Bacon & Butter opens to large crowds and answers a key question about relocating

The new dining room at Bacon & Butter features plenty of booths, tables and seats at the counter facing the open kitchen.
The new dining room at Bacon & Butter features plenty of booths, tables and seats at the counter facing the open kitchen. Bee staff

Bacon & Butter is back in business, filling seats, cranking up the kitchen and answering a big question on the minds of many: Can a popular restaurant remain popular when it pulls out of midtown and opens in a quiet neighborhood like Tahoe Park about 15 minutes away?

Based on the super-busy brunch I witnessed Sunday and the one I heard about the week before, Bacon & Butter is doing better than ever in its new and improved digs at 5913 Broadway.

Owner/chef Billy Zoellin opted to leave midtown several months ago because he shared the space with a bar and, thus, was restricted about when he could be open. He also couldn’t get a liquor license there.

After months of construction and plenty of delays and a few false starts, Bacon & Butter, finally opened on Oct. 6. The menu (breakfast, brunch and lunch for now, dinner in the weeks ahead) is largely unchanged from the original location when I reviewed it very positively in early 2013, but the setting is more refined, more energetic.

And if you were lucky enough to grab a seat at the counter, you could have witnessed one very busy, well-honed kitchen firing on all cylinders, with a very focused Zoellin at the center of it all barking out orders and keeping things moving.

During the first Sunday brunch, there was a crowd of dozens waiting outside for the restaurant to open at 8 a.m. By 8:05 a.m., there was a waiting list of 45 minutes, Zoellin told me.

The following Sunday, I spoke with a woman sitting outside with two others — she had been waiting for 90 minutes. While it will be hard to sustain those kinds of wait times, there’s no doubt that Bacon & Butter has come out of the gate with serious intentions. The menu and the cooking are robust, the food is unlike anything else in town, loaded with color and a multitude of flavors —and it is still decidedly part of that Sacramento farm to fork ethos.

To Zoellin, the big crowds and all the attention the reopening has generated are validation of his bold move to pull out of the grid, turn his back on the high rents and fill a void in a an under-served neighborhood in need of more eateries.

“We are loved and we are missed,” said Zoellin last week. “We broke a record on Saturday that we had set at our original location after two years, which is crazy. Then we broke a record on Sunday as well.” The old location had 85 seats; the new one has 100 (with more to come once the patio out front is constructed).

When Zoellin saw the crowds gathering outside before the restaurant even unlocked its doors, “It was the most incredible thing,” he said. “It gave me a great sense of pride, but it also scared me. I learned that I have an incredible team.”

Despite the fanfare, there have been a few hitches and glitches, including one that nearly doomed Bacon & Butter before it even got its sea legs. On the fourth day it was open, a Thursday, the return engine for the exhaust hood blew up and smoked out the kitchen, forcing the restaurant to close that day.

Zoellin, who had invested so much time and his own money into the newly renovated building, thought for a time the whole place was going up in smoke.

Zoellin left the restaurant at 1:30 a.m. Friday and returned at 4 a.m. to get things ready for service.

“I have not slept much. That’s the life of a restaurant owner,” he said.

While Zoellin has already staked a claim as having some of the best breakfast, brunch and lunch dishes in town and perhaps the best burger going, many are wondering what he will do for dinner. That won’t be coming until the holidays. Bacon & Butter does have a full liquor license and its bloody Mary has been getting great early notices. The restaurant is also emphasizing craft beer, though beer sales won’t be as robust until the hours are extended. For now, Bacon & Butter is open 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday to Friday and 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Tired as he is, Zoellin says the new place feels like a homecoming. He grew up in Tahoe Park and lives in his boyhood home, which he now owns. Now that his restaurant has shown that the new location is viable, to say the least, this early success has raised a new question: Will other restaurants follow suit?

Call The Bee’s Blair Anthony Robertson, (916) 321-1099. Follow him on Twitter @Blarob.