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Secret Zen Retreat

It’s easy to overlook BenBen’s Hidden Tea Room, which opened last June and occupies a former apartment on 19th Street between K and L. But climb the few steps to this pocket-sized nook, and you’ll feel like you’ve found the perfect spot to sip your cares away. Entering the urban oasis evokes an almost-audible “ahhh,” as does the first sip of carefully brewed teas, both traditional (like Earl Grey or genmaicha) and original blends, like a tangy hibiscus with orange peel and blossoms, or a chocolate tea blooming with deep cocoa flavor. The aura of peace includes tiny Zen raking gardens, Buddha boards to paint on, cushy chairs, soothing spa-style music and an alluring array of teas displayed prettily in jars, all hand-blended by Benjamin Beck, a self-taught tea obsessive inspired by his family’s teatime tradition and his own commitment to veganism and health. Beck co-owns BenBen’s with wife Anastasia, who has a background in botany and horticulture. The Becks’ arrival in Sacramento was serendipitous: Looking to leave their busy SoCal lives, the couple took a long road trip up the California coast two years ago, seeking the right town to open the tea shop of their dreams. Upon arriving in midtown Sacramento, they felt an instant sense that it was the perfect spot. The feeling is definitely mutual. 1120 19th St. 573-7361. benbens.neocities.org

Photos by Max Whittaker

Walking Waffle

Paris has the croissant, New York City the bagel, and now Sacramento has its own potential signature breakfast food in Waffle-in-Hand, a portable treat so comforting, tasty and built for speed that you’ll never want to hoof it to the office without one. In the same two minutes it takes the friendly baristas at The Mill to make your cappuccino, they can kit you out with this to-go version of the Boulevard Park coffee shop’s Liège-style Belgian waffle, thought up by co-owner Nick Cookston-Minton, who spent several months testing recipes before debuting the morning confection on the menu early last year. Instead of a runny, overly sweet batter, the waffle is made with yeasted dough, yielding a denser cake with a complex, subtle flavor. Made to order until 3 p.m. every day, it’s handed to you piping hot, lightly dusted with powdered sugar and cleverly wrapped in a folded paper coffee filter. The Mill also offers waffles on a plate with sauces like warm maple syrup and wildflower honey on the side, but we think the perfectly fluffy pastry is best on its own and on the go, making your morning routine anything but ordinary. 1827 I St. 469-9683. themillsacramento.com

Thing Since Sliced Bread

Davy Bui, proprietor of The Drunken Loaf, may not have been the first reader to have his culinary world rocked by Michael Pollan’s 2013 book, Cooked, the sustainable food guru’s paean to artisanal methods of brewing, baking and culturing. But last spring, when Bui couldn’t find bread for sale to match the kind he taught himself to make from Pollan’s instructions, he took matters into his own hands—literally (the tipsy business name is a play on the naturally leavened bread’s fermenting process, which he initiates two days in advance of baking any loaf, kneading upwards of 250 pounds of dough each week). And we’re so happy he did. His sourdough, which uses whole wheat flour milled in Woodland at Community Grains, is rustic and aromatic, and his best-selling sesame-Gruyère “Goddess Loaf” is highly addictive, with pockets of strong, melty cheese dotting the bread’s soft, chewy interior. You can find Bui at the Oak Park farmers’ market, or you can pick up a special order from his home kitchen in Curtis Park every Sunday—but call it in early, as this baker already has a cult following that thinks he’s the best thing since, well, you know. 2667 21st St. 397-8107. drunkenloaf.com

Photo by Paul Hurley/Polaris/Newscom

Driver with Indy Spirit

Last May, 25-year-old Alexander Rossi entered his very first Indianapolis 500. In a stunning upset, the driver, who was born in Auburn and raised in Nevada City, coasted to the finish line, winning the famed race and becoming the first American-born rookie to accomplish that feat since 1928. And by coasted, we don’t mean he was taking it easy. He was coasting—literally—because he was out of gas. You see, halfway through the race, Rossi was in the middle of the pack, so he and his crew quickly devised an outrageous Hail Mary plan to skip the final fuel stop. (Was there a Pixar buff in the group? Lightning McQueen fans will remember the cocky Corvette—another American rookie—skipping his own final pit stop in the movie Cars.) Rossi’s team projected that he’d run out of fuel somewhere between two laps and a half-lap before the finish line. His only chance: Drive slower—yes, slower—in the final laps to conserve fuel. It worked, barely. His car, starved of fuel, stopped shortly past the checkered flag and had to be towed to the winner’s circle for the ceremonial (and perplexing) milk toast. Did life imitate art? We’ll let you decide. Ka-chow!

IPA That's OMG

Moonraker Brewing made some big sudsy waves in February, when owners Dan and Karen Powell, along with head brewer Zack Frasher, entered their Extremis brew, a West Coast triple IPA, into the prestigious Double/Triple IPA Festival beer contest at the Bistro in Hayward—and won, beating out some stiff competition, including Russian River Brewing’s Pliny the Younger, a world-renowned triple IPA with a devoted fan base (enthusiasts have been known to camp overnight to try the elusive rock star brew during its annual February two-week release). Moonraker debuted Extremis when the brewery launched in Auburn last April, but shelved it because of the beer’s whopping 10 percent ABV (alcohol by volume), until Frasher brought it back for the competition, where its fresh, tropical flavor profile and easy drinkability secured the victory. With its newfound fame, expect to see Extremis pop up at the beer maker’s taproom every three to six months (you can check its website for on-tap updates). And lest you think the one-year-old Moonraker a one-hit wonder, RateBeer.com recently ranked it California’s top new brewery (and ninth best in the world), making this hop-happy newcomer a legend in the making. 12970 Earhart Ave. Auburn. 530-745-6816. moonrakerbrewing.com

Twice-Baked Bread Pudding

The concept of leftovers for breakfast is nothing new, but midtown’s Magpie has us rethinking our cold pizza ways with its decadent Savory Bread Pudding, a weekend brunch menu favorite that upcycles unsold bakery loaves from Magpie’s sister cafe Nido, like croissants and scones, and restaurant refuse like cut-off pieces of sandwich buns. The bread base changes constantly, but it’s the mix-ins that make the dish: end pieces of spicy salami from Fra’ Mani in Berkeley, house-made Beeler’s pork sausage (well seasoned with sage, ginger and garlic), juicy bacon, and Sierra Nevada organic white cheddar. This comforting mélange is doused in a custard mixture and baked until the interior is dense and moist and the top is perfectly crisp and golden. The finishing touch is key: pure maple syrup drizzled over the browned, bready mound adds velvety sweetness, making each mouthful an ideal bite of pure breakfast goodness and updating the old saying on thriftiness to “Waste not, want seconds.” 1601 16th St. 452-7594. magpiecafe.com

Courtesy of The Parlor Ice Cream Puffs

Milkshake Shake-Up

You can practically hear the brakes on your scroll bar squealing when you stop to stare in stupefied wonder at The Works whenever it pops up on your Instagram feed—something it does often, as nobody who encounters this monstrous, monumental confection can stop themselves from posting a photo of it. The invention of The Parlor Ice Cream Puffs in Arden-Arcade and Roseville, The Works is even more jaw-droppingly over the top when you see it in real life. The concoction begins with one of the shop’s 16 flavors of ice cream (our favorite is the sea salt caramel), which is whirled into a frosty milkshake, then topped with a warm churro or Nutella-filled glazed doughnut, capped with a generous mound of whipped cream, drizzled with chocolate, caramel or peanut butter sauce, and finally, bedecked and bedazzled with toppings like crushed Butterfinger bars, gummy bears, marshmallows or Cap’n Crunch—combine a few, or brazenly demand all 27 of The Parlor’s garnishes, if you dare. And be sure to snap a pic of the final work of edible art—you’ll want something to motivate you as you try to shake off the shake on the treadmill later. Arden-Arcade: 2620 Fair Oaks Blvd. 977-3997. Roseville: 1490 Eureka Rd. 781-7833. theparloricecream.com

Pop Sensation

We’re fizzy with excitement over North Sacramento-based Burly Beverages’ line of small-batch syrups and shrubs (a blend of vinegar, fruit juice and sugar) for making custom sodas. In 2013, founder Gabriel Aiello gave up fast food, smoking and ultra-sugary, mass-produced pop to jump-start a healthier lifestyle, but found his soda habit the hardest to quit, especially his go-to ginger beer for mixing with bourbon. Using natural Photo by Jeremy Sykesingredients like ginger root, turbinado sugar and apple cider vinegar, Aiello developed his own ginger beer recipe, launching Burly Beverages in the fall of 2015. His liquid concoctions—pour 1 ounce of syrup into 8 ounces of seltzer for a fresh, refreshing alternative to store-bought pop—are informed by seasonal produce (in June and July, expect flavors like apricot-sage and tart cherry cinnamon) and range from a crisp, sweet cream soda to an earthy and bright grape-clove and an old-timey root beer with such a manly sarsaparilla punch it may put hair on your chest. At Aiello’s brand-new speakeasy-inspired soda shop on Del Paso Boulevard, you can now sample his effervescent elixirs straight from the source (plus non-Burly drinks like Cheer-wine and a Harry Potter-inspired butterbeer). If that isn’t a reason to break out the bubbly, we don’t know what is. 2014 Del Paso Blvd. burlybeverages.com

Breakfast for your Brain

You may not be in the habit of pairing deep thoughts and aha moments with your first cup of coffee, but that’s the norm at CreativeMornings, a global morning lecture series that launched its Sacramento branch last December and is held every third Friday of the month inside midtown’s E. Claire Raley Studios for the Performing Arts. If you’re looking to rub elbows with Sacramento’s creative movers and shakers, they’re gatheredPhoto by Susan Yee here, sampling breakfast bites, sipping cups of joe, snapping selfies at a photo booth and exchanging numbers at the “collaboration station.” But this is far more than a networking event, with speakers who can surprise and amuse, like former Capital Public Radio producer Melody Stone, who in January shared how she created a story series from roadside curiosities—like why a sign on Highway 50 here indicates the distance to Ocean City, Maryland (it’s a callout to the East Coast end of the coast-to-coast route; there’s a corresponding sign about Sacramento in Ocean City). It’s a testament to CreativeMornings’ spirit and format that the talks can also be radically thought-provoking and unsettling, centering on an intriguing theme like “taboo,” “moments” or “mystery” (In June, local digital strategist and cancer survivor Ethan Martin will lead a discussion about “survival”). The program, which is free to attend, will leave you with just enough nibbles of inspiration to get your creative juices flowing and go forth to seize the rest of your day. creativemornings.com

Boutique with Petal (and Pedal) Power

Exclamations of “Ooh, that’s sooo cute,” and “OMG, I need this!” float from Bloom Mobile Boutique as you step inside to join other shoppers in discovering its expertly curated collection of handicrafts—some useful, some ornamental, all of the gifty persuasion. Owner Jodi Pyle’s pop-up shop on wheels, which launched last December and makes the rounds of regional food truck events, occupies a converted flower delivery vehicle, the logo splashed across the exterior in loopy calligraphy along with a burst of painted petals. The Tahoe Park-based entrepreneur offers a carefully arranged display of artisanal goods—mostly from around the state—including dainty gold rings with California-shaped charms by Los Angeles jeweler Seoul Little and handmade notecards by San Francisco-based Soul Paper with cheeky sayings like, “I donut know what I would do without you.” If you’ve got a green thumb, you can pick up a succulent in a hand-painted planter—if not, try a whimsical, wood-framed portrait of cacti by Auburn artist Lindsay Duck. If your fancy gets tickled, but you just spent all your cash at the nearby taco truck, don’t worry: Pyle accepts credit cards via Square for purchases. Blooming fantastic. 287-3955. bloomtruck.com

Photos by Marc Thomas Kallweit

Intersection of Innovation

In 2015, nearly 50 years after Davis installed the country’s first protected bicycle lane, planners returned the city to the vanguard of bike-friendly America with another first in the nation: a protected bicycle intersection. Referred to as a Dutch Junction for emulating (if not precisely echoing) similar infrastructure in The Netherlands, the intersection appended four telltale green cycling paths to preexisting crosswalks at Covell Boulevard and J Street. The crosswalks and bike lanes are joined at concrete elbows on each corner, separating both cyclists and pedestrians from notoriously speedy car traffic on Covell. Two years later, the safe, intuitive and relatively inexpensive (at $1 million, paid for largely by the housing development on the intersection’s north side) results have sparked similar projects in San Francisco, Berkeley, Chicago, Austin, Salt Lake City, and other major U.S. cities. They also raise a new question for Davis, where nearly a quarter of residents bike to work: What will this trailblazing city think of next? We’re sure its wheels are turning as we speak.

Courtesy of Mark Thomas

Cool Hot Chocolate

Long before Ernesto Delgado—who owns Tequila Museo Mayahuel, La Cosecha and Mesa Mercado—became an admired local restaurateur, he was a curious kid sitting in the kitchen of his family’s home in the western Mexican state of Michoacán, watching his mother stir chunks of Abuelita (which means “grandma” in Spanish) chocolate into steamy milk with a wooden whisk. That ritual became so engrained in his palate’s memory that he created a dessert in its honor at Mayahuel three years ago, using the same popular, cinnamon-spiced Mexican cocoa brand. La Abuelita Ice Cream is a frozen, summery version of the classic winter treat, with the velvety richness of a cup of hot chocolate and the dense, creamy texture of homemade ice cream—so thick you must brace the cup with your hand to dig in for a spoonful. Topped with a cloud of cinnamon-dusted whipped cream and a cinnamon stick, it’s served in a coffee mug to round out the nostalgic post-dinner, pre-bedtime experience. Sweet dreams. 1200 K St. 441-7200. experiencemayahuel.com

Photo courtesy of Mayahuel

Arch De Triumph

The bow on the hopeful package that is Oak Park’s renaissance is the grand sign that marks the 35th Street entrance to McClatchy Park. When the neighborhood was established as Sacramento’s first suburb in 1903, the 30-foot-tall Oak Park arch announced the terminus of the streetcar line that ferried early commuters and later visitors to the Joyland Amusement Park. Although the exact date of the structure’s demise is unclear, it was likely a casualty of a general decline that began after Joyland burned down in the 1920s. When the area began its comeback in the early aughts, its business association got the idea to reconstitute the historic sign, and in December 2016 a new replica of the original iron Beaux-Arts-influenced frame went up. “Let’s meet at the arch,” is now a common phrase between neighbors in this tight-knit community that prides itself equally on its past and its future.