Rio Linda is only a 20-minute drive from downtown Sacramento, but it's a world away. The former poultry capital is workin'-folk country where the dented pickup trucks are actually used to haul stuff, and you're likely to see horses on Main Street. Much of the passing scenery is of fields of produce and grazing livestock. This is the "farm" referred to in the foodie "farm-to-fork" mantra.
Things were slow at lunchtime the other day at the 1-4-5 Club there, but we're told the joint jumps after dark. It's a venue for live music most nights (call for details). You can tell by the musical instruments displayed around the rooms, the stage with the drum kit and the name of the place itself. The "1-4-5" chord progression is basic in blues music and serves as the foundation for much of country and pop.
I was with lunch pals Sue Ballenger, a former Sacramento Bee graphics designer turned fine artist, and Milt Whaley, a former Bee copy editor turned farmer. Sue has shown her artworks at galleries around town, including Gallery 2110. Whaley runs Singing Frog Farm in Pleasant Grove, raising a cornucopia of produce for restaurants and farmers markets.
Husband-wife team Lee and Deanna Godfrey have run the 1-4-5 bar-restaurant for a year and a half, making most everything from scratch (including hand-cut french fries, salad dressings and jus for the French dip) and sourcing much of their produce from area farmers.
We took on the chef's salad, grilled cheese on toasted Italian cheese bread, a third-pound hand-formed burger and French dip au jus.
As we ate, we listened to the weird sounds a classic Pac Man arcade game emitted. The salad was a showpiece of sweet carrot coins, crisp broccoli, red onion, bell pepper, tomato and lettuce with nicely balanced blue cheese dressing. The tasty burger showed char on the outside and juice in the middle, but the star was the French dip – shaved from prime rib and stacked on a fresh roll (though in need of seasoning). The grilled cheese needs a makeover, we agreed.
BTW: For breakfast, try the prime-rib chicken fried steak with homemade three-meat gravy.
1-4-5 Club, 6750 Front St., Rio Linda; (916) 992-1055
Maranello gets make-over
Big changes are happening at Maranello in Fair Oaks, starting with a new name – Maranello Bar and Kitchen. It reflects this week's opening of a second bar, replacing much of the former main dining room. Banquette seating will accommodate diners there, or they can stake out the patio or the Ferrari and Pebble Beach rooms.
The menu has gone gastropub, with emphasis on bites (such as skewered pork belly and watermelon), small plates (steamed mussels, grilled corn lollipops), salads and pizzas. Tip: Don't miss the ground shortrib burger. Entrees have gone from a couple dozen to seven (hanger steak, linguini and clams).
"At the end of the meal, we want people to say, 'Wow, what just happened? That was fun and different,' " said innovative chef Gabriel Glasier.
Also, Sunday breakfast is back ($7 to $15, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.) with dishes such as luscious crème brûlée French toast (challah bread with raspberry coulis, Chantilly cream and candied pecans), and meaty crab cakes served as a Benedict (with roasted pepper hollandaise). Two breakfast pals and I agreed the cherrywood-smoked bacon and the tender biscuits were also outstanding.
"We're trying to appeal to people who don't want to spend big bucks on entrees on weeknights," said co-owner Joe Hensler (with wife Gayle). "We're going more in the direction of (our customers) sharing food and enjoying a fun bar atmosphere with artisanal cocktails, craft beers and a focus on wine."
A grand opening is set for 5 to 7 p.m. Sunday.
Maranello Bar and Kitchen, 8928 Sunset Ave. (off Hazel Avenue), Fair Oaks; (916) 241-9365, http://www.maranellorestaurant.com.
Hot dog days of summer
The National Hot Dog and Sausage Council reminds us that National Hot Dog Month arrives Monday.
To get in the mood, we stopped by the hip Knucklehead Hot Dog Diner. Hmmm, what to choose. Western dog (with bacon and barbecue sauce), Reuben dog (pastrami, Swiss cheese) or heart attack dog (deep-fried pickles, cream cheese)?
We settled on the Chicago-style dog, loaded with mustard, relish, tomato, onion, pepperoncini, pickles, cucumber and sport peppers, dashed with celery salt. Knucklehead's hot dogs are from the estimable Schwarz sausage company, established in 1911 in San Francisco.
We asked co-owner Eric Owen about the diner's Knucklehead Challenge, a dare to eat 5 pounds of chili cheese dogs with fries in 20 minutes.
"Only one customer has ever done it," he said, "and he did it in nine minutes and three seconds."
What was his prize?
"Fame and glory and a free meal."
Among the 200-plus gourmands who have taken the challenge was Adam Richman, host of the Travel Channel show "Man v. Food." To see how he fared, watch the video at www. knuckleheadhotdogs.com.
One other thing: Plenty of Three Stooges posters serve as the diner's wall art, referencing Moe's habit of calling Larry and Curly "knuckleheads." The derogatory term originated in 1942 and means well, to put it nicely, an inept person.
Knuckleheads, Wood Creek Plaza, 7456 Foothills Blvd., Roseville; (916) 782-0338. Follow its food truck on Facebook.
Call The Bee's Allen Pierleoni, (916) 321-1128. Follow him on Twitter @apierleonisacbe.