Joe Marty’s (Version 4.0)

signAlong 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.

marty burger
The Marty Burger comes with a green salad and Italian dressing. I ordered a side of fries.

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.

Sacramento Bee pic of one of the wall hangings that I remember from the 1980s
From his time in the majors. Check out the zipper!


Jack’s Breakfast Club of One

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.

“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.

The schizophrenic burger joint


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.

Whew! Just beat the oil train!

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.

Dirty Cheese Burger and Garlic Curly Fries

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.

Dear Prudence, won’t you come out to play

via Daily Prompt: Prudent

I try to ride my bicycle to work every day. That’s eleven miles of commuting a day. Not much, but I don’t really like to ride on a recreational basis, and I don’t put in many steps in the form of walking my dog or “micro walks” (to quote a FitBit article) on my breaks. So, when I ride my scooter into work, there’s usually a valid reason.

Today I rode my scooter into work because I need to get my Vespa serviced and planned to ride the “Green Hornet” to my shop during my lunch hour and walk back to the office grabbing a bit along the way. I’d take public transit home. In the past, it would take only a day or two to work on my ride, and I would take the bus in the day after I got the call the scooter is ready to pick up–repeating the above process in reverse. Damn, I’m smart.

I started riding to Barber’s Automotive where I always get my service done. What’s the address? Uh, I don’t know, but I will recognize the landmarks. That’s how I work. Fifteen minutes later and I am way south of where I believed location is. I finally pull over and asked Siri on my iPhone where Barber’s Automotive is. Siri replies in a rather snooty tone, “Here is the contact information on Barber’s Automotive.” Yeah, I had the information in my Contacts and Siri is rubbing my nose it. I’m surprised it didn’t point out I could have looked this up at my desk before leaving. I’m glad I had changed Siri’s voice from the sexy British Female back to the default American Female–the Brit would have sounded intolerable!

scooter citySo after riding to the shop, I parked my scooter in front of Barber’s Automotive and walked into the garage. My mechanic, Frank, wasn’t around, but some younger guy walked up and asked if he could help me. I said I needed my ride serviced. He gave me a look of surprise and said, “We haven’t done that in quite some time. We do cars strictly. You want to go to Scooter City. It has a service center now.” He proceeds to tell me where Scooter City is. I thanked him and started to put on my helmet and jacket when he informed me that the Scooter City is closed on Mondays.

So I rode my scooter into work on a day I did not need to, which also means I did not get 11 miles exercise in. I rode my Vespa back to my parking spot and was told by my man a hardhat that tomorrow these motorcycle parking spots would be taped off for roadwork. So, unless I want to find some other–less convenient parking spot–, I will not be able to get my ride serviced tomorrow.

In my frustration of wasting a commute on my scooter, I threw figuratively throw my hands up and–with what little time I had left of my lunch–I walked to the nearest eatery, the less-than-healthy-choice Bud’s Buffet and got buffalo chicken sandwich and some chips and some diet cola. Baby with the bathwater. Now, what’s the Daily Post prompt word of the day? Oh yeah, “Prudent.” I’ll get right on it!

When Prudence is not on the menu.