Carla Meyer

Dining review: Bacon & Butter combines fatty goodness, seasonal freshness

The Tahoe Park eatery’s burger, above, comes with cheddar cheese, bacon strips and fried shallot rings, along with a salad.
The Tahoe Park eatery’s burger, above, comes with cheddar cheese, bacon strips and fried shallot rings, along with a salad. cmeyer@sacbee.com

The long wait to get into the Tahoe Park restaurant does not detract from its quality dishes. Video by Carla Meyer, The Sacramento Bee.

Bacon & Butter encourages a pattern of waiting and hurrying up. As cycles go, it’s more delicious than vicious. But good luck escaping it.

The waiting occurs because crowds flock on weekends to the 8-month-old brunch spot in Sacramento’s Tahoe Park neighborhood – the new iteration of the midtown Sacramento restaurant that chef/owner Billy Zoellin opened in 2012.

Once inside the building, all that time spent standing in the parking lot, mimicking a “Portlandia” sketch, seems worth it. Unlike the disjointed midtown spot Bacon & Butter shared with a bar, the new space (formerly a Chinese restaurant) thoroughly welcomes.

Rough-hewn design touches, such as the old orchard ladder hanging on a wall, acknowledge Bacon & Butter’s farm-to-table sensibility. But gleaming white kitchen tile and burgundy banquettes lend the place the feel of a classy diner – one whose raised-up status comes less from fancy new dishes than innovative takes on classics.

Bacon & Butter perfects the basics – fluffy biscuits and scrambled eggs, flavor-packed and crisp yet pliable bacon – before expanding one’s idea of what a diner standard should be with seasonally inspired reinterpretations.

Many breakfast places throw together chunks of under-ripe melon and dusty apple and call it a fruit plate. Bacon & Butter’s fruit dish holds of-the-minute stone fruit such as nectarines and cherries. Fruit also appears, with bacon crumbles, in dessert fritters that are sugared outside, savory inside and taste like the State Fair, but fresher.

Eating well at Bacon & Butter is easy. Replicating a specific meal is harder, due to the ever-changing menu. For instance, I would recommend the omelet and ham-hock hash wholeheartedly, but the versions I ate contained fava beans and English peas, which since have fallen off the menu in favor of squash and corn.

To experience the same flavor combinations more than once, one must hurry back to a restaurant whose heavy-duty food otherwise would deem it a once-in-a-while stop. And before you know it, once in a while becomes once a month, or week, because you’ve branched out from personal favorites to other dishes that demonstrate Zoellin’s skill with incorporating seasonal flavors. In other words, the hash and omelet with corn and squash sounds really good.

It’s not just the food that draws one back, but the operation itself, which immerses diners in its hum. A counter seat affords a clear view of the restaurant’s focused, busy kitchen crew. Friendly servers return to tables often to refill coffee cups, never passing along what must be a sense of urgency to turn over tables and accommodate the hungry masses outside.

There can be little to no wait at weekday lunch, a good time to try the exceptional burger. Zoellin grinds bacon with Storm Hill angus beef, creating a robust taste enhanced by cheddar cheese, bacon strips and fried shallot rings. Smoked aioli lends the burger a touch of acidity that cuts the richness, but not quite enough. As good as this burger tasted, I yearned for pickles.

Those seeking lighter options at Bacon & Butter – patrons who somehow arrived there under false pretenses or suffer from restaurant-sign blindness – should try the mixed baby greens, served alone or as a side to the burger. A shallot vinaigrette plays beautifully off diced nectarines and plums.

But ordering salad instead of Zoellin’s firm-outside, fluffy-inside smashed fries – fingerlings he poaches and smashes before frying – would be a shame.

Other lunch sandwiches – or “lunch-ish,” as Bacon & Butter’s heavily breakfast-leaning menu classifies them – disappointed. Thick-cut challah bread overwhelms the under-seasoned deviled-egg sandwich. A beet-and-bacon sandwich wins some points for tomatoes-aren’t-ready-yet ingenuity but loses others with textural repetition.

The biscuit and grilled-cheese Benedict breakfast sandwiches fill and thrill more than their lunch counterparts, partly because of cheese skirts, which I previously associated exclusively with Squeeze Inn.

To make the Benedict sandwich, Zoellin melts mozzarella, Monterey jack and white cheddar on pieces of challah, then adds a yellow cheddar skirt, bacon, poached eggs and hollandaise sauce. This dairy bacchanalia leads to a happy game of guessing which ingredient is doing what to the other. Is it the cheese, egg yolk or hollandaise lending the challah that rich flavor?

There’s no wrong answer. Love is love.

The pile-on concept falters with the “kitchen sink,” which includes eggs, breakfast potatoes and lardons (bacon cubes). The personality-lacking potatoes dominate, but the lardons fulfill their name’s salty/fatty promise while also seeming benign because of their bite size.

On a recent Sunday, two women put their names on the list and then set up camping chairs across the street. My breakfast companion and I walked around nearby Tahoe Park before the meal, and then, mindful of what we’d just consumed, after it as well.

There was far more spring in my step pre-lardons than post-lardons. Perhaps more waiting was in order, if only to digest.

BACON & BUTTER

5913 Broadway, Sacramento(916) 346-4445www.baconandbuttersac.com

  • Hours: 7 a.m.-3 p.m. Tuesday through Friday; 8 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Closed Monday
  • Beverage options: Beers and cider on tap, beer in bottles, one house red and one house white wine. Champagne and beer cocktails include a mimosa and a Father’s Day appropriate “Manmosa,” with Pabst Blue Ribbon.
  • Vegetarian friendly: Yes
  • Gluten-free options: Yes
  • Noise level: Moderate
  • Ambiance: White wall tile, stainless steel and burgundy banquettes lend an upscale-diner look to this Tahoe Park restaurant. Rough-hewn accents such as an old orchard ladder on the wall – offer nods to chef/owner Billy Zoellin’s farm-to-table sensibilities.

Overall

The place is comfortable and the food filling and fresh, with Zoellin updating classics with seasonal vegetables and fruits and innovative cooking techniques.

Food

The robust burger is the item to order for lunch, along with Zoellin’s “smashed” fries. But breakfast offerings are most memorable, from the cheese-skirted biscuit sandwich and grilled-cheese Benedict to the omelet, the ingredients of which change according to season.

Service

If you don’t mind waiting an hour for a table on weekends (reservations are available for parties of eight or more), it’s wonderful. Servers are attentive and never prod diners out the door – even though there’s a crowd outside, waiting for your spot.

Value

Zoellin’s hearty, fresh-tasting dishes cost $16 or less.

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