Allen Pierleoni

First impressions: Shine a light on the revamped Limelight

Thin-cut pastrami is loaded onto a grilled roll at the Limelight.
Thin-cut pastrami is loaded onto a grilled roll at the Limelight. 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.

Let’s get the cheap shot out of the way: For years, the nickname for the Limelight Bar & Cafe was the “Slimelight,” as every Sacramentan of a certain pedigree knows.

Yes, it’s traveled some rough roads since opening in 1960, changing hands a few times until Barbara and Peter Mikacich bought it in 1976 and remodeled it.

Now their son and daughter, John and Jane Mikacich, have stepped it up, transforming the dining room and bar, revamping the menu and rebranding it as … well, much more than a sports bar. It’s really a repository of local-baseball lore in the form of vintage photographs and memorabilia, culled from the collection of Peter Mikacich – who played for the Sacramento Solons in the day – and from collectors Joe McNamera and Alan O’Conner.

That baseball vibe will be supplemented in the future with other Sacramento-centric “stories,” said John Mikacich. “Our initial expression is celebrating baseball in the spring,” he said. “We’re still thinking about what the next local ‘stories’ are going to be (as told through more wall art).”

The Mikacich family owned the landmark Andiamo restaurant for 18 years before it closed in 2006, and still runs the card room adjacent to the Limelight.

Menu: Surprisingly varied, with eight appetizers (tri-tip sliders, fish tacos), five salads, six pizzas (including vegetarian), eight sandwiches (three-cheese grilled cheese, tuna, club), five burgers and – perhaps holdovers from the Andiamo years – chicken Parmesan and spaghetti with meatballs. Add a good-looking breakfast menu and weekend brunch.

Price point: Most main dishes are in the $9 to $12 range, which is fair, but $10.50 for wings and $10.75 for OK calamari seem a bit pricy for appetizers.

Ambiance: Food in the front of the house, a card room in the rear, with a bar in between – what’s not to like? With its handsome bar (the vintage wood and arched mirrors are striking), new wood floor, exposed red-brick walls, state-of-the-art jukebox (The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Wilson Pickett) and four big-screen TVs, it’s easy to want to hang out there all afternoon. Framed vintage photos with informative captions tell the history of Sacramento baseball.

Drinks: The full bar has whatever you like.

Service: Personable, though the kitchen could be quicker.

First impressions: One of the two lunch pals – best-selling legal-thriller novelist John Lescroart of Davis – summed it up: “This is very good pub food.” The excellent thin-crust pizza was loaded with Italian sausage, salami, pepperoni and mushrooms; the other half was a classic Margherita, in consideration of the second lunch pal, a vegetarian, who also had a standard green salad. We kept searching for the flavor in the chicken-tortilla soup.

“If you want a sandwich, this is the sandwich you want,” John said of the Philly cheesesteak, made with shaved sirloin, sautéed onions, peppers and mushrooms on a perfect bun. The choice of cheese is between provolone and Cheez Whiz. Whiz is favored by many cheesesteak aficionados, but its dominance as the authentic go-to for Philadelphia’s iconic sandwich is methodologically exaggerated. Go for the provolone. Besides, do you really want to eat a processed “cheese food” that was developed by a team of scientists in a lab in the 1950s?

We demolished the pastrami on a toasted bun, loving the thinly sliced, crispy-fatty, house-smoked brined brisket. Tri-tip is also smoked out back, and we sampled a small plate of the sliced beef. Its smoky flavor and tender texture spoke to us, but we thought it was slightly overcooked.

Try it if: You want big portions of solid pub food in a neighborhood hangout that vibrates with character.

Forget it if: Your notion of casual dining is a drive-thru window, you don’t care who the Solons were or you support the National Coalition Against Legalized Gambling.

Call The Bee’s Allen Pierleoni, (916) 321-1128. Follow him on Twitter @apierleonisacbe.

LIMELIGHT

Where: 1014 Alhambra Blvd. (at J Street), Sacramento

Hours: Food is served 9 a.m.-midnight Mondays-Wednesdays, 9 a.m.-1 a.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, and 9 a.m.-10 p.m. Sundays. Breakfast is 9 a.m.-noon Mondays-Fridays; brunch is 9 a.m.-2 p.m. weekends. The bar is open 9 a.m.-2 a.m. daily.

Information: (916) 446-2236, www.limelightsac.com

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