Best of the City 2012

Sweet potato popsicles, a peanut butter burger, a mobile boutique, nostalgic tees, a cool bike-powered coffee roaster, and more. Here is our fourth annual list of Sacramento’s finest—and funnest—people, places and things.



Photo by Lisa Van Dyke/El Dorado Dog Photography

Photo by Lisa Van Dyke/El Dorado Dog Photography

Pup Star
When a baby Beyonce was born earlier this year, the blogosphere was all atwitter. No, we’re not talking about the superstar’s infant daughter Blue Ivy, but rather a lilliputian puppy who was born in El Dorado Hills on March 8. When the dachshund mix first came into the world—the last of five dogs birthed by her homeless mom Casey who was going to be euthanized before being taken in by local animal rescue organization The Grace Foundation of Northern California—she weighed less than an ounce, wasn’t breathing, and fit inside a tablespoon. Within a few days, she grew to the size of an iPhone and was well enough to star in her own photo shoot—and the rest is puppy history. Since then, Tiny Beyonce (named after Beyoncé Knowles because of the singer’s Grammy-winning song “Survivor,” which she co-wrote as part of Destiny’s Child) has appeared on shows like Today and Good Morning America and has been written up in the likes of the Los Angeles Times, The Huffington Post and The Telegraph in the U.K. She even caught the attention of Guinness World Records, which contacted The Grace Foundation for information on the petite pooch to potentially crown her the World’s Smallest Rescue Puppy. Want to meet the little star? While her sister and three brothers were put up for adoption in May, Tiny Beyonce will remain at the foundation as its “ambassadog” and will happily entertain visitors. Call ahead to make a date, and get ready for some serious puppy love. 5800 Latigo Ln., El Dorado Hills 941-0800.

Viennese Sweets
Governor Schwarzenegger may no longer be flexing his political muscles here, but thanks to Konditorei Austrian Pastry Cafe, our region still has a strong—and scrumptious—Austrian presence. Since 1990, this Davis bakery has been churning out luscious desserts like Topfenstrudel (strudel with quark cheese, served warm with vanilla and berry sauce), Krapfen (fried dough filled with marmalade or custard) and Mohnkuchen (sweet yeast bread filled with a thick layer of poppy seeds). The pastries’ authenticity comes from Austrian-born head baker Albert Kutternig, who trained in the renowned Kurkonditorei Oberlaa cafe in Vienna and went on to bake in hotels like the Hilton and InterContinental in Europe, Japan and Venezuela (where he met his wife Gloria, who now runs Konditorei—which is German for pastry shop—with him). The main attraction is Kutternig’s extensive lineup of specialty cakes like the Sacher Torte (an apricot-glazed chocolate beauty that was ordered for Schwarzenegger’s birthday in 2010; the ex-governor would send an aide to the cafe regularly for his Konditorei cravings) and the Gloria, a popular triple-layered chocolate mousse cake that Kutternig named in honor of his wife. Now, isn’t that sweet? 2710 5th St., Davis. 530-758-1331.



Photo by Jeremy Sykes

Muzak Killer
Let’s face it. When a restaurant hires a singer to do standards, it’s often obvious why said singer is in a restaurant playing background music instead of on stage in front of paying fans. In the case of Rocklin singer Quinn Hedges, it’s downright baffling, and given his talent, likely temporary. Where most other musicians are merely side dishes, this guy is definitely the main course. Few other singers can stop tableside chatter cold and draw both rapt attention and spontaneous applause, but this 33-year-old troubadour is one of them. It’s even rarer that an eatery act is covering artists as eclectic and contemporary as Coldplay, Jason Mraz, Mazzy Star and The Shins to name a few. On top of it all, he’s a talented songwriter, too. In May, he opened a show for Van Morrison’s daughter Shana Morrison. And his band will debut its first album this summer. In the next few months, he’ll be playing dates at Bistro 33’s Davis location, Old Sacramento’s Ten 22 and the Hyatt Regency, but you can also see him in Rocklin, Folsom, Loomis and Natomas. Catch him while you still can. You’ll likely have to pay for the privilege soon.



Photo by Ryan Donahue

Pop Artisan
Fat Face popsicles, made by Jaymes Luu in wild, wonderful combinations, have been earning the cook plaudits since she first sold them at the Davis Farmers Market. Now that she also offers them at midtown’s vintage store-cafe-art gallery Bows & Arrows, Sacramentans can enjoy them too—from the mint Arnold Palmer to Thai tea to sweet potato (the most popular pop at Bows) and a new fudge espresso made from local roasters Insight Coffee. Spring and summer fruit combos include standouts like a bar with an inky blueberry purée filled with lemon yogurt (pictured), strawberry basil lemonade, apricot lavender, and even cheese and tomato. Pops like that—not to mention menu snacks like spiced popcorn and a stellar beer and wine selection—make Bows & Arrows’ sweet outdoor space, stocked with patio furniture that’s just like your grandma’s (in a good way), the perfect place to chill out. 1815 19th St. 822-5668.



Photo by Jeremy Sykes

Place to Break Bread
Trong Nguyen, who co-founded the La Bou chain, always wanted to brew coffee the way it should be: with the beans ground and steeped to the exact specifications of the drinker. At his new, sunny cafe Les Baux (named for a town in Provence, one of his and his co-owner wife Annie Ngo’s favorite places)—which inhabits the transformed space that used to be Cassidy’s Family Restaurant in East Sacramento—he does just that, thanks to a trademarked method called Hand Brewed Just For You. The smooth cups of java are complemented by fresh-baked bread, from rye to baguettes and more (Darrell Corti drops in often for the savory focaccia with ever-changing toppings); flaky croissants (including ones filled with chocolate chips or almond paste) and other pastries; and soups and sandwiches at lunchtime (don’t miss the classic French onion). Coming this summer are dinner service and an oyster bar. Nguyen was inspired by his favorite spot in New York, the famed Balthazar Restaurant and Bakery, to create a welcoming neighborhood hangout in the French tradition; in fact, Balthazar’s founding baker, Sim Cass, recently visited to teach his bread recipes to the baking staff. No wonder East Sacramentans can’t stay away—and you shouldn’t either. 5090 Folsom Blvd. 739-1348.

Photo by Jeremy Sykes

Wardrobe on Wheels
Local fashionistas looking for that perfect LBD now just need to step inside the LBT. As in the Little Black Truck, home of Gypsy mobile boutique. The brainchild of midtown jewelry designer and former Sacramento Kings dancer Bridgette Maldonado, Gypsy hit the road in April and, borrowing a page from the nascent food truck movement, began popping up all over town, like in front of restaurants such as Shady Lady and Fox & Goose, and at popular local events like the Second Saturday Art Walk, SactoMoFo festival and Food Truck Mania. Inside her 60-square-foot 1987 Chevy P30 Step Van, shoppers on the go will find an impeccably curated array of vibrantly colored clothing—think orange, pink, jade, coral and yellow—and trendy accessories, from chiffon tops to flowing dresses, floppy hats and oversized sunglasses by out-of-town independent labels and local designers like Lori Vaught. (They will also, surprisingly, find a dressing room.) This summer, Maldonado will be driving Gypsy to “Good: Street Food & Design Market” on Del Paso Boulevard, downtown’s Friday Night Concerts in the Park through July, and a host of last-minute locations announced via Twitter and Facebook. Talk about fast fashion. Let’s hope this is another mobile trend that keeps on truckin’.

Made to Order Orbs
The delectable and innovative fried delights at Doughbot have been amply praised, with flavors like bacon maple, Meyer lemon and PB&J. But some doughnut enthusiasts feel the need to take it even further—into the realm of the custom order—and owner Bryan Widener is ready and willing to think outside the dessert box. In the past few months, he’s made saffron-pistachio rounds dipped in cardamom honey for the Indian festival Diwali, and recently turned out Andes mint-flavored treats with candied bacon on top at the request of a young birthday girl. And it’s not just about taste. Some orders revolve around shape (like the giant replica of the Starship Enterprise he helped make in bacon maple) or color, such as a blue and red batch for a baby shower. This Southside Park shop will whip up as few as a single dozen treats for special requests (about $22 per dozen). But allow enough time for the muse to visit: off-the-menu flavors can take Widener up to a month to perfect. 2226 10th St. 444-5157.

Photo by Jeremy Sykes

Shirt Tales
 Not all of us wear our civic pride on our sleeve, but thanks to Swanbergs on J, it’s a whole lot easier now. The Hawaiian-themed midtown shop sells shirts and hoodies that pay homage to local neighborhoods (East Sacramento, Land Park and Curtis Park, to name a few) and also some of our favorite local restaurants that have been lost to time like the celebrated tiki rooms Coral Reef (which used to be on Fulton Avenue) and Zombie Hut (on Freeport Boulevard). May they rest in T’s. 2316 J St. 447-6284.

Photo by Ryan Donahue

Tea for (at least) two
Tucked in a quiet, greenery-filled nook in downtown Davis behind popular restaurant The Mustard Seed, the pocket-sized Tea List cafe couldn’t charm more if it tried. With thoughtful touches like manager Nahid Aram’s personal collection of cups and pots (including a 100-year-old tea set that her grandfather found on his travels, which sits above jars of loose-leaf teas behind the front counter), a softly trickling fountain in the courtyard and fresh-cut flowers bedecking the tables, this enclave is for lingering and de-stressing. Settle in for the cafe’s signature afternoon tea service (available daily from 11:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. for a minimum of two people) and let the world slip by between sips. Choose your brew from a carefully selected list of 10 flavors like Persian, Margaret’s Hope darjeeling, vanilla black and peach apricot. A teapot is then delivered to your table with a mini hourglass timer to ensure your drink steeps perfectly—too short and it’s weak, too long and it’s bitter—along with a three-tiered platter of goodies like blueberry and raisin scones with strawberry preserves and Devonshire cream, classic cucumber sandwiches and fresh fruit from the Davis Farmers Market. Not to mention, Tea List’s tempting house-made treats like tiramisu, lemon mousse and madeleines are definitely our cup of tea. 222 D Street, Davis. 530-750-2700.

Photo by Jeremy Sykes

Olive Garden
You step into a shop in Old Sacramento and an attendant hands you a pairing sheet with suggestions like “pomegranate balsamic + Persian lime” or “Sicilian lemon + honey ginger.” Unique in the Sacramento region, the upscale tasting room of the Chefs’ Olive Mix stocks dozens of specialty extra-virgin and infused olive oils and balsamic vinegars (both white and dark, flavored and not). Best of all? Every single one is available for tastings (plain in tiny cups, the way pro tasters do it), so you know you’re getting exactly what you want. We knew we’d love the rare varietal olive oils from around the world (like the buttery, mild Hojiblanca or more peppery Coratina), which rotate every few months and are displayed with information about their milling date and flavor characteristics, but we were wowed by the subtle, natural tastes of the flavored vinegars and oils, like the blood orange olive oil and the Sicilian lemon white balsamic vinegar. Unlike some Old Sacramento shops, there are no saltwater taffy barrels—but if you love food, you may just feel like a kid in a candy store anyway. 131 J St. 706-3105.



Photo by Ryan Donahue

New Veggie Valhalla
Sure, Ella Dining Room & Bar is the place that in recent years has been known for serving the best bone marrow in town as well as other meaty delights, but new Ella chef Mike Thiemann (a Sacramento native who was recently executive chef at San Francisco’s celebrated Wayfare Tavern) has added a fresh emphasis on vegetables to the menu, including a section of veggie small plates. Though the menu changes, recent options have ranged from beauties like a gemlike beet salad (pictured) with multicolored roasted beets, shavings of raw roots and an innovative fenugreek aioli, to pickled farmers’ market vegetables, to carrot soup with Marcona almond milk, and a smoky, silky, rich appetizer of creamed mushrooms on garlic toast with a runny poached egg. Voilà, a new haven for vegetarians. (But fret not, meat lovers: that bone marrow isn’t going anywhere.) 1131 K St. 443-3772.

Photo courtesy of Dragatomi

Bigfoot Sighting
Do you believe in Bigfoot? Well, the folks who run the not-so-big midtown shop Dragatomi sure do. The J Street retailer houses the region’s largest collection of urban vinyl designer toys and artwork. The vinyl character category is so hot that Disney is making big bucks off its line of Vinylmation Mickeys. Now, Dragatomi is getting in on the action by producing its very first piece—an 8-inch-tall vinyl version of the legendary Sasquatch (clutching a mini Mount Fuji) called Fujisan that was created by the celebrated Los Angeles artist named … Bigfoot. And the store plans to introduce the figure at America’s pop culture mecca—Comic-Con in San Diego that runs July 12-15 (at booth #4935 if you happen to be there). After Comic-Con, Fujisan will be up for sale back home at Dragatomi, perhaps making a believer out of you, too. 2317 J St. 706-0535.



Dressing for Success
Need an excuse to eat healthy? Feel free to thank Folsom entrepreneur Dorene Humason, whose zingy, flavor-packed, all-natural Jaden Chinese Dressing is all the incentive you need to gobble your greens. Tinged with tangy and sweet Asian spices like miso and cumin, Jaden comes in a handy bottle form or do-it-yourself seasoning packets. The lack of Asian salad dressings on grocery store shelves first inspired Humason to create her own line of them four years ago, and they now grace 2,000 supermarkets in five states, from Arizona to California, including high-end Bay Area markets like Draeger’s and Lunardi’s, and regional chains like Raley’s and Bel Air. After 30 years in the local food industry (including eight years as a food buyer at Tony’s Fine Foods in West Sacramento), Humason took a star turn on the first season of the ABC reality show Shark Tank—she was chosen from 10,000 inventors around the nation and ended up nabbing a coveted deal with New York real estate mogul Barbara Corcoran to promote her salad dressing. We’ll drizzle to that. 5800-815-2181.

Photo by Max Whittaker

Carving Station
This may sound a little weird, but ever wanted to butcher a goat? Maybe it’s a guy thing, but Taylors Market co-owner Danny Johnson understands that urge and wants to help. Johnson runs a series of meat-handling classes held at his iconic Land Park market, each costing a reasonable $40 and lasting about three hours. During the “Butchering 101” series’ Original Class, which will next take place on Sept. 15, Johnson carves, chops and saws (yep, saws) his way through half a hog, a whole lamb and a hindquarter of beef—and that’s after he warms up his blades on chicken, duck, turkey and fish. (The 101 series also includes other themes, such as a session on grilling tips taught by butcher Paul Carras, who is pictured.) On Aug. 18, the focus turns to hunters, who gather to learn how to take a cleaver to their kills, with a goat subbing in for wild game. Then on Oct. 21, Johnson will offer a field trip to Roseville’s Wintun Ranch, where he’ll work his way through a whole half of beef, and then host a dinner for 100 meat-obsessed guests. 2900 Freeport Blvd. 443-6881.


Photos by Jeremy Sykes and Max Whittaker

Wacky Road Warriors
We love a parade. But we especially love a parade (or walk or race) that marches to the beat of a different drummer. That’s why we’ve been cheering from the sidelines at the many local fun runs and quirky cavalcades that have been cropping up lately. In March, we saw the following funky trifecta: the ArtBike parade in midtown, where people rode everything from towering tricycles to purple horse bicycles; the Undy 5000 in William Land Park, where contestants competed in their—you guessed it—undies; and the Donut Dash, which kicked off with a fried feast at Marie’s Donuts on Freeport Boulevard. In April, we had the Walk a Mile in Her Shoes race, in which men hoofed it in high heels down Capitol Mall. And coming this summer: the Sacramento Bastille Day Waiters’ Race (July 14), where restaurant servers will attempt to balance a bottle of water and glasses on a tray with only one hand as they speed-walk through midtown, and The Color Run (Aug. 4), where participants will race along a 5K route that starts on Capitol Mall and get pelted with brightly hued powder along the way. Color us happy.


Sandwich That Runs Hot and Cold
No, it’s not the late, unlamented McDLT. It’s the fresh spin on a banh mi from Mark Helms, chef-owner of Juno’s Kitchen & Delicatessen, where the Duroc pork loin—marinated in fish sauce, rice vinegar and sesame oil—is grilled to order for every sandwich, creating a perfect temperature contrast with the cool house-pickled vegetables, herbs and aioli (which nods to Helms’ background cooking in a Spanish-Mediterranean style at Tapa the World and his former restaurant Ravenous Cafe). It’s all layered on a soft-inside, crusty-outside baguette, which is made in-house, too—as are all of Juno’s breads—from a natural leaven, with no added commercial yeast. Super cool. Or is it hot? 3675 J St. 456-4522.

Way to Get Your Just Desserts
When we want inspiring dessert ideas to sweeten our Pinterest pot, we look no further than Best Friends for Frosting, which launched last year and brings together the best of all the dessert blogs and recipe sites out there, from Joy the Baker to Martha Stewart, plus original recipes and content from founder Melissa Johnson and her team of 14 contributors. Johnson’s dessert obsession started when she was little, baking with her mom (the “best friend” of the site’s name), and continued when she worked at area sweet shops like Freeport Bakery. (The South Land Park resident now partners with Tessa Lindow Huff of The Frosted Cake Shop when styling dessert photo shoots.) The site is a gold mine of recipes for treats like mini mojito cupcakes, tangy watermelon Rice Krispies treats, and Nutella waffle sandwich cookies. If you’re looking for a frosting recipe, Johnson highly recommends the vanilla buttercream from New York’s famed Magnolia Bakery. We’d pin that.



Illustration by Austin Madison

Animated Teacher
Thanks to Shawn Sullivan, Elk Grove might be the next Marceline, Missouri. The tiny town of Marceline is best known for producing one great animator named Walter Elias Disney. And because of one tenacious teacher at Sheldon High School, Elk Grove has become an unexpected hotbed of budding young animation stars. In 1998, Sullivan established an animation and game design program there called K9 Studios and has already seen a slew of his students land at studios like Pixar, DreamWorks and Cartoon Network, as well as go on to great acclaim, like performance painter David Garibaldi, who is a contestant on this year’s America’s Got Talent. Equally impressive is the number of students that Sullivan has shepherded into CalArts, founded by Disney himself. The Harvard of animation programs, the school is highly selective, and Sullivan has had 20 former students accepted (including eight currently enrolled with more on the way this fall). One alum of both Sullivan’s K9 Studios and CalArts is Austin Madison, a Pixar artist who has worked on Ratatouille, Up and Toy Story 3 (and is the lead animator on the new Pixar film, Brave) and who jumped at the chance to animate his mentor (artwork pictured). Mr. Sullivan, get ready for your close-up.

Foodie Flashback
We’re not averse to a rich dose of nostalgia, especially when it comes to our sweet tooth. And neither is Karen Holmes, the creative chef-owner behind the much-lauded Karen’s Bakery Café in Folsom, who turned her wistful gourmet eye to the pre-packaged snacks that she treasured as a little girl. The result is a lineup of treats that delight with their old-school charm and modern flair, like her Myers’s Rum-spiked Ho Hos, a sliced chocolate roulade with rich tiramisu cream, and a crispy, peanut-filled Do-si-dos equivalent that would woo even the most resolute Girl Scout cookie fanatic. And don’t fret if you don’t see your favorite childhood treat on the menu: Given ample notice (usually around a week), Holmes will whip up just about any special order you dish out, like the Stareos, a shortbread sandwich with mascarpone filling in flavors like chocolate, cinnamon and orange, and the ganache-covered, York Peppermint Pattie-inspired chocolates that she first created for a customer who requested them for his wife’s birthday celebration. So head to Folsom and get the sensation. 705 Gold Lake Dr., Folsom.



Photo by Max Whittaker

Enchanting Forest
The 107-acre UC Davis Arboretum, which celebrates its 75th anniversary this spring, is no garden variety, well, garden. The horticultural gem, which functions as a living laboratory for university researchers and houses over 2,600 types of plants and trees, is arranged into 17 zones representing climates, regions or species, like the T. Elliot Weier Redwood Grove—touted as one of the largest collections of coastal redwoods outside their native range—or the Carolee Shields White Flower Garden, which is modeled after medieval moon-viewing gardens of India and Japan and features fragrant, pale flowers like calla lily, oleander and Southern magnolia. But you don’t have to be a green thumb to appreciate the arboretum: Simply strap on your running shoes and join dozens of bikers, joggers and walkers who frequent its 3.5-mile main trail, or learn while you smell the blue lady lenten roses on one of the free walking tours (led by experts like arboretum superintendent emeritus Warren G. Roberts, who is guiding one on June 13). Plus, you can make your own garden grow with one of the arboretum’s 100 All-Star plants like California fuchsia, Chilean jasmine and Santa Barbara daisies, which have been tested for their toughness and resistance to drought, and are available at various local garden shops like Loomis’ Flower Farm Nursery and Capital Nursery. UC Davis campus.


Photo by Max Whittaker

Roast and Coast

Alex Roth’s wheels started turning in 2005 when the recent UC Davis grad needed to pay the bills while pursuing a career in music. Calling his new venture The Pepper Peddler, Roth started roasting the spicy, Southwestern-style peppers that he loved from his native Colorado but couldn’t find in Davis. Inspired by the town’s eco-friendly, bike-crazy culture, he developed a bicycle-powered roaster that rotates a small drum holding the piquant veggies over propane heat. In 2008, sensing a bigger demand for java, he switched gears and began roasting 100 percent organic, fair-trade South American coffee. Now, regular customers—Roth tallies around 165 households—sign up online and choose their preference (light, medium, dark, or the “Roaster’s Blend”—a mixture of the three) and size ($7 for a pint to $22 for a half gallon, with an extra $1 for decaf). The beans are packaged in Mason jars with reusable labels and pedaled to Davis doorsteps. In March, Roth expanded the deliveries to East Sacramento, Land Park, Curtis Park and Tahoe Park—still via bike, but with an assist from Amtrak. How’s that for special delivery?

Lunch Meat
The first rule about Market Club—that famously hidden, fly-in-the-amber luncheonette located on a loading dock in a warren of produce warehouses off 5th and Broadway—is never show up late on Short Rib Tuesday. If you do, you will leave with an empty stomach, losing out to a loyal clientele that has been crowding the horseshoe-shaped counter since 1933. Because there’s no street signage, Market Club has taken on a speakeasy aura among those in the know, but its food—retro American comfort with Asian influences—makes it a secret worth sharing. Breakfast consists of handbag-sized omelets, pancakes, meats and gravy. Blue-collar burgers and other daily specials—like the no-fuss meatloaf or the gingery beef teriyaki—round out the lunch menu. Owner Mona Sakata, who runs the place with her husband Jim, says that back in the day the Market Club was a real den of iniquity for the dock workers—poker tables in the back, ladies of easy virtue upstairs. That’s all changed, of course, but not much else—for now. If Club membership is calling you, don’t dawdle. According to Sakata, a developer is rumored to have purchased the warehouses with plans to build condos sometime in the near future. In other words, after more than three quarters of a century, the Market may become a memory. But before that happens, take a mental snapshot of this sui generis place for yourself. 2630 5th St. 498-9953.



Bao House
Anyone who unilaterally embraces the aphorism “it’s better to give than to receive” has never been handed a straight-from-the-oven, barbecue pork bun from Greenhaven’s small but spectacular ABC Bakery, which features chunks of buttery, slow-roasted meat delightfully encased in soft, chewy domes of sweet dough and baked to a glowing, golden-hued perfection. Char siu baos, or Chinese pork buns, are usually prepared in two distinctive ways: steamed with a snowy white exterior or baked with slightly dense, buttery, egg-washed bread. ABC specializes—and excels—in the latter, creating plump, portable meat pillows packed with fillings that also include minced chicken, pineapple and yellow beef curry. Legend has it that buns like these were invented to represent sacrificial offerings back in more barbaric days, with the rounded shape representing a human head. That may be apocryphal, but it’s easy to see how you could lose your mind for these baos. 1309 Florin Rd. 421-4259.

Place to Czech Out Some Great Pizza
If you’re looking for a great Czech-Italian fusion restaurant—what? You weren’t? Well, you should head to La Trattoria Bohemia, an under-the-radar gem in East Sacramento, anyway. This unlikely culinary combination—goulash and potato pancakes on one side of the menu, pizza with bubbly, yeasty crust on the other—came about when owner Mark Lastuvka, who hails from Prague, came to Sacramento and worked at longtime local joint Roma’s Pizzeria for 10 years, learning home-style southern Italian cooking. When he opened up his own place in 2000, he combined the fare of his homeland with that of Italy. We love the chicken paprikash and the sausage plate, but we adore the simple, distinctive margherita pizza. The crust gets its airiness from a triple rise for extra flavor, and the pie—which sports no sauce but a slathering of flavorful olive oil—is topped with a meadow’s worth of fresh chopped basil. What’s Czech for “mangia”? 3649 J St. 455-7803.



Photos by Max Whittaker

Spot for Pint-Sized Post-Expressionists

Your little ones are getting antsy, but it’s raining or too hot to play outside. The undersung, adorable and sparkly clean Tot Land at the Crocker Art Museum—happily found at the end of the museum’s popular, self-guided Story Trail through the galleries—is just the ticket. With wheely bugs to ride, books to read, and of course plenty of art projects to do (like “drawing” and “painting” on the impossibly cool “Living Art Wall,” an interactive LED touch screen created by local design firm BKWLD), plus a chill and quiet vibe, it’s the perfect place for you to relax in and watch your mini Monets play. What’s more, to keep kids—and parents—extra chipper, the Crocker has come up with a wealth of new family-friendly programs this summer, such as Wee Wednesdays, Thursday movie nights (like Superman on June 7) and Family Fridays. 216 O St. 808-7000.

Riverfront Repast
They come wobbling down the sloping airplane gangway—repurposed from Continental Airlines at SFO—that serves as its entrance, connecting the floating Vietnam-era barge that is The Virgin Sturgeon to the riverbank. They arrive in boats—some fancy, some barely floating—roping to the narrow dock and off-loading unsteadily with skin too red, bellies too big and shorts too small. They are young and old, city and country, but the patrons of this iconic dive share one thing in common: a love for a good time. Like the morally ambivalent fish in the folk song for which the place is named, these revelers “need no urgin’,” when it comes to indulging in the down-and-dirty pleasures of the place. For more than three decades, the Sturgeon has lured in an easygoing crowd with strong drinks (like its mule-kick of a Bloody Mary), tasty food (including house-smoked fish), and an unfettered river view. True, not much has changed in that time—it’s still got battered wooden tables, brass ceiling fans and fishing nets hanging above the ’70s slider windows. The menu is old school, too: brilliantly minimalist steak sandwiches on garlic sourdough, fresh steamed clams with a side of butter in a white paper cup, breaded calamari pounded and pan-fried into delectable submission. But that Regal Beagle-meets-Sacramento Riviera vibe lacks as much pretension as polish, making it the perfect place for some throwback hedonism. 1577 Garden Hwy. 921-2694.



Photo by Jeremy Sykes

Glass Art
The heat is on in Auburn’s rolling foothills, where the melting furnace at Nicholson Blown Glass is always set to 2,200 degrees Fahrenheit. Husband and wife team Rick and Janet Nicholson have been blowing up the local art scene since 1982 with their nature-inspired, handmade glasswork, like fluid wave bowls and jewel-toned pendant chandeliers. They’ve created everything from massive sculptural wall installations for the likes of The Ritz-Carlton in Shenzhen, China, down to small Christmas ornaments featured at the White House during the Clinton administration. On the local front, their elegant works are on display at Capital Public Radio’s “Reflecting” exhibit until July 3, and for sale at the Crocker Art Museum’s gift shop. Sunlight and reflected hues bounce off the walls of the duo’s airy, art-packed Auburn studio, which is open select Saturdays this summer for fiery demonstrations of the glassblowing process. And for all of you weekend oenophiles traversing Placer County’s scenic wine trail, stop in to snap up Nicholson’s colorful wine goblets and elegant bottle stoppers. Stay glassy, Auburn. 5555 Bell Rd., Auburn. 530-823-1631.



Photo by Jeremy Sykes


Place With Banana Appeal
Baagan is out to give Ben and Jerry a run for their money. This tiny vegan cafe in Roseville boasts a transcendent frozen treat made out of nothing more than bananas, a food processor and pure ingenuity. The fruit is left to ripen until it is speckled, then peeled and tossed into the freezer. When customers order “soft serve ice cream,” the bananas are puréed in a blender. Seems too simple to be tasty, but the artful concoction is rich, flavorful and satisfying even to the pickiest of sweet tooths. Throw on toppings such as shredded coconut and goji berries, and you’ll have your chunky-monkey fix without having to look like one. 910 Pleasant Grove Blvd., Roseville. 771-2117.



Joy Yuck Club

Everyone knows kids like to get grossed out, right? We like to outsource that interest—and get a little time to ourselves, too—by sending them to day camp at the Sacramento Zoo. The wildlife park offers a variety of themed summer sessions; at the Yuckology camp, kids learn why hedgehogs throw up slimy toads (ew) and how tamanduas smell (don’t ask)—facts that make the camp’s more parent-pleasing lessons in conservation, zoology and biology go down easy. If your kids have outgrown the gross-out phase, they can choose other themes, like tagging along with a veterinarian or learning training techniques and even putting on a live show with animals. Just be sure to register early (the zoo recommends at least a week before the classes start; some of the more popular ones are already full). Our tip? If you’re mired on the wait list, sign up for a zoo membership now, for priority registration next March. Land Park Dr. and 16th Ave. 808-5888.

Neighborhood of Make Believe
Don’t judge the Sacramento Children’s Museum—a community project thought up by local mom Kathleen Palley that opened last August after years in development—by its cover. On the outside it looks like a nondescript Rancho Cordova office, but inside it’s a bright and cheery space full of fun and surprises for kids ages 8 and under. Our fave is the Airways exhibit, a wall of clear tubes full of rushing air: poke a scarf or a soft ball into one of the tunnels, and it will fly through the maze and pop out over your head. The entertaining Raceways exhibit features golf balls on curved tracks. And in the art room, little ones can paint the walls or make simple crafts. But the most popular spot? The dress-up room, where kids can don costumes and instantly become anything from police officers to philharmonic conductors.2701 Prospect Park, Rancho Cordova. 638-7225.



Ice Cold Hot Spot
Sacramento has its share of terrific old-school ice cream parlors (Vic’s, Gunther’s, Leatherby’s) serving up scoops to the toddler-toting masses. But in the heavy heat of summer, sometimes a grown-up craves a pleasure more refined than a hot dog sandwich with a rocky road chaser. Luckily, Devine Gelateria & Cafe opened its chic little doors in midtown last year. Crowds queue up in front of the red freezer case to sample the rich, luscious gelatos and sorbettos handcrafted each morning by owner Elizabeth McCleary, a graduate of Italy’s Carpigiani Gelato University. Flavors such as ricotta fig, pistachio, Ferrero Rocher and—our fave—chocolate chocolate chip, served slightly warmer than traditional ice cream, all offer an intense touch on the tongue with their deep flavors and creamy texture, made mostly from locally sourced ingredients. But for a true taste of Italy, order an affogato, a single scoop of gelato doused in a shot of Temple espresso, then wander out back to the small patio to enjoy your treat as it melts into a heavenly mix of hot and cold, savory and sweet. So sofisticato, not to mention satisfying. 1221 19th St. 446-0600.


Photo by Ryan Donahue

PB & Yay
Nothing fans the flames of excellence like a little competition, and downtown Sacramento’s Hyatt Regency recently engaged in a bit of hand-to-hamburger combat when executive chef Ian Libberton created four unique burgers as part of a contest with 19 other Hyatts from San Diego to Vancouver. And the burger that caused the most local buzz: The Peanut Butter Pretzel Burger, inspired by Libberton’s youth (he first tried one as a teen in San Diego) and the fact that he had recently made one for his own 12-year-old son, who loved it. He starts with a juicy 7-ounce burger and sets it on a soft pretzel bun and tops it with a generous dose of Skippy creamy peanut butter (he uses crunchy when he makes it at home), cheddar cheese and some sweet and spicy mustard, with a side of fried pickles. The staff was skeptical of the odd-sounding mixture, but became instant fans as soon as they tried it. Alas, the top prize went to a Hyatt in Orange County, which conjured up a bunless burger for the contest. But the good news for locals is that our Hyatt has decided to keep the peanut butter burger on the menu through the summer. It’s definitely a winner in our book. 1209 L St. 443-1234.



A Place to Sing “200 Bottles of Beer on the Wall”
When it comes to bars, Curtis Park’s Pangaea Two Brews Cafe has the relaxed vibe of a comfy neighborhood coffeehouse, but it boasts an impressively large, rotating cast of 25 beers on tap (the lineup almost always includes coveted cult fave Pliny the Elder and Delirium Tremens), plus some 200 more in its next-door bottle shop. There’s a range of Belgian and American styles, from hoppy IPAs to earthy brown ales, but at this time of year the list emphasizes Belgian sours, farmhouse ales and refreshng saisons (which, thanks to their light tang, are perfect for hot weather). Peckish? Pangaea has beer-friendly appetizers like a cheese plate from local company Wedge and heartier fare like sandwiches made from smoked-in-house chicken or brisket. Choose a patio seat or one next to the corner fountain, a reproduction of the iconic Brussels statue Manneken Pis (if your Flemish is rusty, yes, it’s what it sounds like). 2743 Franklin Blvd. 454-4942.

Marine Cuisine
Don’t be fooled by Rudy’s Hideaway’s landlocked locale on Folsom Boulevard, with a gas station and a travelers’ motel for neighbors. After 40 years in business, this Rancho Cordova standby has proven it’s no fish out of water. It remains a seafood joint through and through, featuring tanks filled with live Maine lobsters, portraits of sea captains adorning the walls of the “Captain’s Room” (including a painting of Johnny Depp as Jack Sparrow from Pirates of the Caribbean), and a 50-foot-long mural of the San Francisco Bay completing the Fisherman’s Wharf atmosphere. With staggeringly affordable specials (like Dungeness crab on Wednesdays or a one-pound live Maine lobster on Thursdays, each for $16.95) and a die-hard multigenerational clientele, this spot, like its Fisherman’s Wharf antecedents, rarely has a slow night. (But thankfully, unlike many other seafood restaurants, Rudy’s takes reservations.) And come this fall, keep your eyes peeled for its food truck, Rudy’s Chowder Wagon, which will bring the eatery’s signature clam chowder, fish and chips, and fish tacos to a curb near you. 12303 Folsom Blvd., Rancho Cordova. 351-0606.



Photo by Tori Masucci

Triple Play Special
Raley Field has hit a home run with its Carved Roasted Tri-Tip Sandwich—a hefty plate of smoky, thin-sliced beef piled onto a chewy French roll that’s spread with creamy horseradish aioli. In fact, the fan favorite even scored a spot on the Men’s Health list of the top 11 ballpark foods in the country last May—right along major league winners like the pulled pork sandwich at Citi Field (home of the New York Mets) and the fish tacos at Dodger Stadium. The Sacramento River Cats’ executive chef Ryan Curry ensures that the meat is soaked on-site to juicy perfection in a brown sugar-and-garlic marinade for up to three days before it’s slow-cooked and hand-carved right behind the Solon Club’s concession counter. Alas, this culinary hit is only available on the second deck above right field where you’ll need to be in the costlier sections like the Governors Club (prices start at $34 per ticket) to gain access. But it’s still a minor league price to pay for a major league sandwich, no matter how you slice it. 400 Ballpark Dr., West Sacramento. 371-4487.

Spot for Horsing Around
Leave the concrete jungle for the greener pastures of the Old West at Shadow Glen Family Stables, nestled on 4.5 acres by Lake Natoma. As you arrive, the clamor of busy thoroughfares like Madison and Hazel avenues is quickly replaced by the sounds of gentle whinnies and swishing horse tails (punctuated by the occasional gleeful squeal of a young horse lover), as you saddle up for one of the stable’s popular guided Western trail rides ($38 per hour), which have been running since 1985. Sitting astride one of the stable’s 16 horses (many of which were rescued from abuse or neglect), you’ll explore the Folsom Lake State Recreation Area’s lagoons, thickets, oak groves and meadows on meandering paths that once echoed with the pounding hooves of Pony Express riders racing from Missouri to Sacramento. But don’t worry if you never quite earned your spurs: Shadow Glen offers private lessons and a special “introduction to horses” class where you can learn basics like grooming and beginning horsemanship. Happy trails. 4854 Main Ave., Fair Oaks.



Place to Pig Out
There are other dishes at June’s Cafe, a no-frills, 20-seater restaurant in Southside Park, that have more inventive names and better backstories. The Wienie Royal, for example, an unlikely combination of hot dog, eggs and onions served over steamed rice, sources its origins back to WWII internment camps, where cooking staples came directly from Army surplus. But in the niche of niches known as Japanese soul food, no one does it better than June’s and nothing on the menu tops the Tonkatsu, or breaded pork cutlets served with sizzling, translucent onions. Owner Junko “June” O’Sullivan scratch-makes each hearty order, hand-butchering the medallions before coating them in flour, egg and panko and then pan-frying them on her humble two-burner setup. The result is an aria for the hungry man, the crisp yet tender pork working in concert with the plummy sauce, plus the creamy, pepper-sparked macaroni salad and miso soup that accompany every order. 921 V St. 447-2264

Photo by Jeremy Sykes

Hike Through History

History buffs and hard-core hikers alike are trekking to downtown Nevada City for the Deer Creek Tribute Trail. Opened just last summer, this path into the past begins across the street from the tennis courts in Pioneer Park and moves along scenic back roads and ponderosa pine-covered trails, winding steadily down to the rushing water, where 49ers once panned for gold. Stand amid the remains of Mountaineer Mine and brush up on your Gold Rush facts as interpretive signs guide you to a shady picnic area, where you can rest from the four-mile jaunt down to the cool creek runoff. After dipping your toes in, cross Deer Creek on a steel bridge at the arched entryway dedicated to the area’s former Chinese pioneers and challenge yourself to an extra 20-minute loop along a secluded woodsy hill. The whole family—from little Tommy to Grammy—can handle this hike’s moderate inclines and well-groomed route, with chances to spot deer rustling in the brush or an occasional river otter splashing along the creek. 530-272-5994.