Allen Pierleoni

Out late and hungry? You and your tattoos are welcome at this midtown spot

Melted cheese tops a ramekin of artichoke-jalapeno dip at Ink Eats & Drinks.
Melted cheese tops a ramekin of artichoke-jalapeno dip at Ink Eats & Drinks. apierleoni@sacbee.com

In the cookbook “Eat Ink: Recipes, Stories, Tattoos,” author Birk O’Halloran interviews a menu of 60 chefs who “wear their tattoos proudly as they share the experiences that led them to the kitchen.”

Thumbing through it, two thoughts came to mind: The first was of Tony Gemignani, chef-owner of Sacramento’s Pizza Rock and 11-time world pizza champion. The term “Respect the Craft” is tattooed on his hands.

The second was of Ink Eats & Drinks, the tattoo-themed restaurant in midtown’s Sutter District. One of its specials is “Tats, Tacos & Tequila Tuesdays – Flash your ink for $3 shot specials.”

Ink celebrated its 14th anniversary earlier this month, time enough for two lunch pals and me to get inked-up and drop by. At curbside outside the front door is Sacramento artist Matthew Byrd’s show-stopping metal sculpture in the shape and size of a bench. Step back and look closer and it become a Day of the Dead sugar skull with tattoo designs and the word “Ink” on the front and back.

Inside, we grabbed a booth (with a stainless-steel tabletop) and looked up in appreciation of the ceiling. It’s covered in classic, oversized tattoo flash, a form of industrial art posted on the walls of tattoo shops to give walk-in customers ideas for what kind of ink they might walk out wearing. In Ink’s case, the exaggerated flash is an artistic conversation piece. So is the wall mural near the bar.

So, why the tattoo theme? When Ink was walking up to its opening, owner Chris Nestor said on the phone later, “Our designer had picked out some (decorations) and (the theme) metamorphosized to reflect a late-night, forbidden kind of thing.”

Tattoos may have been associated with the dark side in years past, but today even the family pediatrician likely has some ink hidden underneath that white smock. What about Nestor? “I don’t,” he said.

Who shows up on the two nights a week that Ink serves till 4 a.m.? “Industry people, club-goers, after-concert crowds,” said Nestor, who also has House Kitchen and Bar on Capitol Mall. “People want to be seen here.”

Looking at the diverse menu of way-elevated pub grub, we saw what’s always a good sign: “We proudly serve Mary’s organic chicken.” We dove in to a representative spread: molten cheese-topped jalapeno-artichoke dip, jambalaya, black bean burger, shredded pork sandwich and that quintessentially retro classic, the fried egg sandwich. As one lunch pal put it, “That’s the one to have after a night of bar-hopping.”

We scooped gooey globs of chunky dip onto warm tortilla chips till the ramekin was scraped clean. A side of mac ’n’ cheese showed loads of flavor, but more cheese would have made it less dry. The black bean burger with mushrooms and a side of excellent grilled asparagus was a winner. The kitchen avoided the misstep of overdosing the tender shredded pork with sweet BBQ sauce and smartly topped the sandwich with crispy onion strings.

Two of us liked the tweak of additions on the fried egg sandwich – avocado, tomato, bacon and mayo on grilled sourdough – while the third would have preferred it naked.

The big bowl of jambalaya was filled with perfectly cooked salmon and prawns, with chew and heat coming from coins of kielbasa instead of the traditional Andouille sausage. Tender green pepper and onion strips were soaked in a delicious semi-spicy sauce, mellowed by a mound of white rice. Though we longed for a bottle of Crystal hot sauce on the table.

“I would order any of these, any time,” the second lunch pal said.

One last thing: If Carol is your server, she won’t mind you checking out the fantastic tattoos on her left arm. “I wouldn’t have had them done if I didn’t want to show them,” she said.

Go to school at BBQ Pro

The grilling/smoking season has arrived, time for backyard pitmasters to sharpen their skills and learn some lore. David Hill can help. He’s a former competitor and judge on the Kansas City Barbeque Society circuit, and now owns BBQ Pro, a store that sells “everything for the pitmaster.”

Hill will a host a series of private ’cue seminars from June through December (we just missed the chicken and pulled pork classes), with a tasty reveal – after each lesson, you get to eat what’s cooked. The classes are 4:30-7:30 p.m. for $70 each at 10140 Fair Oaks Blvd., Fair Oaks; 916-595-7444; www.bbqproonline.com.

Coming up are Santa Maria tri-tip (June 11), steak and burgers (July 16), ribs (Aug. 13), pizza (Sept. 10), brisket (Oct. 15), Thanksgiving turkey (Nov. 12) and prime rib (Dec. 10).

Allen Pierleoni: 916-321-1128, @apierleonisacbe

Ink Eats & Drinks

Where: 2730 N St., Sacramento

Hours: 11:30-1 a.m. Mondays-Tuesdays; 11:30 a.m.-2 a.m Wednesdays-Thursdays; 11:30 a.m.-4 a.m. Fridays; 9 a.m.-4 a.m. Saturdays; 9 a.m.-1 a.m. Sundays. Weekend brunch is 9 a.m.-2:30 p.m.

Food:  1/2

Ambiance:

How much: $$-$$$

Information: 916-456-2800, www.inkeats.com

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