Sometimes there are big surprises waiting in little restaurants. You just have to go inside. Like this:
Last week, Yelp blogger Roberta Sanchez sent an email recommending Stevie Boy Burgers, which opened June 1.
Roberta, who lives and works not far from Stevie's, wrote, "There are hardly any restaurants on the Stockton Boulevard corridor that are not Asian. While I love the fact that I have such a plethora to choose from when I want that kind of food, it's been tough to find a good burger."
In her Yelp blog, she wrote in part, "Stevie Boy has some great-looking burgers thick and meaty, with fresh produce. And those fries hot and tasty! Spread the word!"
That's how lunch pal Gloria Glyer and I came to be driving along Stockton Boulevard last Friday, headed to our Stevie's adventure. Gloria writes the weekly Fundraisers calendar for The Bee and is a former Dining Diva for Sacramento magazine.
En route, we passed plenty of Vietnamese restaurants where some of our past lunches have included bowls of steaming pho (noodle soup) and bahn mi sandwiches. We spotted some other longtime favorites, too: Mighty Kong Cafe (shrimp po' boy, smoked tri-tip), Luigi's Pizza Parlor (since 1953), Ocean King (sautéed prawns, soft-shell crabs) and Gentry BBQ Duck (roasted chicken whacked into pieces with a meat cleaver).
Farther along, we saw the "Grand Opening" banners at Stevie's and pulled into the parking lot, across the busy street from the Wing Wa supermarket. Most of the storefronts that neighbor Stevie's had "For Lease" and "This Space is Available" signs in their windows.
In front of Stevie's and facing Stockton Boulevard is a handmade sign, as described in Roberta's Yelp blog: "(It) looks like a 10-year-old made it with red house paint on a piece of white-primered plywood nailed to a couple of two-by-fours."
Later, owner Steve "Stevie" Hy explained, "Even though it's an eyesore, it has character. It gets people's attention, and I've had a lot of customers come in just because of it."
Inside Stevie's (formerly a Chinese fast-food restaurant) we found a clean, cool space with unexpectedly upscale tables and chairs. Cables sprout from one wall, waiting for a flat-screen TV and the cable guy to hook it up.
More hand-lettered signage adds down-home charm to the place. One of several wall-mounted menu boards says only, "Sides / Fries $1.75 / Soda $1.25." Another says, "Add fries and soda to any burger for $2 more." Still another perches over a bin of whole potatoes and onions: "Stevie does not cry when cutting onions." Good to know.
Stevie's specialty is the hamburger actually, the only sandwich on the menu made from fresh Angus ground beef and seasoned with a seven-spice proprietary blend. Though more signage says the patties are one-third of a pound, they're way too hefty for that. "They're closer to 7 1/2 ounces," Stevie said.
Stevie arrives early each morning to hand-prep the condiments and form the burger patties. Offered are six variations on the burger theme, involving various combinations of lettuce, tomato, pickle chips, onion, cheese, crisp bacon, avocado, blistered jalapeño, barbecue sauce and mayo ($5.75 to $6.99).
As for the creamy, perfectly salted steak fries, Stevie cuts russets by hand, leaving on the skins. "After I cut up the fries, I wash off the starch, put them in a bowl of cold water and refrigerate them overnight," he said. "That makes them taste better when they're cooked."
"(Stevie's) doesn't pretend to be anything else but a place to get a burger," Gloria said. "I like it."
We ordered the house special Stevie Burger and a cheeseburger, with fries and fountain sodas. A peek behind the order counter revealed a sprawling kitchen area.
As we watched, Stevie commandeered the griddle, whipping two wood-handled metal spatulas into a blur of motion. Burger patties, bacon and rings of white onion sizzled away, next to toasty sesame-seeded burger buns. The smells were tantalizing.
Though Stevie has a helper ("He cooks the fries"), the grill operation is a one-man band. Translation: Lunch will take a while.
We listened to music while we waited ("Kokomo" by the Beach Boys, "Stand by Me" by Ben E. King). Gloria reminisced about the glory days of the Sacramento restaurant scene, when the go-to's included the Coral Reef, Golden Tee, Ram and the last holdout, the recently shuttered Buggy Whip.
"They were destinations where the guys could have a decent lunch and a drink in the bar and talk business," she said. "When they closed, they were never replaced. Now the retired guys who like old-fashioned places don't know where to go."
Our burgers and fries arrived in paper-lined plastic lattice baskets. Wow! These were thick, perfectly cooked burgers straight from the 1950s tall, wet, stacked high with smoky, thick-cut bacon, melted cheese and fresh condiments.
"Nicely messy and real," Gloria said.
After lunch, she added, "When you're hungry for a burger, this is the kind of place you see when you're driving by and you decide to drop in, hoping for the best. And you get it."
On the phone with Stevie later, I wondered why his restaurant has no telephone. It would come in handy when time-pressed customers want to call in their orders and pick them up in a half-hour.
"There's no way I could handle the phone orders and work the grill at the same time, and I couldn't do the volume," he said. "The problem is, I can't afford to hire extra help. I'm trying to give people quality as well as value, and it's not easy to put that combo together."
So far, he's doing just that.