Dad's Kitchen has many of the trappings of a great neighborhood eatery.
It's unpretentious and very family-friendly, specializing in comfort food – a massive burger crusted with bacon and blue cheese, a hearty plate of spaghetti and meatballs, pork chops topped with apple chutney, bacon-wrapped meatloaf, plenty of sandwiches, well-sourced salads and delicious mashed potatoes.
Dad's is a quirky place with a quirky history.
The two current owners used to date and used to frequent the original Dad's in 2008 before it went under. They liked it so much that the following happened (though the order is not exactly clear to me): They bought it, broke up, became business partners, reopened it in 2010 and began applying a highly effective odd-couple blending of expertise and aura to this little eatery.
The room is funky and fun, meaning no self-respecting architect has ever had anything to do with the design. Which is terrible. But somehow great.
The parking is the worst. The curb appeal is a disaster. The front part of the restaurant is a tragic waste of space that feels more like a Jiffy Lube waiting room.
The customers are cool. Even their kids seem cool. Yes, there are often lots of kids here. It's usually easy to loathe kids at restaurants because their parents are often oblivious to concepts like respect for others. But not here, where the kids/parents dynamic just works.
The employees are cool, too. In fact, you probably cannot get hired here unless you can prove you're cool, though trying too hard to be cool is never cool. If you show up one day for work and you're no longer cool, you will probably be asked to leave – but in a cool way. Dad's servers don't get flustered. They make casual and attentive service look easier than it really is.
There are lots and lots of great beers on tap. One of the owners, Julio Peix, was for 10 years a national sales rep for San Francisco's great Anchor Brewing Co., which explains the new emphasis on local and regional craft beers. There are 27 taps devoted to craft beer in the new taproom, two for Two Rivers Cider and one for kombucha, of all things. The latter may explain the other co-owner, Christine Collins, a former yoga studio owner and instructor who prefers to go by the name Sukhbir, meaning "peace warrior."
Dad's is serious about sourcing top-notch ingredients like grass-fed beef and vegetables that are not made by scientists at Monsanto. The owners take the staff on field trips every six weeks to places like Del Rio Botanicals and Lagunitas Brewing Co.
The menu is, at its best, creative, and the cooking is sometimes right on the mark. The Dad's burger, for instance, is a magnificent achievement of engineering, art and insanity. The meatloaf made with a blend of beef, veal and pork is absolutely delicious and perfectly tender.
Yes, there's a "but" moment, though we're not talking a big but.
What's holding Dad's back from maxing out its potential is what holds many restaurants back – execution and consistency.
While the comfort food on the menu is sometimes interesting and edgy, sometimes it's a tad dull and disappointing. And while the cooking can often showcase tremendous flavors and textures, sometimes it's less precise than it should be.
During recent visits, the quality of the cooking ranged from so-so to so good. That range should be narrower. For instance, while that burger with the fabulous bacon and blue cheese crust has scads of flavor and is simply fun to eat, and the Dad's version of a Philly cheesesteak called the Pony Express is a tour de force of flavors, colors and textures, we don't see that wow factor all the way through the menu.
The mac and cheese, for instance, is just OK instead of extraordinary, like the versions we've seen at Magpie (of course), Broderick (and its caramelized cheese crust) and Juno's (served with rock shrimp).
The spicy chicken sandwich uses excellent chicken but is spicy only because of added hot sauce, which marginalizes the eating experience and makes the sandwich a tad boring.
And for a place with a 12-ounce trophy burger that tastes so good, the vegetarian burger made with quinoa is a hot mess, a practically tasteless patty that left us baffled – the simple addition of salt could have made it better.
The chicken marsala we had as a special one night featured pleasant flavors and hearty ingredients, but the organic chicken was slightly overcooked and dry. What we really wanted one night was the beef stroganoff on the menu, only to learn they're no longer doing it. Since when? Since eight months ago. Maybe it's time to print new stroganoff-less menus.
The brunches at Dad's on Saturday and Sunday are a potential strong suit occasionally hampered by less than precise execution. The vegetarian omelet was under-seasoned and the eggs were overcooked – browned on the outside and spongy rather than creamy. The French toast is tasty, but the bread is too tender. The sliced bananas on top looks too amateurish, even for a funky and casual restaurant. A rustic bread with a heartier crust would be more interesting and more suitable for a place like Dad's.
This is not a hit piece, however, for I really like the Dad's experience. I like the service. I love the urban-smart and laid-back vibe. And that odd covered patio in the back is a really pleasant place to eat, drink and be mellow.
Yet, I see the potential for greater things, especially from the kitchen. For a place that exudes cool and casual, the changes necessary to get better will require focus and precision in the kitchen – more warrior, less peace. Dad's is already there in many areas, and the loyal clientele is already sold on the overall experience.
With the new craft beer taproom, business is booming. Now is time to make the menu more expressive and representative of the Dad's concept and mission. With greater attention to detail and improved execution in the kitchen, Dad's will soon find itself at a new level – instead of a good neighborhood eatery, it could be something better.
A note about last week
In my review of La Huaca, the impressive Peruvian restaurant in Roseville, I mentioned the Aztecs at one point and, in doing so, unintentionally short-changed the influence the indigenous Incas had on modern and eclectic Peruvian cooking.
2968 Freeport Blvd., Sacramento
Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Tuesday to Friday; 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Saturday; 9 a.m.-8 p.m. Sunday
Beverage options: Beer and wine, including impressive selection of 27 craft beers on tap, along with cider and kombucha (fermented tea).
Vegetarian friendly: Yes
Noise level: Moderate
Overall: Two 1/2 stars (out of 4 stars)
This is a feel-good neighborhood eatery that attracts a smart, eclectic crowd, is very family-friendly and still manages to have a cool urban edge. The food is very good at its best and at times so-so. A tighter focus on execution in the kitchen and a few dynamic tweaks to the menu will elevate this already charming little spot.
Food: Two 1/2 stars
We love the signature Dad's burger with pieces of bacon and blue cheese seared right into the outer crust. The meatloaf wrapped in bacon is very good. But some of the weak points on the menu, like the quinoa veggie burger, were bland. Tasting and seasoning as the cooking is done could bring those less-than-stellar items on the menu back to respectability. Dad's has become a new and exciting player in the craft beer movement, and this significantly raises its profile and appeal. The apple pie comes from the esteemed Freeport Bakery next door, a neighborly touch.
Service: Three stars
Casual, friendly, cool. The servers here know how to create a relaxed atmosphere without missing all the details that go into seamless service.
Ambiance: Three 1/2 stars
Dad's proves that good vibes can somehow grow out of odd and unwieldy design. The sight lines, the flow of the room, the Jiffy Lube-ish waiting room up front, are all disasters. But it simply feels good to be here, in part because of the friendly employees and the crowd of regulars. Live music some nights is a bonus.
Value: Three stars
The hearty and often delicious sandwiches are $8-$11; the 12-ounce tour de force burger is rightly $12. Main entrees are impressively affordable for the quality of ingredients, ranging from $11 to $14.50.Call The Bee's Blair Anthony Robertson, (916) 321-1099. Follow him on Twitter @Blarob.