Allen Pierleoni

Counter Culture: Field House is a find among sports bars

Once inside the bunkerlike Field House, we felt as if we’d wandered into a museum of sports memorabilia instead of a “classic American sports pub.”

Over here is a towering glass case crowded with gleaming silver trophies. Over there is a framed blowup of a menacing Muhammad Ali standing over the concussed Sonny Liston in their 1965 rematch, in which the Bear was felled by the famous “phantom punch.”

In between are shuffleboard and darts games, 14 TV sets tuned to sports, and vintage photos lining the walls, representing just about any sport you can name – baseball, soccer, bowling, basketball, tennis, golf, horse racing, swimming, volleyball, track, hockey, archery.

Much of the seating is at long picnic-style tables, in cozy booths and on stools at the expansive, attractive bar. The completely refurbished space – a year in the making – replaces Mandango’s Bar & Grill.

“I watched part of the World Cup here; it was crazy,” said lunch pal and longtime public-relations specialist (and surfer) Patrick Powers, as we settled into a booth.

The menu shows pub grub with some upscale twists: seven kinds of wings, six “bar bites” (skewers of whiskey-glazed shrimp, chicken and veggies with walnut pesto and chili lime sauces), nine sandwiches (two burgers with beef from Lucky Dog Ranch in Dixon), four salads (grilled Caesar), and more ($3.50 to $13).

The thirsty will find 14 rotating taps at the bar, along with 20 bottled beers, nine wines and a menu of artisan cocktails.

Wait a minute ... artisan cocktails? Sure, the Bat & Ball belongs there (Miller High Life and a shot of Bulleit Bourbon), but what are the Sacramento-centric White Linen and the fancy-schmancy Vieux Carres cocktails doing in a sports pub, where the brew is king?

Come to find out, it’s no wonder: It’s co-owned by Jason Boggs, who is also co-owner of Shady Lady, which in May was included on Esquire magazine’s annual list of the top 25 bars in America.

“As it’s a sports pub, the Field House is more of a beer-and-a-shot place,” Boggs said the other day. “But the people in the Arden-Arcade area are pretty stoked that they can come here and get a properly made cocktail without having to go downtown. The bartenders have all the recipes from Shady Lady.”

Meanwhile, our server stopped by the booth. “Ready, guys?” she asked.

“You’ve got to have wings at a sports bar,” Patrick said, so we went for the Wings of Fire, tasty morsels aflame with habanero, aleppo and cayenne peppers.

We also jumped on onion rings (crunchy and airy) and hot and crisp French fries; a two-handed quarter-pound all-beef hot dog hidden under red, pickled Fresno chilies and relish; and a tasty chicken sandwich topped with crisp pepperoni coins, provolone cheese, roasted red pepper, arugula and lemon thyme aioli on a way-too-thick ciabatta roll.

The three Baconater Sliders (as in “Terminator?”) are half ground beef and half ground bacon, with “sliced bacon, cheese sauce, Russian mayo and pickles.” “That’s a winner!” said Patrick. How could they not be?

“This is gourmet bar food,” he said a little later, packing leftovers in a foam box. I agreed.

The jazz and rock playing in the background was a hit, but the tomato pastelike chili was a miss.

“If that’s somebody’s grandmother’s recipe, she should apologize,” Patrick said.

We settled the bill with the server. She smiled and said, “Hang out as long as you like, guys.”

We were tempted to spend the rest of the day there, no worries.

Follow the Rainbow

One of the highlights of the Interstate 80 route to Truckee is at Exit 168, Rainbow Road/Big Bend. Turn right at the stop sign to find the Rainbow Lodge, on the south fork of the Yuba River. It’s like discovering a 17th-century pub in the English countryside.

The 33-room bed-and-breakfast was built from local granite and massive timbers in the 1800s, when it was a stagecoach stop. By the 1920s it had become an inn and mini-resort. It’s a familiar friend to generations of Sacramentans who have stayed and played there over the decades, cross-country skiing in the winter, hiking in the summer.

After a series of dead-end trails (including years in receivership) and ownership changes dating to the 1990s, the lodge was purchased in December by Craig Mitchell and his family, of Rocklin. The makeover is coming along nicely, we saw during a recent brief stop.

Part of the good news is the restaurant has reopened with a more imaginative menu. It includes skinned, deboned tempura-battered rainbow trout and hand-cut fries (an ambitious fish ’n’ chips novelty we’ve never seen); medallions of blackened bistro steak over greens, with blue cheese crumbles, pine nuts and sliced apples; sautéed fresh veggies over al dente pasta; buttermilk-marinated chicken crisps; and a pair of hand-formed burgers.

“We’re still getting the wheels turning,” Mitchell said on the phone last week. “I’m sitting here right now with my general manager, talking about adding items to the menu. We’ll have brunch and breakfast down the road.”

Rainbow Lodge, 50080 Hampshire Rocks Road, Soda Springs; (530) 562-5061, www.therainbowlodge. Dining is 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays.