Hampton's on Sutter
608 Sutter St., Folsom
(916) 985-4735, www.hamptonsonsutter.com
Hours: 4-9 p.m. Mondays; 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Tuesdays-Wednesdays 11 a.m.-midnight Thursdays; 11 a.m.-1:30 a.m. Fridays; 9 a.m.-1:30 a.m. Saturdays
For what seemed like a couple of years, the faded wood house (circa 1894) on Sutter Street in Old Folsom was under- going a seemingly endless renovation. The house stood vacant after the dust had finally settled, surrounded by construction debris and a chain-link fence.
Then, in September, Citrus Heights financial adviser Michael Hampton opened Hampton's on Sutter restaurant, becoming a neighbor of Chicago Fire pizzeria, Powerhouse Pub and Sutter Street Steak House.
The old house – originally occupied by James Donnelly, Folsom's first constable – was handsomely and respectfully transformed, with brown clapboards on the facade to accentuate its striking profile. Inside are wood beams and wood floors, a gleaming wood staircase and a knockout view from the deck.
We wondered about the concept, though. Gastropub serving New American fare? Upscale burger joint? Casual bistro? Potpourri?
There's an explanation at the website: "The concept is simple – provide a great neighborhood bar and grill with an urban atmosphere and an accessible menu with something for everyone. Swing by for a cocktail and a great meal on your way home from work."
OK, we can do that.
Menu: Ten appetizers get things going, from toasted goat cheese sandwiches and Thai garlic fries, to balls of fried mac 'n' cheese and chicken wings.
Rather traditional soups, salads and four sandwiches show up next, followed by five "house specials."
Things get more interesting with the nine imaginative burgers made with "certified Angus beef" (and a solo gluten-free veggie burger). Some of the burger toppings are intriguing – serrano peppers, bacon pâté, and pineapple, jalapeño and habanero aiolis.
One rarely seen topping is mushroom duxelles, typically a reduction of minced mushrooms, shallots or onions, herbs and spices, usually sautéed in butter and sometimes spiked with heavy cream. It was an ingredient in the beef Wellington burger, the best dish on our table.
Price point: Given the high-traffic, restaurant- centric neighborhood (just try to find parking on Friday or Saturday nights), prices are reasonable. They range from $4 for a cup of soup and $7 for Caesar salad, to $10 for a grilled mahi sandwich and $22 for a recent nightly special of New York steak with pesto pasta and asparagus. Burgers are $8 to $14.
Watch out for the "upgrade" options, which can add up. For instance, "Make it a buffalo burger for an additional $2. Add bacon for $2."
Ambience: Downstairs in the crowded bar area and upstairs in the loft dining room, the noise ricocheted off the bare walls like a golf ball in a blender. If we'd burst out into a roaring version of "99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall" the night we were there, no one would have noticed.
Many diners and restaurateurs confuse noise with the sound of excitement. For instance, at an NCAA basketball tournament, the crowd noise is caused by excitement. At a restaurant, yelling at your tablemates to pass the salt is a sign of poor acoustics, not excitement.
"Let's use sign language," someone in our party suggested.
As the evening progressed, diners talked louder to be heard over everybody else talking louder. Literally, we four had to yell across the wide table to be understood. We suffered from decibel fatigue by dessert, and saw the symptoms among the servers, too.
Beyond that, the quarters are tight but the architecture is attractive.
Drinks: The full bar serves everything, including lots of draft beers and six well-conceived specialty cocktails. The Blue Linen sounds tasty: gin, elderflower liqueur, cucumber, blue- berries and lemon over ice.
Wine-wise, Madroña chardonnay from El Dorado County is well-priced at $22 a bottle.
Happy hours are 4-6 p.m. Mondays-Sundays, with drink and appetizer deals.
Service: Our server was efficient and concerned, but the place seemed understaffed. Not helping was the awkward positioning of our table in a corner alcove. The server could not circumnavigate it, so had to pass glasses and plates to those in our party sitting closest to her, and they had to pass them down the line. No worries – it was a team-building exercise.
Special feature: Though it was too chilly to sit on the spacious upper deck, it will be the place to be this summer. If that flock of starlings doesn't show up again
First impressions: We would return for burgers and brew, but only if we can sit on the deck, away from the din.
Food-wise, the burgers were far better than the oily onion rings, rubbery fish sticks in the fish 'n' chips basket, and the perfectly al-dente fettucine in lush cream sauce, but with scant fishy-tasting shreds of smoked salmon.
Best bets are the beef Wellington burger in puff pastry with cognac-peppercorn sauce, and the Folsom Dam burger with pastrami, Swiss, fried egg (runny) and Thousand Island dressing.
BTW: Those dark burns on the tops of the buns are from a mini-branding iron, a nice touch. And on the night we visited, we exited by the steep back stairway. It was dark, but only the top half of the stairway railing was lighted; the bottom half was in the dark, nearly unnavigable. Watch your step.
Try it if: You're into cocktails and enjoy a boisterous bar scene; choose carefully from the menu.
Forget it if: You are noise-sensitive.
Call The Bee's Allen Pierleoni, (916) 321-1128. First Impressions visits dining spots in the region that are new or have undergone recent transitions. Have a candidate for First Impressions? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.