Appetizers
October 29, 2007
Sleek New Model at Capitol Garage

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What's wrong with this picture: Sunday brunch at Capitol Garage, the most luxurious of meals at the grungiest of restaurants? Or so it would seem to anyone who remembers the original Capitol Garage at 15th and L, a dark and laid-back spot favored by police officers and skateboarders in search of a quick and casual bite.

Three years ago, however, business partners Jerry Mitchell and John Lopez moved to nearby new digs at 15th and K, then brought chef Jonathan Clemons into the mix to retool the menu.

Today, Capitol Garage retains the youthful mood and bold grafiti graphics of its original incarnation, most notably the large, round and battered old Signal Gasoline sign now mounted on the back wall.

The menu, however, is much expanded and much more diverse and ambitious, and is available from early breakfast through late-night dinners, when the joint also converts into an entertainment venue.

Clemons got his culinary training in Oregon, and several of his brunch dishes reflect the Pacific Northwest's affinity for hearty dishes bright and abundant with regional ingredients - chopped hazelnuts and fresh raspberries with the buttermilk pancakes, French toast filled with creamed cheese and topped with a warm peach compote, an omelet of smoked salmon with sun-dried tomatoes and a black-pepper parmesan hollandaise.

Capitol Garage had a 15th birthday party last week, which we missed, but we stopped in for brunch yesterday, where we opted for two signature dishes, the "garage gourmet," a large toasted croissant filled richly with bacon, scrambled eggs, Cheddar and hollandaise, with fried potatoes on the side, just the sort of substantial meal you should have when you're combining breakfast and lunch at one sitting. Hours later, we still were so full we skipped dinner except for some popcorn during the final World Series game.

The other was the "garage omelet," hot and fluffy eggs enclosing portobello mushrooms, tomatoes astonishingly flavorful for this late in the season, sausage, havarti cheese and a pesto cream sauce that tasted as if it almost certainly had been made from scratch with fresh basil. Two unexpected delights with the omelet were the small old-fashioned packets of grape jelly with the thick and wholesome toast and the quality of the fresh fruit on the platter - strawberries, pineapple and orange chosen and displayed with the same care given the rest of the plate.

Service was gracious, attentive and upbeat, but it took more time than usual for our dishes to emerge from the kitchen, which I suspect is fairly small given the size of the rest of the quarters. The crush of the crowd also likely contributed to the slow pacing (expect a 30-minute wait if you show up around noon). The wait was allayed by three TVs tuned to football games and stiff Bloddy Marys with pickled green beans and pimiento-stuffed olives, not only a bargain at $2 but a refreshing departure from the exorbitant prices other restaurants charge for this relatively cheap libation.

Assorted burgers, an Italian meatball sandwich, a crab-cake sandwich, a grilled steak sandwich, several pastas, jambalaya, beef tamales and quiche are just a few of the other selections for lunch and dinner dining.

The place is getting so fancy that the next thing you know Clemons will add wine dinners to the program, and sure enough they are commencing.

Capitol Garage, 15th and K, is open daily 6:30 a.m.-1 a.m.; (916) 444-3633.

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