East Sacramento’s EastSMF restaurant serves local, organic, non-GMO food while also doing a bit of branding for the city.
Rhonda Gruska, who owns the restaurant with her chef husband, Tony, was visiting their son in Portland, Ore., when the couple noticed people using the local airport code, “PDX,” as shorthand for the city’s name.
The Gruskas took a similar approach in naming their new restaurant, which occupies the intimate 3260 J St. space where Formoli’s Bistro started, before it moved down J Street.
The Gruskas previously operated Davis’ Monticello Seasonal Cuisine, which opened in 2011 but closed last summer after a dispute with the landlord. Before that, the Gruskas had weekend pop-up restaurants at Steady Eddy’s Coffee House and Ficelle tapas restaurant in Winters.
Throughout, the couple emphasized local and organic, and forged relationships with small growers such as Jim Eldon, who farms in the Capay Valley under the mantle Fiddler’s Green and on a recent Friday night sat at the bar at EastSMF.
Diners at EastSMF, which opened in January, need not ask if a dish is vegetarian or gluten-free; the menu uses symbols to indicate each. The spring-vegetable hash we tried last week was both, and could be made vegan on request.
Some dishes, like Mary’s organic duck with beet panzanella, are symbol-free but still carefully sourced.
We spoke to Rhonda Gruska about the new restaurant.
Q: What are you bringing to East Sacramento that’s distinctive?
A: We are hyper-local, as far as food goes. And everything we do is organic. All our produce, all our dairy. Our produce in particular tends to come from a 50-mile radius. And I know people define “local” differently. Some say 100 miles, some say 150 miles.
Q: Why did you want to be so explicit, with the symbols on your menu?
A: We don’t want people to have to ask. If someone comes in, and they don’t want to say, “Oh, I have a gluten allergy or celiac (disease),” we make it easy for them.
Q: Your previous ventures were in Yolo County. Did you always want a restaurant in Sacramento, or did this happen because of the dispute with the landlord in Davis?
A: Oh no, we had been talking about it. When Mayor Kevin Johnson declared Sacramento the “farm-to-fork capital,” we just saw (potential).
We loved being in Winters. It is such a great place, with so many artistic people, and they really care about their history there. (And) we opened a restaurant in Davis because we live in Davis. But Sacramento had (chefs) Randall Selland and Rick Mahan – you had some real pioneers that were doing that stuff all along in Sacramento, before anybody even coined that phrase “farm to fork.”
Q: I used to go to Monticello for your chicken and savory cheddar-chive waffles, which you served every Wednesday. When will you start doing this in Sacramento?
A: I am not sure. I know a lot of people really loved the chicken and waffles, so we will have to talk to Tony about that. I loved the chicken and waffles. This kitchen is a little smaller, but we’ll see.
3260 J St., Sacramento. www.eastsmf.info, 916-228-4735
Hours: 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m. and 5-9 p.m. Tuesday-Friday