Allen Pierleoni

Meadowlands brings city finesse to the country

Eggs Benedict is served on top of a cheddar biscuit at Meadowlands.
Eggs Benedict is served on top of a cheddar biscuit at Meadowlands. apierleoni@sacbee.com

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 taste@sacbee.com.

After a series of ownership changes and closures over the past 10 years, the former Sloughhouse Inn, 20 miles southeast of Sacramento, has been transformed into Meadowlands. The resulting buzz among restaurant-hungry locals and in the foodie community in Sacramento is already moving the new showcase toward dining-destination status.

Meadowlands has some big guns behind it. Ron and Terri Gilliland, who own the well-regarded Lucca and Roxy restaurants in Sacramento and Lucky Dog Ranch in Dixon/Davis, have brought the expertise, funding and reputation that were glaringly lacking from the property’s former incarnations.

“We think there’s a ton of potential,” Lucca-Roxy operations manager Dominic Sirianni told me last September. “(For instance) it’s at the gateway to Amador County wine country, which is what Napa was 30 years ago.”

Along that line, the talk of the town is the nearby 83-room Murieta Inn & Spa, set to open early next year to accommodate some of the 150,000 people who visit the Murieta Equestrian Center annually.

Menu: At brunch, the surrounding farming and ranching country is reflected in the stagecoach breakfast (wild boar sausage is an option) and cheddar-spiked biscuits with maple-sausage jalapeño gravy, and in the use of slab bacon, lamb sausage and pork belly.

The bar menu is muscular with beef chili and braised lamb tacos, while dinner offers lamb meatballs, grilled rib-eye steak, cowboy burger and other meat-centric dishes (along with seafood and fowl). Seasonal vegetables add dimension with shaved rainbow cauliflower salad, honey-roasted squash, and a “vegetable pot” sparked by red curry and fresh herbs.

However, executive chef Dan Origel struts some surprising moves at the square dance. Tabasco-molasses glaze and almond-cilantro crumble coat the bar-menu beef ribs. Harissa (chili pepper paste) and onion sprouts add heat and crunch to the brunch breakfast sandwich. One of four dinner pizzas is topped with sweet potatoes, blue cheese, walnuts, arugula and balsamic vinegar reduction.

Price point: Given the quality, the toll won’t hold you hostage. Bar bites are $4 to $9, brunch is $8 to $19, dinner goes for $8 to $28.

Ambiance: Terri Gilliland has turned a gloomy space into a bright, high-energy oasis without sacrificing the heritage of the registered historic landmark. She and her crew rehabbed the kitchen and added an Italian pizza oven, painted the walls (“We even polished the ceilings”), added original framed art (keeping the vintage photos), put up sconces and chandeliers, brought in new tables and chairs, and uncovered the original hardwood floor in the bar area. Wisely, it was decided to keep the corrugated tin roof.

Drinks: Catching our eye among the 18 specialty cocktails were the Corpse Reviver (gin, Cointreau, absinthe, cherry liqueur and lemon) and the Calamity Jane (vanilla vodka, spiced pear liqueur, Curacao, white cranberry juice and lime). Red and white wines are by the bottle and glass, along with multiple brews.

Service: The kitchen and wait staff were extremely graceful under fire amid a near-overflow crowd.

First impressions: Each dish was beautifully presented and “delivered everything it promised,” as one brunch pal put it. Tops were a marvelous Lucky Dog flatiron steak with fluffy scrambled eggs; lemon-ricotta pancakes dripping with huckleberry compote, lemon-infused crème fraîche and maple syrup; and a cheddar biscuit Benedict (nice change from English muffin) with Black Forest ham and hollandaise sauce that, curiously, lacked lemon flavor.

“You have to stop thinking of this as a pizza,” one brunch pal said of the breakfast pizza, a blistered and chewy round of crust holding bacon, potato, caramelized onion, rosemary, garlic and dry jack cheese, drizzled with truffle oil and topped with a baked-in sunnyside-up egg.

One seldom-seen breakfast dish was the liege waffles, made from a type of brioche dough rather than batter. A street food in Belgium, they’re small and cakelike, slightly caramelized by pearl sugar. Of the three accompanying dipping sauces, lemon curd bested bourbon-caramel and chipotle-chocolate.

A cinnamon roll showed up in a mini cast iron skillet, a cute touch for a tasty pastry that was crispy on the edges but slightly undercooked in the middle.

Try it if: You like the fun of discovering skillfully tweaked dishes in a cool roadhouse setting.

Forget it if: You’ve confused a 20-mile country drive with a transcontinental road trip.

Allen Pierleoni: 916-321-1128

Meadowlands

Where: 12700 Meiss Road, just off Old Jackson Road (Highway 16), Sloughhouse

Hours: Dinner is 3-9 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, till 10 p.m. Fridays; 4-10 p.m. Saturdays, 4-9 p.m. Sundays. Brunch is 9 a.m.-2 p.m. weekends. An abbreviated lunch menu is served 2-4 p.m. weekends.

Information: 916-525-1575, meadowlands.restaurant

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