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.