The Bank, the collection of fast-casual mini restaurants in a glamorous old-school former bank downtown, calls itself a food hall. You would be right to think of a food hall as something as lavishly upscale as London’s famed Harrod’s, overflowing with tempting gourmet options.
By that standard, The Bank has the space – its high ceiling gilded and beautifully painted, its marble halls agleam – but I’m not sure the food measures up. The five or so vendors slinging burgers, pizza, poke (you can’t go anywhere without poke these days), and above all else beer seem more like the inhabitants of that rather less upscale phenomenon, the food court.
To be sure, it’s an unusually nice food court. An elevated food court, if you will, not a Sbarro’s in sight. My first job was at the Orange Julius at what was (in 1988) the new mall in Chico. With thin-crust pizza and even lobster rolls, The Bank improves on that food court –or, say, the one at Arden Fair – by a country mile.
That said, it’s still in its early phases, with several vendor spots empty. The entrance, through a side door, feels a tad confusing, as guests can’t see any businesses until they go around a corner; on my first visit I wondered if I was in the right place. It’s nevertheless attracting good business at lunch, but weekday evenings can be a little dead, unless there’s a big game or other event.
Drinking is one lure, perhaps a bigger one than the food. A downstairs beer cellar offers dozens of pour-your-own taps, but it feels a little out of the way. Upstairs, the central bar is more inviting, with lots of atmosphere from the attractive setting, natural light from the big windows, TVs for watching the game and a friendly bartender.
The cocktail bar also a good happy hour, a nice wide bar, and some pleasant craft cocktails, most of them spins on classics, like the Patio Chatter, an astringent, pink French 75-like number with grapefruit and sparkling rosé, a pleasantly refreshing cool-off on a hot afternoon. (The AC, by the way, is working very well here – always a critical question in a Sacramento summer.)
Five food vendors, so far, have set up shop. Coffee bar Harvey’s Eats offers Chocolate Fish coffee and mostly outsourced food, such as pastries from Bella Bru and elsewhere. Next door, Poke Bros. vends a perfectly pleasant, though not terribly distinctive, take on the now-ubiquitous raw-fish trend, with flexible bowls, vegetarian options, and fresh fish, though the sauces are a little on the sweet side.
Working around the building counterclockwise, you next come to Taco Moto, which has a limited menu of tacos and nachos, ordered (a bit confusingly) at the same register as adjacent Platypus Pizza.
I found Taco Moto was often out of items on its short menu. On one day, the fish and veggie fillings were both 86ed. On another occasion when I inquired about adding avocado to my tacos, the counter attendant shook his head and said, “I wouldn’t. The avocados don’t look good today.” I appreciate the frankness but it left me with mixed feelings about their supply chain.
Carnitas tacos, ordered on the strong recommendation of the same attendant – who again shook his head when I tried to get two different kinds of tacos – were generous with the shredded roast-flavored pork, cilantro and chopped onion, and looked good, but they proved dry and were lacking any salsa to amp up the interest. There’s bottled jalapeno sauce to add moisture at the central stand with utensils and water, but tread carefully: there are also some odd hot sauces with things like green apples, which I don’t particularly want on my taco.
Next door, Platypus Pizza makes serviceable thin-crust pies, though I found the crust just a little too cracker-like. The Margherita had a nice balance of the classic toppings. A more elaborate combo, the unfortunately named Figgin’ Pigs!, paired prosciutto and bacon with chewy dried figs. A sprinkling of gorgonzola didn’t make much impact amid these strong flavors, but it was an enjoyable enough lineup. Other pizzas include classics like sausage (with fontina and green olives) or pepperoni, asparagus with goat cheese and speck (a smoked ham) and unusual options like a bianca with mascarpone and lavender or Nutella, bacon, hazelnuts and brie.
The best thing I tasted anywhere at The Bank was a salad from Platypus Pizza, a beauty with shaved asparagus, speck and a creamy yet brightly lemony dressing. Fresh, delicate and balanced, it was excellent.
Good thing I had that salad to offset the heavier choices at Station 8 next door. A signature The Bank burger demanded a knife and fork, overflowing with a savory mushroom gravy, jack cheese, sour cream and chive mayonnaise and a big helping of crisp fried onions (not promised on the menu but there anyway, and who am I to complain?).
All this rather overwhelmed the actual burger, but made for a hefty lunch. Be aware that burgers and the other sandwiches, which are priced in accordance with their lavishness (my burger was $12) come a la carte. The nicely golden fries are separate. With a single burger and a too-sweet (but fresh) strawberry lemonade, my bill for lunch was over $20 – a lot for the average downtown worker on a lunch break. Tacos and other options are cheaper.
At Station 8, I actually preferred the burger-flavored loaded fries, with that same gravy, the pop of pickled onions, cheese, crumbled beef and more, to the actual burger. They’re bar food par excellence, and since you pick up food and can sit anywhere in the building, you can take them over to the bar.
More disappointing was Station 8’s lobster roll. Oddly, the lobster was all piled on top of the split-top bun, but that was a minor issue; more seriously, the lobster itself was stringy and tasted less than fresh. At $18 for a modestly sized sandwich, that’s a costly problem.
The Bank has done a gorgeous job of renovating its setting. The top of the building sports what appears to be a lovely rooftop garden, and the mezzanine inside is party-ready and glamorous. What’s been slower to develop is the actual food offerings.
This isn’t the first time that a Sacramento developer has attempted the food hall concept, only to splash out on the buildout but fall a bit flat in the flavor department. Remember Good Eats, the promising but ultimately sad idea in the East Sac venue that now houses the much more successful Obo? (I barely do, either, and I used to live a block away.)
I’m glad The Bank exists and has turned around a gorgeous old building that was languishing. I truly hope it does well and adds more, and more interesting, food choices to this far end of J Street, continuing downtown’s renaissance. For now, however, the businesses have a little way to go before they elevate the place from upscale food court to genuine food hall.
629 J St. Sacramento
Info: 916-557-9910. thebank629j.com
Hours: 11 a.m. to midnight Monday-Wednesday, 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Thursday-Friday, 10 a.m. to 2 a.m. Saturday, 10 a.m. to midnight Sunday. (Note: Café with limited menu of breakfast sandwiches and coffee opens at 7 a.m. weekdays.)
Cuisine type: Call it American, but it’s really a mix – pizza, poke, burgers, tacos – as befits the food-hall concept.
Price range: From $5-20 for tacos, pizzas, and sandwiches.
Food: In a word, uneven, which is not a surprise given that there are several different food vendors here. Pizza and salads from Platypus are successes. Taco Moto can be bland. Station 8’s lavish knife-and-fork burgers and smothered fries play better than its lobster roll.
Service: Counter service or self-serve, with buzzers for food pickup. The service ethic is therefore casual by design, but it works fairly efficiently – though lines can be long and clarity about getting cutlery could be improved.
Ambiance: The space – a restored bank (hence the name) from the days when banking meant service amid imposing marble and intricate gilding rather than hitting the ATM – is gorgeous.
Accessibility considerations: No steps and a gentle ramp to enter the building. Upstairs mezzanine and downstairs beer cellar accessible by elevator, as are restrooms. Multiple lines and lots of tables in an open space could make navigating the ground-floor dining area challenging for some at times. Valet parking is available at busy hours; street parking is difficult.
Noise levels: The high echoing ceiling can create a clattering din when the place is full.
Drinks: Huge variety of beer in the cellar, full bar with craft cocktails and a happy hour on the ground floor, and various nonalcoholic drinks.
Vegetarian options: Yes; there are vegetarian pizzas and tofu-based bowls, a meatless burger option at Station 8, and more.
Allergy and dietary considerations: With several vendors to choose from, those with special dietary needs should be able to find a good fit, but there’s not a strong emphasis on labeling of gluten-free or other options.