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 firstname.lastname@example.org .
The oxymoronically hip and family-friendly Dad’s Kitchen in Land Park has expanded to Fair Oaks, into a venue twice the size of the mother ship. The key question is: Can an urban diner-type restaurant sell its concept of cool “American-style comfort food” in a rural-rooted town that hosts an annual chicken festival?
Judging by the crush of customers storming the new place every day since its Dec. 3 opening, the immediate answer looks like a big “yes.”
“We’re grateful, but we were completely shocked (by the crowds) because we didn’t promote (the opening) beyond one Facebook post,” said co-owner (with beer expert Julio Peix) Sukhbir, who prefers her yoga name over “Christine Collins.” She was quick to add, “As with any new restaurant, there are wrinkles to be ironed out.”
Dad’s Kitchen bought the space formerly occupied by Maranello Bar & Kitchen, which closed in October.
Menu: “The combination of down-home comfort food made with quality ingredients (matched) with quality beers is the concept we’re going for,” Sukhbir said. “Our food is nothing fancy.”
Dad’s Kitchen proudly announces its homemade-style dishes are assembled from the likes of “organic chicken, grass-fed beef and local organic greens.” Its motto: “It’s not your mom’s cooking.” The lengthy menu holds the promise of high-quality diner-style meals (another oxymoron) huge onion rings, stacked sandwiches, meatloaf, burgers, pork chops, three kinds of hand-cut french fries (plain salted, blue cheese-habanero oil, garlic-Parmesan). Also: appetizers, soups, salads and veggie sandwiches. The two restaurants share one menu.
Price point: Though prices aren’t shocking, the dollars can add up quickly (from $1.50 for a veggie bean taco, to $16 for an 8-ounce New York steak). The large portions help.
Ambiance: Gone is Maranello’s second bar and the car-centric photos and signage. In their place is large signage for beer, root beer and ginger ale, along with smaller, wittier signs such as, “I Love Bacon” and “Be Nice Or Leave.” A red antique-looking Coca-Cola machine stands as a fitting sculpture. Flat-screen TVs showed college hoops, adding to the sports-bar feel.
One lunch pal, a restaurateur, called the interior “cool and casual,” while two other women put it as “stark and kind of bare.” Obviously, they’re not familiar with man caves. The restaurant’s motto could be tweaked to, “Not your mom’s decorating.”
Drinks: The sign over the bar makes it plain: “Dad’s bar rules: No foo-foo, no blended. You drink like Dad does — classic drinks.” OK, but the place is really about beer, which flow from 14 taps.
“Our dedication is to craft brews, but there’s a very developed palate for wine in Fair Oaks,” Sukhbir said.
The short wine list is from Maranello’s leftover stock, served in glasses the restaurateur lunch pal called “tapered mini-buckets, almost juice glasses.”
Bargain-priced Pint Night is on the third Thursday of each month, featuring beers and brewmasters from local craft breweries.
Service: “There are no specials tonight, the menu is enough,” our server informed us. We were a bit surprised by his straightforward demeanor, but he was on the run. Overall, he and the other servers showed good humor and grace under fire.
First impressions: After seeing Guy Fieri’s over-the-top review on “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives,” and after enjoying the signature Dad’s Burger earlier this year, we expected better. We ate the light and crunchy deep-fried garbanzo beans by the handfuls. The ramekin of mac ’n’ cheese with bacon looked great, but lacked depth. “I like the crust, but where’s the sharp cheese taste?” one pal said.
We found the meatloaf dense and slippery and the Cowboy Burger so wet with barbecue sauce that the flavors of the quality beef, crispy onions and pepper jack cheese were lost. The Cuban sandwich was a good try at the real thing and the most satisfying dish on the table (roasted pork, ham, melted Swiss cheese, brown mustard and pickle on a french roll from the Village Bakery in Davis).
Let’s say the kitchen is still coming together.
Try it if: You like beer and hearty home-style cooking.
Forget it if: You want vino, not beer, along with lighter fare.