While there's no shortage of coffee and lunch locales around the Capitol, many state buildings are home to additional dining options. This post is part of a new weekly series of mini-reviews of some of those spots for downtown denizens looking to try something new.
The Spot: For this week's review, dining diva Torey Van Oot and Bee budget guru Kevin Yamamura took a stroll to the Department of Justice to meet Lynda Gledhill, spokeswoman for state Attorney General Kamala Harris at her building's in-house haunt: The Side Bar Cafe (1300 I street). New diners take note: the ordering process at the Side Bar is "backwards" compared to many of the other restaurants we've reviewed. Head to the cash register first to place your order, then go pick up your food and drink at the grill counter.
The grub: The centerpiece of the Side Bar is the grill, which serves up made-to-order hot dogs, burgers, sandwiches and specials. Twists on the standard fare include a grilled cheese and pastrami sandwich and a Western bacon BBQ cheeseburger (diners with a big appetite order a "double" for about a dollar extra). There were several specials, including two soups, advertised on a white board, though the "sweetish meatballs" had apparently already sold out by the time we arrived at noon (specials for the week are posted online). Other options included pizza warming in a box reminiscent of the high school cafeteria and a modest salad bar. The breakfast menu (served until from 6:30 a.m. to 10:45 a.m.) included a special egg and steak burrito. Food is served until 4 p.m. on weekdays.
On our plates: Torey had the daily special's chicken focaccia sandwich with a side of fries ($6.69). Kevin picked the Beef Burgundy lunch special ($6.19), which came with egg noodles, broccoli and a "freshly toasted" dinner roll, and a side of chicken and rice soup. Lynda stuck with the cheeseburger ($3.99), which also came with fries.
The bill: The total for the three meals and drinks was $22.62. While the cheeseburger was cheap, the other plates cost more than $6 a piece. Kevin noted that drinks no longer come with the lunch special -- perhaps a victim of budget cuts?
The good: The focaccia sandwich had a good amount of flavor, thanks in part to the sauce and buttery, toasted bread. The cheeseburger was nothing special (and could have used a toasted bun), but was pretty good for the price. "Better than McDonald's," since it actually tasted fresh. There was no line and the service was quick, with all three plates coming up within a matter of minutes. We'll have to head back sometime for the Mexican food, which is apparently Side Bar's specialty.
The bad: Kevin's plate of beef and noodles "wasn't particularly palatable." In fact, he said the best part of his meal was the fries he ate off his dining companions' plates. While the fries were well seasoned, they would have benefited from some extra crunch. We didn't need an afternoon caffeine fix just yet, but word is the coffee leaves much to be desired among morning customers.
The grade: 2.5 out of 5 sporks.
Have you been to Side Bar Cafe? Share your experiences in the comments field below.
Jon Ortiz and Torey Van Oot are taking suggestions for state building restaurants to try.Send your picks to firstname.lastname@example.org and check back every Friday for a weekly write up.
PHOTOS: From top to bottom: Side Bar cafe's dining area; cheeseburger with fries; chicken sandwich; Beef Burgundy. Torey Van Oot, Sacramento Bee.