First Impressions visits dining spots that are new or have undergone transitions. Have a candidate for First Impressions? Email us at email@example.com.
The former Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op location, at Alhambra Boulevard and S Street, offered organic produce, natural oils and ample opportunity to practice awareness of one’s breathing and exhibit other Zen-like qualities.
Pulling into the parking lot – possibly the most overcrowded and frustrating in town – meant tapping all one’s capacity for patience. Deep breathing helped quell the urge to slash the tires of an art-filled, Burning Man-bound van that carelessly took up two spaces. Or to tailgate the pokey Prius driver unaware of the line of four cars trailing him, also in search of a space.
At 46,000 square feet, the new Co-op, at R and 29th, nearly doubles the size of the old one. Its 118 daytime parking spaces, spread across an open parking lot at store’s front and a nearby parking structure’s first floor, are more than twice those in the old lot. Yet parking remains tight enough (except at night, when the garage’s second floor opens) that the Co-op seems to be sending a subliminal message to patrons that it would be more Earth-friendly to bike or ride light rail or the bus (both have stops nearby) to buy one’s responsibly raised chicken thighs.
Either that, or wait for the rush of people who have come to see the new, gleaming Co-op to die down. On each of our visits, we saw about four times the customers the old store drew. Many were concentrated in a deli section far bigger than the one in the old store and now offering sushi, pizza by the slice and made-to-order burritos and hamburgers.
As with the old store, where I stopped at least 100 times over the years to pick up lunch (full disclosure: I am an “owner” of the food cooperative, having paid $300 for benefits that include occasional discounts and a say in board elections), what one finds inside the store compensates for any hassles getting there. At least for those concerned with sourcing.
Though parking at the Co-op still might be a crapshoot, eating there offers the certainty of organic vegetables in all deli foods, meat from humanely raised animals and sushi that meets Monterey Bay Aquarium sustainability standards.
Menu: At the salad bar, patrons can mix and match greens or grab servings of ready-made Co-op “garlic lovers’ pasta” or beet salads. A hot bar holds items such as meat loaf and mashed potatoes. These bars are larger versions of their Alhambra counterparts. New to R Street are a choose-your-own ingredient “taqueria” station and sushi and gelato counters. The sushi is made and packaged on site (in a setup similar to that at the 19th Street Safeway) by San Francisco purveyor Mermaid Sushi. Midtown Sacramento’s Devine Gelateria makes the Italian ice cream.
Price point: Hot and cold bars: $8.99 per pound. Made-to-order sandwiches: $7.99-$9.99. Grab-and-go sandwiches: $5.99-$9.99. Pizza: $3.50 per slice, $13-$18 per 12-inch pie, $16-$21 16-inch pies. Burritos: $7.99-$9.99. Coffee: $1.50 (8 ounces, brewed) to $5.50 (16-ounce caramel macchiato). Gelato: $4.75 single scoop, $5.75 double.
Ambiance: The dining areas are more inviting – and farther removed from the bathrooms – than Alhambra store’s sitdown space. A decorative wood barrier artfully separates cash registers from first-floor tables suffused with sunlight from the store’s front windows. The second-floor dining area opens to an outdoor deck, at once intimate and urban, with views of the nearby light-rail tracks and Capital City Freeway.
Drinks: The Co-op sells beer and wine, but not to be cracked or uncorked in-house. Dine-in patrons can drink house-made smoothies or coffee drinks or grab a bottle of kombucha or canned soda.
First impressions: In its new space, the Co-op bolsters its decades-old reputation for providing varied, carefully sourced lunch items.
The texture of the hamachi in the $11.99 hamachi/salmon combination sushi platter is so melt-in-your-mouth buttery, it tastes as if it came from a high-end restaurant. The $9.99 cheeseburger comes with a 6-ounce grass-fed patty, crisp lettuce and juicy tomato.
But here, as on Alhambra, the kitchen errs on the side of under-seasoning. The burger cried out for salt and the sushi for a touch of wasabi between rice and fish.
The Co-op’s not-for-the-faint “garlic lover’s pasta,” however, remains a pungent exception to an apparent mildness rule.
Try it if: You want to know exactly what’s going into your sandwich.
Skip it if: You have not smelled patchouli since 1971 and want to keep it that way.
Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op
2820 R St., Sacramento
Information: 916-455-2667, sacfood.coop
Hours: 7 a.m.-10 p.m. daily