Carla Meyer

Dining review: Unplanned magic from Broderick Restaurant & Bar

Very little makes sense about Broderick Restaurant & Bar.

The location: You could drive right by and not see it.

The name: As in Broderick Boys?

The concept: Is it a biker bar? Juke joint? Restaurant?

The kitchen: It's stupid small, and no one in it has any culinary training. The head chef-owner crashed and burned in the mortgage business before getting back into the restaurant world he loved.

The ingredients: Why would a dark place that looks like it would cater to tough guys and degenerates go out of its way to use local organic produce, make all of its own sauces from scratch and turn out the best pickles on either side of the Sacramento River?

What's fascinating about Broderick is how it manages to pull all of its disparate, desperate and offbeat elements together, shake them up, spin them around and turn them into something that really works.

Simply put, the hamburgers are over-the-top, massive and often amazing, including the "Johnny Cash" with a thick and perfectly cooked pepper-crusted beef patty, melted cheddar oozing everywhere, thick strips of applewood-smoked bacon, peppers pickled in-house, fried onions and a special barbecue sauce whipped up in the kitchen.

The sandwiches, too, are top-notch – and over-the-top, including the "Desperado," which really should come with a warning label, a bib, a pillow and a recliner for the inevitable food coma after you wolf down the following: tender slices of marinated flank steak, grilled mushrooms, caramelized onions and a superbly decadent black pepper gorgonzola cheese sauce, some of which will probably end up all over your shirt. That and a side of fries – maybe smothered with chili!

If you're wincing and drooling as you read this, you're Broderick people.

There's even more madness. The macaroni and cheese – yes, they have that just about everywhere these days. But here, they own it. They do it like no one else is doing it. Without the equipment to do it right, one day they tossed it on a flat top range and made magic, allowing the cheese to caramelize and crisp up in spots. The flavors pop. The textures are engaging. Made with a medley of four cheeses and topped with bacon, this is one of my favorite mac and cheeses anywhere.

I thought this version was, by design, an homage to the cheese skirt hamburgers at the beloved Squeeze Inn. But it was just another random misstep waiting to turn into something special.

"Pretty much everything on the menu was an accident at one point," owner Chris Jarosz told me when I contacted him by phone. He is also the mastermind behind the audacious, popular food truck Wicked 'Wich.

Jarosz and crew may not have classical culinary training, but they could probably teach an advanced class in the creative process.

In order to let creativity happen, you have to be open to new and sometimes jarring notions. Instead of rejecting ideas that seem at odds with tradition, or even common sense, they embrace them, let them breathe and see if they can make them soar.

One day, for instance, Jarosz's business partner, Matt Chong, was in the mood for the flavors of the banh mi sandwich – the pork, the pickled veggies, the crunchiness of it – but he didn't feel like having it with bread. So he dumped the ingredients on a plate of fries and started eating.

Magic? Maybe not to a cardiologist, but Chong was onto something. That epiphany, which Jarosz initially thought was insane, turned into one of Broderick's most popular dishes, the banh mi fries, served with pulled pork, pickled vegetables, jalapeños and a citrus caramel sauce that balances the spicy heat with acidity and sweetness.

And those fries. Jarosz and I spent 15 minutes talking about the search for the right potato and the proper preparatory steps. Jarosz uses Idaho russets, slices them and soaks them in an ice water bath overnight to tease out some of the starch. The result is french fries that sing with flavor and have wonderful texture – crisp on the outside and a tender, practically molten interior. Our fries on several visits weren't always perfect – once, they didn't crisp up – but the flavor was always outstanding.

One other misstep turned up with the otherwise marvelous burgers. On one occasion, the buns were past their prime – a tad stale and susceptible to falling apart during the eating. Attending to the perfect bun is vital to the burger experience.

When I wondered about the salad, I already knew that Jarosz works with some of the top purveyors in town, including highly regarded Produce Express and the new organic chef-centric Feeding Crane Farms in Natomas. Offered as a daily special, the salad I had for lunch simply used excellent fresh greens that were already alive with flavors and a touch of bitterness, then handled them with care, highlighting those natural flavor notes with a housemade dressing that added a touch of tangy sweetness.

Lest you think this is all macho meat and potatoes, you'll want to check out the vegan – as in no animals were harmed in the production of this meal – offerings at Broderick.

Why would a guy whose burgers are not only huge but topped with cheeses and bacon think of serving meat-free, dairy-less dishes like a veggie burger and a rather delicious "egg" salad sandwich? Because he hired someone who happened to be a vegan and he knew enough to listen. Those vegan offerings are now menu mainstays, both recommended for anyone looking for a meat-free dish while tagging along with a latter-day caveman. Even the caveman might like it.

Beyond the food, the Broderick experience is laid-back like a speakeasy. The clientele is all over the map. One day, a busload of senior citizens arrived and had lunch. We've seen leather-clad Harley guys who look like they gargle with Pennzoil. We've spotted couples on dates. Guys in shirts and ties.

At the bar, you'll find all kinds, including yours truly, enjoying a craft beer like the Track 7 blonde while waiting for my dinner to cook.

The service is something special, too. The servers really seem to believe in what's happening here. Maybe it's because when they head back to the kitchen, cramped as it is, they see everything being made from scratch, see all the chaos and oddities that lead to creativity, and they feel like they're part of something special.

I think they are, even if at first glance nothing here makes much sense.

Broderick Restaurant & Bar

319 Sixth St., West Sacramento

(916) 372-2436

Hours: 11 a.m. to midnight Monday- Wednesday; 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Thursday- Saturday; 10 a.m. to midnight Sunday.

Beverage options: Full bar, including small selection of local beers.

Vegetarian friendly: Yes. Vegan, too.

Noise level: Moderate to loud, though we confess to not being there after 11 p.m.

Overall: Three stars (out of 4 stars)

For years associated with a tenacious street gang, the Broderick name has been reclaimed as a thriving restaurant and bar in a neighborhood on the rise. Sure, there's a tough-guy patina to the place, but there are enough friendly faces and lots of creative cooking, even organic, locally sourced produce to make you think twice about preconceived notions. All this attracts a wonderfully eclectic clientele eager to partake in an often excellent food experience.

Food: Three stars

It's not modernist. It's not French. It's not fancy. But the food here rocks, thanks to a wealth of quirky ideas held together with excellent ingredients and attention to detail in the cooking. The mac and cheese, with crisp, caramelized cheese and topped with bacon, is among the best in the area (just behind Magpie, Juno's and the $135 per person The Kitchen). The burgers are done five different ways, from classic to outrageous – the more outrageous, the better. Some of the sandwiches have fries inside (our favorite is the pastrami topped with a fried egg). The fries are very good. And those housemade pickles that show up just about everywhere are the best around.

Service: Three stars

The servers know their stuff and clearly believe in the mission. They're friendly, laid-back but attentive – a tough mix to get right.

Ambiance: Three stars

The ceiling is too low. The lighting is too dark. There's no flow or sense of structure to the floor plan. Perfect. It feels a little like a speakeasy or a biker bar, but everyone should feel welcome here.

Value: Three stars

The "old school" burger is $10 and uses top-notch ingredients. The wild boar burger is a pricey $15, but that's an exotic meat and this one is delicious. Sandwiches are in the $10 range. They're big and bold and nicely assembled. You can get bigger – and bolder – with add-ons like double meat or a fried egg, which I recommend if this is anything but a first date. And it doesn't matter what the banh mi fries cost. They must be tried at least once.

Call The Bee's Blair Anthony Robertson, (916) 321-1099. Follow him on Twitter @Blarob.