Chef Billy Zoellin left the Golden Bear (24th and K streets, Sacramento) just before the midtown eatery and watering hole hit the national airwaves. In January of 2011, the Golden Bear was featured on the Food Networks' "Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives," with host Guy Fieri chowing down on Zoellin's food including banh mi sandwiches and tacos. But by the time the episode aired, Zoellin split to raise his son and work at the Crocker Cafe.
But like a gastropub prodigal son, Zoellin returned to cook at the Golden Bear about three weeks ago. Sous chef Dave Avender had taken over Zoellin's kitchen duties, and Avender will continue to lead the kitchen team even with Zoellin's return.
"I'm not in charge and that's kind of the reason I came back," said Zoellin. "I'm here to help, and I'm going back to school as well."
Zoellin also spent his time away working with a West Sacramento farmer who specialized in growing tomatoes, melons and pumpkin. Meanwhile, much of the menu that Zoellin developed for Golden Bear remains the same, albeit with some tweaks. Instead of pork banh mi, its Vietnamese sandwich now centers on lemongrass chicken. The sausage and slaw pizza featured on "Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives" still remains a staple of its menu.
Zoellin's also happy to see some new kitchen equipment and a management team that's supportive of the Golden Bear's food program.
"I think it's a better version of what we started with," said Zoellin. "Maybe we'll see the Golden Bear start hitting its stride."
Chris Macias is the Bee's food and wine writer. Follow him on Twitter @chris_macias