because he doesn’t get to do it that often anymore. In the 70’s and 80’s, he used to go to Spenger’s (a storied family-owned seafood restaurant in Berkeley) most times he was in the Bay Area. When he did, he ordered the same thing: Shrimp Scatter (deep-fried baby shrimp). One time he chided himself for being so boring and tried something different. It was good, but it wasn’t Shrimp Scatter. Similarly, when he would occasionally take his wife and kids to the Old Spaghetti Factory, he would always order the Spaghetti with Browned Butter and Mizithra Cheese until the time he didn’t and regretted it.
So here he is at the same ole place ordering the same old thing and loving it. Now that we got Jack’s oddball obsession out of the way let’s discuss breakfast’s oddball cousin.
Brunch? “It’s not quite breakfast, it’s not quite lunch, but it comes with a slice of cantaloupe at the end.” – Jacques, Marge Simpson’s bowling instructor, and romantic interest
This Western post-Sunday church service phenomenon may have started in England, but Jack’s personal history of the ritual comes from his mother who never was a church goer but would have brunch with her lady friends often when Jack was growing up. Jack wouldn’t be surprised if his mom still did it. It was a bit of a mystery to him. It seems like a Red Hat Society kind of thing. Jack could count the number of times with one hand he went out for brunch, but soon he may need more digits!
You see, Jack was checking out a new restaurant that popped up in his neighborhood recently. Selland’s is an excellent and pricey restaurant here in Sacramento. The original location in East Sac is a little out of the way and is always very busy for Jack’s liking. So while he was waiting in line to place his dinner order at this shiny new Selland’s, he noticed in the to-go menu a Sunday Brunch section that looked great despite the COMING SOON in large faded text beneath the menu items. He was instantly filled with delight. Sunday Brunch, just like Mom used to do (or still does). The dishes looked absolutely yummy, and Jack absolutely hates the word “yummy”!
There’s Breakfast Pizzas and Breakfast Biscuit Sandwiches. Even the stuff that he usually wouldn’t order looks promising: Breakfast Tartines and Breakfast Benedicts. Finally, there is a build your own “American Breakfast.” “Now, we’re talking,” Jack accidentally blurted out in line. It was as if the Selland family’s distant cousin from the planet Vulcan jumped through Jack’s window one night and surreptitiously did a mind meld on him.
Most of the items on the Sunday brunch section cannot be found in any variation on the regular menu. This is a good thing considering what the ever-quotable Anthony Bourdain has said about brunch menus in his bestseller Kitchen Confidential:
“Remember, brunch is only served once a week—on the weekends. Buzzword here, ‘Brunch Menu’. Translation? ‘Old, nasty odds and ends, and 12 dollars for two eggs with a free Bloody Mary’.”
I don’t think that’s going to be the case this time, chef. This stuff should be fresh. Jack will find out when the restaurant opens for Sunday brunch. In the meantime, he’ll look forward to teeth cleanings, dermatology appointments, x-rays, MRIs, and for the next time something in his house breaks.
I started this blog as a journal about scooters, scooter culture, and hamburger joints around the Sacramento Area. I have strayed from those subjects, but not completely. I rode by Mango’s Burgertown at on K Street near 19th here in Sacramento often enough.
Today I decided to see how it stacks up with other Sacramento Area restaurants. I haven’t been checking out the burger joint scene here in a while (I still cannot lose weight!) but thought, with a name like Burgertown I should really check it out. If you’re going to put “burger” in your name you should have a good selection and higher quality burgers.
Burgertown does not disappoint. However, Mango’s Burgertown–as illustrated from its website–is a schizophrenic affair: by day it’s a local bar that serves over a dozen different types of burgers. By night it appears to be a very lively nightclub. Me, I’m a homebody with a list of TV shows and books to attend to, so I’ll have to trust the website’s claim that this is a hopping place. Now, around lunchtime, it is pretty quiet. There are the omnipresent giant-screen TVs, with a soccer match and a basketball game on when I visited. I didn’t check out the back yard where, presumably, there’s a large area for live bands and such.
I ordered the Dirty Cheese Burger with Garlic Curly Fries. I do not order chiliburgers as a rule–too messy, but I was intrigued by the contents: besides the 1/2 lbs Five Dot Ranch beef patty and cheddar, the Dirty Cheese Burger features sour cream(!), jalapenos, red onions, and Burgertown’s own chili con carne. I was glad that they didn’t ruin the burger by throwing in the conventional tomatoes, pickles, and lettuce. You think those omissions are evident? I was at a deli recently where the customer had to ask the preparer to hold those items on her meatball sandwich! Some places think more is better regardless what that “more” is.
The burger comes standard on a focaccia bun and a pickle spear (somewhere buried under my fries). The chili in the burger was not as messy as it could have been. Even better–the bun did not disintegrate as I progressed through the burger, as often does with some burgers and especially with messy-types like a chiliburger. In the end, I wouldn’t order the Dirty Cheese Burger again, but I will come back to BurgerTown, and that is saying something! As for service, considering the parking meter situation in Sacramento, it was nice that I ordered and ate all within one hour. This says as much about how fast the service was as it does how the author inhales food!
Mango’s Burgertown is located at 1930 K St, Sacramento, CA 95811.