Best of the City 2014

Custard made with deconstructed craft beer, a hot dog made into a taco, a cool dog that’s setting the political world atwitter, cocktails from a barrel, coffee from a keg, mini pies on wheels, a 9-year-old advice guru, a 95-year-old paperboy, and more. For the sixth time, we present our annual guide to the finest places, people and things that Sacramento has to offer, proving once again that there’s no place like our hometown.
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Photo by Jeremy Sykes

Photo by Jeremy Sykes

Royal Watcher

No Kings home game would feel complete without Folsom resident Barbara Rust—aka Sign Ladywaving her poster-board displays of team spirit from the third row of Section 120 at Sleep Train Arena. And in December, Rust’s singular devotion—she rarely missed a home game until last season when breast cancer treatment sometimes sidelined her—made her a slam dunk to be inducted into ESPN’s Fan Hall of Fame, along with two other sports superfans. Come this fall, we look forward to her once again holding court with homemade signs like “Sacramento Kings will stay in my heart 4ever.” No doubt Sign Lady will stay in our hearts forever, too.

Puppy Playground

Midtown has gone to the dogs—in a good way—thanks to a new pop-up dog park that debuted at the Midtown Farmers Market in April. Combining private donations and a successful campaign on the crowdfunding site Neighbor.ly, the Midtown Business Association raised $3,000 to build a portable dog park at 20th and J streets every second Saturday of each month through October. The open space offers a welcome respite for midtown pups, whose nearest off-leash outlet is located more than a mile to the north at Sutter’s Landing. Pooches under 30 pounds can run wild inside the wooden fence perimeter, enjoying fun features like inflatable fire hydrants, tennis balls and a grass strip while their owners socialize with other dog lovers and relax in Adirondack chairs. Meanwhile, the association has made the park available for other events and festivals around town to rent—a doggone great idea, if you ask us. midtownfarmersmarketsac.com

 

 

Socially Conscious Coffee

Photo by Max Whittaker

Photo by Max Whittaker

In a region where farm-to-fork credentials are touted and farmers’ identities are celebrated, that connection is often hazy at best when it comes to coffee. Not so at Pachamama Coffee Cooperative, a trailblazing organization entirely owned by 140,000 family farmers in Peru, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Mexico and Ethiopia. Founded in 2001 by a pair of former Peace Corps volunteers, Pachamama operates out of its midtown Sacramento headquarters and runs a stylish flagship cafe in Davis inside of the John Natsoulas Center for the Arts. There, you can sip a cup of single-origin organic coffee and learn about the growers whose photographs fill an entire wall of the space. The snapshots serve as an apt reminder that every Pachamama drink you buy directly supports those farmers, their families and their communities. That’s an afternoon pick-me-up you can feel good about. 521 1st St. Davis. 530-746-2172. pacha.coop

 

 

Photo by Ryan Donahue

Photo by Ryan Donahue

Deconstructed Craft Beer Dessert

Call it a hoppy accident. Last fall, downtown’s Grange Restaurant & Bar hosted a one-time dinner to celebrate the region’s booming craft beer movement and wanted to conjure a beer-themed dessert to finish off the meal. But executive chef Oliver Ridgeway didn’t want a dessert that tasted like beer. Rather, he wanted to deconstruct a popular local craft beer and brew up a sweet treat based on its core ingredients—barley, malt and hops. The result: the 1881 Ruhstaller Malt Custard. The Grange team started with a crème brûlée-style custard infused with the same barley used in Ruhstaller’s red ale. Then they topped it with house-made “Whoppers”—malted milk balls covered in chocolate—and a crunchy honeycomb brittle steeped in “gargoyle” hops. Happily, a dish intended as a drunken one-night stand turned out to be a marriage made in culinary heaven, and has been on the menu ever since. We’d like to keep digging our spoons into it ’til death do us part. 926 J St. 492-4450. grangesacramento.com

 


Snow Biz Star

The 27-year-old Nevada City resident Evan Strong is no stranger to the world of extreme sports—and extreme triumphs over tragedy: In 2004, on the path to becoming a professional skateboarder, he lost his left leg below the knee seven days before his 18th birthday after a drunk driver struck the motorcycle he was riding. Two days after his amputation surgery, Strong began physical therapy and soon took to the snow, living up to his last name this past March when he won the first-ever gold medal in the men’s snowboard cross competition at the Paralympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, where he conquered a challenging 2,230-foot-long course with steep bank turns, triple-rolls and a 460-foot vertical drop. And in March, the snowboarder made history again when he became the first para-athlete featured on the iconic Wheaties box. We think that’s the perfect choice—he’s just the inspiration we need in the morning to aim faster, higher and stronger in our own lives.

Spot-On Style Blog

Photo by Michelle Drewes

A cheetah can’t change her spots. So when fashion-forward Chico native Alicia Lund began feeling stifled at her day job in finance, she embraced her creative side and in 2009 launched Cheetah is the New Black, a lifestyle blog in which she chronicles her style experiments with new trends and designer pieces. The blog took off, drawing 300,000 monthly readers, and last fall—after a stint in New York as the fashion editor for Elle.com—the cheetah-print-crazy fashionista moved back to Northern California and currently lives in midtown Sacramento. Now, Lund’s eclectic mix-and-match styling posts have River City backdrops of landmarks like Capitol Park and the Memorial Auditorium, as well as Lund’s go-to spots like Fringe, Doughbot and Hook & Ladder. Looks like we’ve found our new favorite destination for style inspiration. cheetahisthenewblack.com

Gourmet Meal in a Dive Bar
At a glance, Jamie’s Broadway Grille might look like the kind of joint you’d do best to avoid—an unmarked box on an industrial street in Land Park with a few parking spots smashed right up against the dark wood door. Be bold and enter, though, because inside this unassuming little space, you’ll find some of the best food in town, courtesy of chef-owner Jamie Bunnell. Whether you opt for the cult-favorite smoked prime rib (a thick, medium-rare slab of bliss that Guy Fieri called “beautiful” on his Food Network show Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives in 2009), the daily seafood special (with choices like just-caught halibut or salmon), or the steak sandwich made with filet mignon that’s marinated for two days in garlic and olive oil, you’ll come away satiated and stuffed. It is an old-school bar, of course, so the drinks are stiff and plentiful, with a line of regulars staking out the stools—especially on Friday afternoons, when the baby back ribs, hot links and barbecued chicken are cooking out back. Dive in! 427 Broadway. 442-4044. jamiesbroadwaygrille.com

 

 

Photo by Jeremy Sykes

Cascade Escapade
Get ready for a new wet-and-wild adventure at Auburn’s Hidden Falls Regional Park, which Placer County expanded last year from 221 to almost 1,200 acres. The reimagined park added picnic areas, bridges, viewing platforms, and 23 miles of trails, ranging from oak-shaded jaunts lined with wildflowers to sweeping canyon vistas and lookouts over two majestic waterfalls that flow year-round. Walk the Hidden Falls Access Trail to discover the namesake attraction, which casts a 30-foot misty veil down the hillside and spills into calm pools that make the ideal stop for lunch or a cool dip, or roam to the north to stand atop a tall wooden platform built into the cliffside and feel the summer breeze winding through the deep, rocky gulch that holds Canyon View Falls below. With 27 trails to mix, match and choose from, you can’t go wrong when you go chasing waterfalls here. 7587 Mears Pl. Auburn. 530-886-4901. placer.ca.gov

 

Photos by Jeremy Sykes

 

The Walking Fed

While we hate to eat and run, we love nothing more than to eat and walk during one of the Local Roots Food Tours, launched three years ago by Auburn-based chef Lisa Armstrong. Each culinary adventure on foot (which generally lasts three hours) is part moveable feast and part guided sightseeing trip, as you and about a dozen other diners make your way through a Sacramento neighborhood—East Sacramento, midtown or downtown—visiting various landmarks like the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament and the historic Old Tavern building, as well as restaurants like Mayahuel, LowBrau and Cafe Bernardo. At each eatery, a table specially reserved for the group awaits your hungry arrival, and drinks and dishes are presented with greetings from restaurant staff—whether it’s a chef explaining where she sources her ingredients or a bar manager leading a tequila tasting—making you feel like a food networked star. It’s no surprise, then, that TripAdvisor ranks Local Roots Food Tour as the No. 1 activity in Sacramento. This is one three-hour tour where you won’t mind getting stranded. 800-407-8918. local-food-tours.com

 

Photo by Ryan Donahue

Frothy Glass of Joe
Imagine being served a frosty glass of reddish-brown liquid fresh from a beer keg, topped with a creamy, foamy cap. Then imagine you’re in a coffeehouse, not at a bar or brewery. What you’re envisioning is in fact the city’s only cold, nitrogen-infused coffee, which the folks at Chocolate Fish pour on tap at their East Sacramento location. Owner Andrew Baker got the idea from a pal in Austin who uses a cold-brew method for the base coffee; Baker tweaked the formula, using the Japanese style of flash brewing (the same that he uses for his iced coffee) to retain the maximum sweetness and bright fruity flavors from Chocolate Fish’s medium-roast beans. The coffee is served in-house only in a Belgian-style tulip glass that preserves the fizz, helping drinkers slow down and savor the ideal way to add a little extra jolt to their morning routine. 4749 Folsom Blvd. 451-5181. chocolatefishcoffee.com

 

 

Photo via Twitter

Political Watchdog
Whether he’s stumping for ballot initiatives, wrapping up a meeting with the Canadian foreign minister or tweeting about his “ruff” day at the press office, Sutter Brown—the Governor’s cuddly Pembroke Welsh corgi named after Sacramento’s legendary 19th-century settler John Sutter—rules the Internet with insider pictures offering glimpses into California’s halls of power. BuzzFeed even called him “a force in California politics.” All we know is that no matter what happens during the gubernatorial election in November, Sutter gets our vote for top dog. twitter.com/SutterBrown

Courtesy of Simon & Schuster

Pint-Sized Emily Posts
No need to tell Isabelle Busath and Isabella Thordsen to lean in. Not yet out of middle school, the 9- and 11-year-old cousins from Citrus Heights already published their first advice book. An illustrated compilation of confident dos and don’ts like “Eat the food you get served with,” “Don’t bite the dentist,” and “Don’t color on people,” Isabelle & Isabella’s Little Book of Rules is based on guidelines that the girls scrawled in a notebook as a guide for their younger siblings—but accidentally lost at a local Walmart. Luckily, a store employee called Fox40 and the search for the book’s owners soon went viral, ultimately reuniting the girls with their notebook and leading to appearances on Good Morning America and the Today show, as well as a deal with Simon & Schuster, which published the book last October. Judging from rules No. 28 (“Be unique”) and No. 29 (“Be yourself”), it looks like these nascent self-help gurus are taking their own advice to heart.

 

 

Island Flavor
Indonesia may be the world’s fourth most populous nation, but in Sacramento, there’s only one restaurant that focuses on the Southeast Asian country’s cuisine. Luckily, Indo Cafe might be the only one we need. The cozy Old Sacramento eatery was bought last year by the husband-and-wife team of Jim and Tessa Scaief, the latter of whom hails from the island of Java and prepares all of the flavorful authentic fare, from the wildly popular nasi goreng (egg-topped stir-fried rice) to the succulent ayam goreng kuning, a turmeric- and galangal-marinated fried chicken dish served with sambal tomat, a chili-based condiment. Looking for a quick bite? A tempting display case offers traditional snacks such as the pancake-like martabak manis and fried krokets (stuffed mashed potato balls that were introduced to Indonesia during Dutch colonial rule). Bon appétit—or rather, selamat makan! 1100 Front St. 446-4008. indo-cafe.com

Day-Old Delight
At most bakeries, the day-old pastry case is a bit of an afterthought, perhaps with a crooked $1 sign affixed. But at Les Baux, leftover croissants are happily remade into croissant pudding—the East Sacramento bakery-cafe’s signature dessert. The dish reimagines a traditional bread pudding, letting flaky croissants soak up a custard of eggs, milk and vanilla before the blend is baked to a comforting warm creaminess (the secret is baking it in a bain-marie, or water bath). A handful of blueberries, blackberries and strawberries add extra flavor to each bowl, and every order is served with whipped cream and a little touch of rum sauce on top. When it comes to this baked remake, what’s old is newly delicious. 5090 Folsom Blvd. 739-1348. lesbauxbakery.com

 

Photos by Jeremy Sykes

 

One-Stop Workshop

Among the mechanical marvels in the works at Hacker Lab’s remarkable Maker Space, you might find a drinking game you control with your mind (via sensors worn on your head) or a cereal-and-milk dispenser operated by an app made in-house. These are just two of the wild innovations dreamed up by some of Sacramento’s most creatively curious and driven minds in the 4,500-square-foot midtown garage of their dreams. Maker Space offers unparalleled access to a range of toys for its community of seasoned inventors and upstart hobbyists alike—multimeters and an oscilloscope in the electronics lab, a decked-out woodshop redolent with the earthy scent of lumber, three 3-D printers, an oxyacetylene welder and a laser-cutting machine. If you can imagine making cereal with an iPhone, then the fun is just beginning. 1715 I St. 514-7044. hackerlab.org

 

French Fry Topping
What do you get when you ladle a clam chowder that many consider the best in the city over a bowl of perfectly cooked and salted Kennebec potatoes? That’s the winning combination behind the Captain’s Fries at Blackbird Kitchen + Beer Gallery, a decadent treat that features a bed of hand-cut potatoes that hardily holds up to chef-owner Carina Lampkin’s savory chowder—itself boasting house-smoked clams, pollock, squid and a broth made from Penn Cove mussels steamed in white wine, garlic and other seasonings. The finished product thrusts clam chowder’s customary soft, mild potatoes into the crispy foreground, while adding a heaping helping of Pacific bay shrimp, cubed bacon and parsley for flavorful measure. Pair it with Ballast Point brewery’s fresh, aromatic Sculpin IPA (one of the 56 beers and ciders on tap at this downtown eatery) to hit an even bigger jackpot of tastes. 1015 9th St. 498-9224. blackbird-kitchen.com

Comedy Crash Course
The first thing John Ross tells students in his Stand-Up 101 class is that he can’t teach anyone how to be funny. Yet for the next four weeks during the Sacramento Comedy Spot program, the 10-year veteran comic does exactly that through a barrage of notes, feedback, comments, deconstructions and reconstructions of jokes delivered at each half-workshop, half-performance session. The goal is to find the one-liners and riffs hiding within what already makes us crack up; an average of five members per class—ranging from experienced jokesters with an eye on technique to complete beginners looking to refine their writing or public speaking—build a set lasting four to seven minutes from scratch, learning the protocols and etiquette of live comedy along the way. At the end of the monthlong term (which costs $120), the students debut their sets to friends, family and Comedy Spot regulars. It’s a singular Sacramento experience, with laugh—and life—lessons for all. 444-3137. saccomedyspot.com

 

 

Photo by Max Whittaker

Fly Guy

If you’re a science fiction geek, you’ve probably heard the term “butterfly effect” in which the flapping of a butterfly’s wings in one part of the world can trigger a hurricane, or some such cataclysmic outcome, in another. But in Art Shapiro’s world, the term falls under the rubric of science nonfiction. That’s because the 68-year-old UC Davis scientist and professor of evolution and ecology, whose mane of gray hair defies the laws of physics à la Einstein, has tracked butterfly population and migration patterns since 1972 and helped reveal the real-life effects of climate change, earning him coverage in National Geographic last year. As one of the world’s leading experts on the delicate insects, he has traveled everywhere from South America to the United Kingdom for research—in California alone, he has logged more than 7,225 site visits and approximately 95,000 records of 160 butterfly species. Clearly Shapiro is one scientist who’s not just winging it. butterfly.ucdavis.edu

Salt and Peppers
Recently, humble table salt went uptown with dozens of fancy varieties, while sriracha became the ubiquitous, revered hipster ketchup. Sacramento-based Preservation & Co. combined the trends with its coral-colored Sriracha Salt, which has quickly become a hit for all kinds of uses, from framing the rims of Bloody Mary glasses to waking up morning eggs. Although most batches of the seasoning—which stimulates your taste buds without blowing the top of your head off—are made with traditional Huy Fong sriracha combined with flaky kosher salt, Preservation owner Jason Poole has also experimented with using the company’s own excellent sriracha sauce made from Del Rio Botanical’s crop of Fresno chili peppers. (It comes in three heat levels; the Hellfire is hot enough that Poole wears a gas mask to make it.) Sriracha Salt is available at local culinary destinations like The Cultured & The Cured in East Sacramento and, opening in mid-June, Preservation & Co.’s own midtown storefront. At $8.50 a jar, the spice is right. 706-1044. preservationandco.com

 

 

Pie à la Road

Photo by Tori Masucci Cummins

Launching a food truck might seem like a pie-in-the-sky idea, but it wasn’t for Brenda Janssen. The friendly owner of An Honest Pie rolled out her blue-painted bakery on wheels in 2012 and has tasted success ever since, selling fresh-baked, palm-sized treats in savory flavors (like the hearty steak and mashed potato), sugar-dusted variations (like the Black Eyed Peach oozing with summertime peaches and blackberries), and our personal favorite, the Southern-inspired Kelly’s Buttermilk Pie that tastes just like crème brûlée. And while the food truck mainly drives around Nevada City, An Honest Pie recently launched a concession stand at Raley Field for River Cats games, where fans can catch treats like the Easy Cheesy Smiley Pie stuffed with mac and cheese or a warm, cinnamon-spiked apple pie for dessert. Every little bite is a big home run. anhonestpie.com

 

 

Photo by Max Whittaker

Candy Curator

Want to feel like a kidult in a candy store? Then you need to pay a visit to Andy Paul at his downtown confectionery. Last December, the Stanford-educated former schoolteacher opened his eponymous venture Andy’s Candy Apothecary on the ground floor of 800 J Lofts, and we’ve been living the sweet life ever since. There, in front of a wall stacked to the ceiling with jars filled with everything from sour worms to Spanish gummies, Paul plays munchies matchmaker, marrying your childhood favorites with your grown-up palate. Love Starbursts? Meet their softer, superior Japanese cousin, Hi-Chew. Obsessed with Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups? Take a bite of Unreal’s version with no artificial flavors or preservatives. Hungry for Snickers? Try a handcrafted Double Dutch Sweets bar with Venezuelan dark chocolate and peanuts. Whether he’s tempting us with samples of Swedish Fish or rhubarb licorice, this candy man is sure to bring out the kidult in all of us. 1012 9th St. 905-4115. andyscandystore.com

Tirami-supreme
Since 2006, pastry chef Javier Aguirre has been pumping out tortes, truffles, cheesecakes and other heaven-sent treats at Divine Desserts, his shop in Loomis. But Aguirre’s masterpiece, Tiramisu La Bomba, is made exclusively for Skipolini’s Pizza in Folsom and Rocklin. The tiramisu is a fluffy, layered confection made with a decadently moist chocolate cake base, topped with a thick coffee cream and a layer of coffee-saturated ladyfingers, all harmonizing under a cloud-like mousse of mascarpone cheese. The entire assemblage is then blanketed in a glossy layer of rich and silky chocolate ganache, drizzled with white chocolate, rimmed with sliced almonds and topped with an edible white chocolate label to make a delectable, domed—and yes, quite possibly divine—delight. skipolinispizza.com

 

 

Home for Hometown Gifts
Hallmark moments can be lovely, but when you care enough to send the very best gifts—ones with a little more authentic Sacramento touch—make your way to Ladybug Ladybug. Shopkeeper Sheila Istvanick keeps a supply of greeting cards, artworks, jewelry, clothing, postcards and assorted other products crafted by local artisans throughout the midtown shop, from the front racks offering charming cards by area illustrators Casey Robin, Susanne George and Pamela Neal, to the shelves of children’s socks by Trumpette, to the walls lined with the eye-popping folk-meets-pop canvases of Folsom painter Emmanuel Archuleta. It’s easy to see why every time we step inside Ladybug Ladybug, we go loco for shopping local. 2512 J St. 594-7664. ladybugladybug.com

Paper Lion
Neither rain, nor snow, nor sleet, nor hail shall keep Newt Wallace from his appointed rounds. Since 1947—when he purchased the Winters Express—the indefatigable 95-year-old has been hitting the streets every Wednesday for the weekly paper, delivering news of summer concerts at Rotary Park, water levels at Lake Berryessa, and bridge improvements over Putah Creek. And even though his son Charley now runs the publication, Newt has no intention of hanging up his carrier bag anytime soon, a feat that earned the former newsman a profile in The New York Times last year and will soon lead to a Guinness World Record for the oldest newspaper delivery person in the world (the title is currently held by a British gentleman eight months Newt’s junior). This is one man whose story is definitely worth the paper it’s printed on.

 

 

Photo by Ryan Donahue

Paw Prints
These days, furry residents at the Folsom City Zoo Sanctuary, which has been providing a haven for abandoned, injured or orphaned wild animals since 1963, can be seen channeling their inner Jackson Paw-llocks through the organization’s creative Art with Animals program. For $150 a session, you can watch as four-legged maestros like Henry the black bear and Misty the tiger put their stamp (and stomp) on a 16-by-20-inch canvas with colorful, nontoxic paint and create an abstract masterpiece for you to take home. How wild is that? 403 Stafford St. Folsom. 351-3527. folsom.ca.us

Dates to Remember
With signature dishes like the whiskey burger and the impeccably seared day boat scallops, it’s easy to overlook the bite-sized stuffed Medjool dates at Formoli’s Bistro. Don’t. Served atop elegant shoots of Delta-grown Belgian endive, these sweet, caramelized fruits—filled with creamy goat cheese and salty crumbles of house-cured pancetta—satiate just about every flavor craving. Your first date here will definitely lead to a second. 3839 J St. 448-5699. formolisbistro.com

 

 

Space-Age Wine

Photo by Max Whittaker

Self-serve isn’t just for yogurt shops anymore. Take, for instance, Vini Wine Bar, where two-ounce pours are doled out by the futuristic-looking Enomatic wine-serving machines, which you feed using prepaid “tasting cards” as passports to sample the Davis shop’s rotating variety of 72 local and imported offerings (Slovenian Furmint white wine, anyone?), each personally selected by owner Jeff Day. Most wines are also available by the bottle, too, so if you discover a vintage that you love, you can still order it the old-fashioned way. Pour it on. 611 2nd St. Davis. 530-756-5722. viniwinebar.com

 

 

Photo by Jeremy Sykes

Flapjacks to Flip For

If it were up to us, Bacon & Butter would add one more “B” to its name because the breakfast haven’s buttermilk pancakes certainly deserve a spot on the marquee and a place on every diner’s table. Made from scratch with ingredients like free-range eggs from Haney’s ranch near Modesto and topped with fresh fruit like sliced peaches or diced apples, chef-owner Billy Zoellin’s flapjacks come out decadently crisp-edged, yet gloriously fluffy from the griddle every single time (trust us, we’ve done our homework). For weekend brunch goers who are used to the long lines for a table, your wait will soon be over when, after two years in midtown, B&B moves a few miles east to Tahoe Park in mid-June and reopens with expanded seating (including an outdoor patio), beer and wine service—and evening hours. Which, to us, can only mean one thing: pancakes for dinner. (Yes, Zoellin will be serving them at suppertime.) Batter up! baconandbuttersac.com

 

 

Big DIPA
India Pale Ales are all the rage in America’s booming craft beer phenomenon, making new brew fans daily with their bracing, bitter aplomb. It takes a special brewery to pile on the hops for a double IPA, and few do it better than Auburn-based Knee Deep Brewing Co., whose Hoptologist DIPA won a gold medal at San Francisco Beer Week’s double IPA festival in 2012, beating out beer-nerd favorite Pliny the Elder. As you pour a glass of the top-tier Hoptologist, the color of that accolade is reflected in the golden and copper-hued brew; a whiff of caramel swirls upward, ushered out as citrus and floral notes cascade down your tongue with the lingering bite that makes the style so popular with hard-core hopheads. A great local brew dominating a delicious national movement? We’ll drink to that. 13395 New Airport Rd. Auburn. 530-797-4677. kneedeepbrewing.com

Way to Think Inside the Bun
At a glance, the Fiesta Dog served up at The Wienery in East Sacramento just should not work. On the one hand, it is exactly what the menu says it is—bun and frankfurter topped with lettuce, tomato, onion, refried beans, cheese and taco sauce. On the other, it represents an abomination perhaps better suited to one of Werner Herzog’s sobering documentaries about the human condition. Either way, it is a marvel. The trick is in the pairing itself: The flavors are so familiar (if you’re into hot dogs and tacos, that is) that the meal is less wanton mash-up than a kind of comfort-food calculus. Before you know it, the Fiesta Dog is devoured, and you ask yourself, “Did I really just eat an entire hot dog made over as a taco?” Yes, you did. And frankly, you’ll do it again. 715 56th St. 455-0497. thewienerysacramento.com

 

 

Barrel-Based Buzz
There are plenty of places in town to get a great drink, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find a sipping substance as uniquely sublime as the barrel-aged cocktails at midtown’s Hook & Ladder. Beverage director Chris Tucker takes a six-gallon oak cask and concocts magical mixes like a negroni made with Plymouth Gin, Campari and sweet vermouth, then ages the blend for up to nine weeks before putting it on tap. The result barely resembles its fresh counterpart, with its time against the grains turning the drink smooth and complex, the ingredients not just mingling but marrying for life. When the barrel is empty, there’s no quick fix—you’ll have to wait until the next casked creation comes out. But never fear: Tucker just got a new batch of barrels to quench your summer thirst. 1630 S St. 442-4885. hookandladder916.com

Photo by Marc Thomas Kallweit

Excuse to Try Bacon Jam

You really can’t go wrong with the simple pleasure of a PB&J sandwich, but at Block Butcher Bar in midtown, the “ABJ” panini—head chef Michael Tuohy’s creation made with Marcona almond butter and bacon jam—elevates the lunchtime classic to inventive new heights. Forget about Smucker’s and Jiffy: these spreads, sandwiched between slices of toasted Acme sourdough, are house-made and full of nuanced flavor, like the subtle spice and sweetness of the jam (made with rendered bacon, sherry vinegar, garlic and crushed chilies), which pairs amazingly with the creamy, salty almond paste. Trust us, this is one addicting treat that you’ll go nuts for. 1050 20th St. 476-6306. blockbutcherbar.com

 

 

Photo by Julian Elias

Way to Meet the Neighbors
At least three times a week, Julian Elias approaches strangers on the street with his Canon Rebel camera and asks them to be part of Humans of Sacramento, his revelatory photography site highlighting people around the capital city. Elias, a part-time ESL instructor at both Sacramento State and Cosumnes River College, modeled the project after the wildly popular Humans of New York series; he began on a whim last fall after meeting and photographing a woman named Juanita (pictured), who was singing and playing the tambourine on I Street. Elias has since snapped musicians, students, artists, gardeners and others while wandering through his neighborhood of East Sacramento and beyond, chatting up his subjects and sharing their stories along the way. The result: dozens of introductions to our fellow Sacramentans that we would likely never meet, but are better off for knowing, even for a moment. humansofsacramentoca.tumblr.com

Whipped Wonder
Calorie-counting coffee addicts have a friend in Fõam, a luscious topping crafted by Gold River inventor Jeff Wilkinson in 2000 so that he and his fellow cappuccino devotees could enjoy healthier alternatives to whipped cream. The entrepreneur (and former COO of Saint John’s shelter for women and children) tried recipe upon recipe in his kitchen, finally succeeding after over 300 attempts with the right blend of ingredients like nonfat milk, sugar, and whey protein concentrate (which provides the product its frothy texture). Especially with beach season coming up, we’ll be sure to stock up on this sweet and creamy—and fat-free—topping (available at Raley’s and Bel Air stores, as well as on Fõam’s website) that should be everybody’s best coffee mate. skinnywip.com

 

 

Photo by Jeremy Sykes

Farm-Fresh Ice Cream

Stepping into Treats, a cheery, closet-sized ice-cream shop tucked down an alleyway in Nevada City, is the perfect respite from the summertime heat—not to mention the sweetest way to get your daily serving of farm-fresh fruit. Owners Bob and Peggy Wright offer about 25 rotating flavors of decadent ice cream, sorbet, vegan ice cream, gelato and “Treatsicles” that use blends of produce from the farmers’ market or local grocer BriarPatch Co-op. Just look for flavors like pear-ginger sorbet featuring pears from Auburn’s Boorinakis Harper Ranch, the vibrant scoop that boasts sweet red peppers and strawberries from nearby Riverhill Farm, and a mint chip ice cream often swirled with bits of spearmint from the Wrights’ own backyard garden. Now that’s what we call home sweet home. 110 York St. Nevada City. 530-913-5819. treatsnevadacity.com

Place to Explore the Universe
Just finding Geographica, tucked down a quaint red-brick alley off J Street in East Sacramento, can put any visitor in the right mood to browse its enthralling inventory of framed maps, astronomy charts, classic furniture, reference books and other ephemera. Store owner Mark Anderson, who opened his shop in December 2012, attributes his curatorial taste to “whatever catches my eye”—which is how a refurbished wood-and-iron rowing machine (similar to one that sank on the Titanic, according to Anderson) came to share retail space with a whimsically illustrated map of California’s old settlements and missions, a giant reproduction of a 19th-century German star map, and a vintage ’60s-era globe charting John Glenn’s paths during his historic space flight orbiting the Earth. With discoveries for adventurous gift givers and design hounds alike, Geographica is just the place to get lost. 3811 J St. 834-8743. geographica.co

 

 

Place to Spot a Crouching Tiger
Tourists love to line up in front of the cat cages at the Sacramento Zoo, calling out to the lions, snow leopards and jaguars and taking photos as fast as their shutters can snap. For a closer, more breathtaking look, mosey away from the madness to the right side of the Sumatran tiger enclosure, where you’ll find a secret viewing window tucked into the faux-stone wall. Here, you can calmly watch baby CJ (who turned 1 in March) and his mom Baha, who’s been known to lay herself out on the window ledge—just on the other side of a half-inch of Plexiglas. Be advised, though, to visit the tigers as the day starts to fade: The mother-son pair heads outside at 3 p.m., after dad Castro has gotten his time in the sun. 3930 West Land Park Dr. 808-5888. saczoo.org

Sweet Rush
When it’s late in the afternoon and you need a precious boost to push you through the rest of a never-ending work day, skip the coffee concoctions and reach instead for a Blabbermouth Chocolates bar, handcrafted in Lincoln by husband-wife team Darlene and Gary Kramer. Each brightly wrapped block mixes bits of mostly single-origin coffee beans from area roasters (including Chocolate Fish and Insight, the latter of which sells the bars at its cafes as well) mixed into rich Belgian chocolate, giving the bars a soft, satisfying bite, like a Nestlé Crunch bar for tired adults that will snap, crackle and pop your brain back into action. blabbermouthchocolates.com

 

 

Drink That Packs a Punch
The Porch embraces many a fine Southern tradition, but the finest might be the way Southerners know how to class up an easy-sipping drink. That’s just what the midtown eatery has done with its whiskey sour punch, served for two or more in a cut-glass punch bowl with tiny crystal cups. The drink itself? It’s pink, boozy and sweet-tart with the addition of pineapple juice and bourbon—a bit of an iron fist in a smooth velvet glove, and a refreshing treat on a warm, breezy Sacramento summer night. 1815 K St. 444-2423. theporchrestaurantandbar.com

Photo by Ryan Donahue

Wedding Cake for One

All of the desserts at downtown bakery Estelle’s Patisserie have a decidedly chic air about them, but perhaps the prettiest (and, not surprisingly, one of the most popular) in the glass case is the light-as-air strawberry chiffon cake. We’re partial to the three-inch-wide mini version, with layers of ultra-simple, ultra-light vanilla hot milk cake layered with Chantilly cream (a fancy name for sweetened whipped cream) and a surprise filling of crushed strawberries. Available year-round, the cake’s flavors—reminiscent of a refined spin on strawberry shortcake—shine all the more in warmer weather. It would be just right for a lovely summer wedding, but a simple pairing with a tall glass of iced tea would take the cake as well. 901 K St. 551-1500. estellespatisserie.com

Mother of All Cookies
K Street’s new vegetarian restaurant Mother has been drawing crowds from the moment it opened in January, with diners snaking out the door to order lunch at the counter or be seated for dinner. And while chef and co-owner Mike Thiemann has earned praise for inventive items like his po’boy sandwich with oyster mushrooms, and deservedly so, it wasn’t long before we discovered Mother’s best-kept secret: co-executive chef Matt Masera’s brown butter sea salt cookies. A former pastry chef for Food Network star Tyler Florence, Masera has created a chewy, melt-in-your-mouth dessert with the perfect sweet-salty combo: rich buttery notes and brown sugar topped with a slight sprinkle of Jacobsen sea salt. Even better, Masera makes over 200 cookies a day in multiple batches, so they’re usually out-of-the-oven warm when you order. And heads up, fellow cookie monsters: When Mother’s owners open sister restaurant Empress Tavern inside the Crest Theatre later this fall, Masera says he hopes to start an ice cream program and create brown butter cookie ice cream sandwiches. Where do we line up? 1023 K St. 594-9812. mothersacramento.com

 

 

Jar Geniuses
The Preserve Public House invites guests to have a go at its pantry—or at least at the one tucked behind its front register, where the Winters restaurant offers up shelves of tempting jams, jellies and pickled items using ingredients sourced from the region’s abundance of farms. You can’t go wrong, whether you pick up some tangy green olives stuffed with vermouth-brined onions from M&CP Farms in Orland, candied kumquats from local Knabke Farms, or ruby red blood orange and Meyer lemon jelly that uses fruit grown by Winters farmer Jeremy Murdock. But our favorite is the jalapeño jelly crafted from a recipe by Preserve co-owner Cole Ogando’s grandmother. With its taste buds-tickling blend of spicy and sweet, it gives new meaning to canned good. 200 Railroad Ave. Winters. 530-795-9963. preservepublichouse.com

 

Far-Out Far East Marshmallowy Treat
Call them the Asian Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. Downtown’s Osaka-Ya, the beloved Japanese bakery and grocery, has been making mochi—the round, marshmallow-like rice-based confection that’s traditionally filled with sweet red bean paste—for a half-century. But it was only about eight years ago that owner Linda Nakatani, whose parents acquired the shop in 1963, heard that someone in Hawaii had created mochi stuffed with peanut butter and chocolate chips. Intrigued, she tracked some down, and was hooked. Today, she boasts a cellophane-wrapped four-pack featuring one piece with smooth Skippy peanut butter inside; one with chunky; one with nothing but Ghirardelli chocolate ganache; and, our favorite, one with smooth peanut butter and Nestlé chocolate chips. Osaka-Ya’s mochi business is so strong now that she and her team make 600 to 2,000 pieces from scratch six days per week. When it comes to peanut butter and chocolate, for us, East means best. 2215 10th St. 446-6857

 

 

Uptown Tacos
The fish tacos at The Firehouse Restaurant may look like, well, fish out of water on the vaunted Old Sacramento eatery’s refined lunch menu, but this humble dish boasts a whole different kind of Baja fresh. Executive chef Deneb Williams’ version, inspired by his childhood in coastal locales like Washington’s Friday Harbor and Hawaii, centers on a generous, chargrilled portion of fresh catches like halibut, California sea bass or Pacific swordfish from the celebrated local seafood distributor Sunh Fish Co., which is offset by a delicate honey cumin glaze and—along with sweet slaw made with fresh mangos, avocados and cucumbers—folded inside a luxuriously thick flour tortilla. With such a symphony of flavors and textures, this is one taco worth dressing up for. 1112 2nd St. 442-4772. firehouseoldsac.com

 

 

Extreme Mac and Cheese
It’s no secret that a good, creamy plate of restaurant-made macaroni and cheese is rich. But just how rich can it get? That question seems to be answered at Broderick Roadhouse, whose menu boasts perhaps the most over-the-top version of mac and cheese you’ll ever try. Not only are there four varieties of cheese involved (blue, Gruyère, and aged white and regular cheddars); not only is there applewood-smoked bacon mixed in; not only is the mac and cheese formed into patties that are griddled to a tasty, crispy edge; but, in addition to all that, there’s a rosette of bacon on top. The healthy arugula rimming the plate never stood a chance. 319 6th St. West Sacramento. 372-2436. broderick1893.com