The State Worker

Chronicling civil-service life for California state workers

December 27, 2011
The Dish: Plaza Cafe at CalPERS

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 weekly series of mini-reviews of some of those spots for downtown denizens looking to try something new.

Thumbnail image for patio.jpgThe spot: The Plaza Café, located on the ground floor of CalPERS' Lincoln Plaza North at Q and 3rd streets, is about a half-mile walk from the Capitol. It features patio seating with a waterfall (left) and a large, multi-level indoor eating area (below at right). Come at peak breakfast or lunch hours, and be prepared to wait in line for the grill. My gastric brothers-in-arms for my recent visit, CalPERS board member J.J. Jelincic and Jim Zamora, SEIU Local 1000 spokesman, both mentioned that Plaza Café draws customers from several buildings nearbycafeteria.jpg including the Board of Equalization HQ, the Crocker Art Museum and the state Department of Social Services. The business is open for breakfast (6:45 a.m. to 10: a.m.), lunch (11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.) and snacks (1 to 3 p.m.). Street parking can be a hassle, especially during the three days in the middle of the month that the fund's board meets in an auditorium just a few steps from the cafeteria. Nearby meters charge 25 cents per 12 minutes. The parking garage across the street runs $2.50 per hour, according to CalPERS' website.

The grub: There must a reason that Plaza Café is taking business from other state cafeterias. Maybe it's the locally harvested and organic produce touted on a blackboard at the cafeteria's entrance. Could it be the $5.99 artisan sandwiches? The regularly rotated "global flavors" like the Japanese teriyaki rice bowl ($6.59)? Maybe it's the Bayou wraps with jerk chicken or pork tenderloin with mashed sweet potatoes, red beans, rice, slaw and pineapple salsa ($6.99)? Or it could be the made-to-order pasta, tacos and salads that all run between $6.59 and $6.99. And I haven't even mentioned the grill that was serving a veggie banh mi -- a Vietnamese sandwich -- plus the usual burger-and-fries fare. Safe to say that this is easily the most diverse menu offered by any state cafeteria reviewed by The Dish.

plum.jpgOn our plates: I ordered a veggie calzone. Jim sampled the goat cheese with roasted plums and herbs on crostoni (right). J.J. went for the grilled cheese and short ribs sandwich with curly fries (left).sandwich.jpg

The bill: The food and two soft drinks (Jim didn't buy a coke) plus tax came to $22.45. Note to the Fair Political Practices Commission: J.J. paid for his meal.

The good: This isn't your dad's old state government chow line. Plaza Café's atmosphere is open and bright, and the food's degree of sophistication is surprising. I heard that the soups are terrific, especially the butternut, corn and coconut chowder. Regulars also raved about the blueberry pancakes with ricotta cheese often offered for breakfast. Our lunches received high marks, too, for the most part. J.J. said the meat in his sandwich was "awesome," tender and tasty. His fries were done to his liking, with a nice exterior crunch and a warm, chewy center. Jim said the plum crostoni had a nice blend of the sweet fruit and the garlicky cheese. My calzone was enormous, nearly covering my 9-inch paper plate.

The bad: J.J. wished the bread on his grilled sandwich had been a little crispier. Jim wanted some crunch on his crostoni, too. He suspected that even though the bread bore panini grill marks from its preparation, that it was softened by the cheese and refrigeration. My calzone was an unadventurous mountain of crust packed with ricotta, asparagus and spinach and an unsatisfying smudge of bland tomato sauce.

Grade: 4.5 sporks out of 5.

Have you been to CalPERS Plaza Café? Share your experiences in the comments field below. Share your experiences in the comments field below. And check out our recent reviews of Griselda's World Café, Gold Rush Grille, Side Bar Café, Cafe 744, Capitol Coffee and Dave's Deli (closing at the end of this month, we hear).

December 16, 2011
The Dish: Griselda's World Café in the California Capitol building

IMG_1058.jpgThe spot: The Bee's Capitol Alert blogger Torey Van Oot and I took the stairs down to the statehouse basement for a trip through the buffet line at Griselda's World Café, across from the building's gift shop and a few steps from Capitol Coffee. The operation is owned by Sacramento Tex-Mex maven Griselda Barajas, who also caters out of that location. There's plenty of comfortable seating just a few steps away in a large common area popular with legislators and staff who frequent Griselda's. The restaurant, open weekdays from 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., takes cash and plastic.

IMG_1063.jpgThe grub: When the Legislature is in session, Griselda's boasts a wide-ranging menu that includes the Texas-style Mexican food that made the owner famous. Customers also can choose from pizza, a salad bar, soups, sandwiches, wraps and various desserts and grab-and-go snacks. But we visited midday in early December when lawmakers were on recess, so the menu was pared back, a restaurant employee said. The main features that day were Griselda's staple Mexican specialties and the salad bar, which included tuna for the protein-conscious but no tomatoes. Breakfast, served until 10:30 a.m., includes made-to-order eggs (75 cents each), bacon slices and sausage links (same prices as the eggs). Higher-end fare when the full menu is available includes $4.95 for pizza. The eatery's website promotes carved sandwich combos ($7.95 with two sides) and $6.95 daily entrée specials that weren't available during our visit. The usual self-serve beverage options are all there: coffee, tea, fountain sodas, bottled water, juices and milk started at $1.

IMG_1066.jpgOn our plates: Torey had the carnitas tacos (priced from $1.75 each a la carte to $5.25 as a combo plate) with beans and rice and bottled water. I had the carnitas burrito a la carte ($4.95) with a soda ($1.49 for a small, $1.59 for a medium, $1.69 for a large).

The bill: The taco combo, a la carte burrito and drinks set us back $13.36.

The good: Griselda's has successfully taken Tex-Mex to the state buffet line. A frequent customer at Griselda's told me that the pozole (a type of Mexican stew offered only on Mondays) is terrific. Ditto for the great greasy-spoon breakfast burritos. Torey was pleased with the amount of food on her plate: "Good portions but not monster size." The carnitas was tender, moist and "very spicy," she said. My burrito was about as big as my two fists, and the carnitas virtually melted in my mouth. Spicy? You betcha, but not the sweat-inducing spicy that can make you wish you could disconnect your tongue.

The bad: Torey's rice was dry and the beans, she said, "weren't great ... but I'm not a bean fan." The food service can bog down, since the buffet line is in a fairly narrow space that can't accommodate more than a handful of customers before it clogs. And during the legislative off-season, the place looks barren, with empty service counters and display cases creating a stark feel.

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 sporks.

Have you been to Griselda's World Café? Share your experiences in the comments field below. And check out our recent reviews of Gold Rush Grille, Side Bar Café, Cafe 744, Capitol Coffee and Dave's Deli (closing soon).

Jon Ortiz and Torey Van Oot are taking suggestions for state building restaurants to try. Send your picks to capitolalertcontests@gmail.com and check back every Friday for a weekly write up.

December 9, 2011
The Dish: Capitol Coffee in the California Capitol building

IMG_1050.jpg 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: Bee bloggers Torey Van Oot and Jon Ortiz joined Senate Republican leader Bob Dutton (pictured at right) at Capitol Coffee, a tiny eats-and-drinks spot tucked into a corner of the statehouse basement. The walls are festooned with photos of luminaries and lawmakers enjoying the fare, proof that owner Gary Haller's place is a good spot to catch up on Capitol gossip. Comfortable seating is just a few steps away in the large, brick-walled common eating area Capitol Coffee shares with its Capitol basement neighbor, Griselda's World Café. Bring money or plan to use the ATM outside the shop, since Capitol Coffee is a cash-only establishment. The Capitol Coffee Club card gives you a free beverage after nine drink purchases. Haller draws one completed card per month from a fish bowl behind the counter for a week's worth of free coffee.

(Bias alert: Capitol Coffee is a favorite spot of the senator's. He invited The Dish to meet him there.)

IMG_1057.jpgThe grub: Haller, pictured left, has been serving up hot dogs and the senator's favorite Polish sausages since opening in 1991. He also serves coffee (hence the name of the business), espresso, Italian sodas and smoothies that run from $1.10 to $4.75 depending on size and beverage. The shop even offers caffeine-starved customers several Starbuck's-style holiday season mochas, frappes and lattes spiced with peppermint, pumpkin and ginger. The shop also sells granola bars and microwaveable cups of noodles and oatmeal among its cheap grab-and-go options.

On our plates: Actually, the steamed Polish sausages and hot dogs were wrapped in paper. Jon and Torey shared a foot-long hot dog ($3 or $4.75 with chips and a soda) with ketchup. Our esteemed guest ordered his usual Polish sausage ($3.25 or 5 bucks for the combo) with mustard and an Italian soda ($1.60 for 16 ounces or $2 for 24 ounces). Jon had a peppermint mocha frappe ($3.75 for a small, $4.75 for a large).

The bill: Total for the hot dog, the Polish sausage, the 16 ounce soda and the frappe: $11.60. Our esteemed guest picked up his $4.85 portion of the tab.

The good: You can sum Capitol Coffee up in a word: value. We hear that the coffees are killer but without the killer prices normally endured with designer drinks. The size of the hot dog was a surprise: "A foot-long that's actually 12 inches long," Jon said, making it a good value. The senator is a big fan of the Polish sausage. Here's his video review:

The bad: The hot dog was big and tasty, but Jon would have liked it better with onions. The shop's condiment selection is limited to packaged ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise and relish. The frappe had great flavor, but it wasn't thoroughly blended. When the drink was drained, two large ice cubes were stranded in the bottom of the cup.

Grade: 3 out of 5 sporks.

Have you been to Capitol Coffee? Share your experiences in the comments field below. And check out our recent reviews of Gold Rush Grille, Side Bar Café, Cafe 744 and Dave's Deli (closing soon).

Jon Ortiz and Torey Van Oot are taking suggestions for state building restaurants to try. Send your picks to capitolalertcontests@gmail.com and check back every Friday for a weekly write up.



About The State Worker

Jon Ortiz The Author

Jon Ortiz launched The State Worker blog and a companion column in 2008 to cover state government from the perspective of California government employees. Every day he filters the news through a single question: "What does this mean for state workers?" Join Ortiz for updates and debate on state pay, benefits, pensions, contracts and jobs. Contact him at (916) 321-1043 and at jortiz@sacbee.com.

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