A psychologist friend once told me about iteration. It’s how human beings continuously grow, learn and change, in the process becoming better versions of themselves. I was reminded of this conversation recently as I visited the new iteration of Bacon & Butter, chef Billy Zoellin’s bold new foray into the barely charted culinary waters of Tahoe Park. Zoellin, who opened his original Bacon & Butter in 2012 in midtown, faced a number of challenges with his flagship location. The most problematic: Every evening, the restaurant morphed into a nightclub run by other owners.
Zoellin established Bacon & Butter as a quirky, alternative breakfast and lunch spot with some innovative fare, but the restaurant never seemed to find its legs. The space was funky, the shoestring furniture and decor even funkier. Service was friendly but wildly unpredictable, and staffers never knew what they would be walking into when they showed up for work. One morning I visited, the women’s restroom was closed. Our waitress informed us that clubbers from the night before had trashed the bathroom so badly that Zoellin and crew didn’t have time to clean it up before service started. No wonder he began looking for another location.
After much searching, he found a new restaurant space in far-flung Tahoe Park. I wondered, as many did, just how well he would make that work. I recently got the answer to that question. It seems clear that Zoellin has somehow sped up his iterative process, perhaps skipping past a few developmental versions of the restaurant to come up with a neighborhood treasure.
Gone are the shabby-hipster decor, the ragtag service, the dingy vibe. Zoellin’s beautiful new space, on the corner of 59th and Broadway, is sleek, lively and delightfully urban. Even better, Bacon & Butter is one of the few restaurants I have encountered in my 20-year food-writing career that seemed to operate efficiently and smoothly as soon as the doors swung open.
Bacon & Butter has been mobbed since opening day. No surprise: The food is good and creative, the atmosphere warm and comfortable. Bacon & Butter fills a real need in an underserved neighborhood. I believe this is one restaurant that will stay popular long after the “just opened” frenzy that most brand-new places experience. Zoellin has created something unique, and he now has the room he needs to spread his wings in Tahoe Park, in the process claiming the neighborhood as his own playground.
And what a playground it is. The menu, compact and breakfast-centric, is fun and innovative, but it retains a homey, nourishing quality I really appreciate. The dishes change frequently, which is another draw for food geeks. You’re never sure what you’re going to find when you visit.
One dish that looks like it might end up as a staple is the Kitchen Sink, which Zoellin fans will remember from Bacon & Butter 1.0. A hearty tumble of crusty potato cubes with bits of bacon, caramelized onion, sauteed spinach and melted Jack cheese, it’s finished off with two eggs of your choice. Challah French toast is airy and thick, with an enticingly crispy outside and a custardy interior. Lying in a pool of coffee- and caramel-kissed maple syrup, the version I tried was embellished with roasted pears and pecans—an exquisite fall treat, though I suspect the fruit will change with the seasons.
I’ve practically given up on ordering pancakes at restaurants because they’re so often disappointing. But I took a chance with Zoellin’s version, and they were fabulous. And the burger, served at breakfast and lunch, is one of the best I’ve tried. Zoellin grinds the beef with bacon, then lavishes the patty with thick-sliced bacon, arugula and crisp, tiny shallot rings.
The food isn’t hitting on all cylinders yet—to be expected with a new restaurant. But a few lapses won’t keep me from returning. I want to see what interesting dishes Zoellin has tacked on his menu and devour another plateful of his French toast—which, I’m pretty sure, will enhance my own iterative process.
Bacon & Butter: 5913 Broadway
Best Dishes: Challah French toast, burger, flapjacks, grilled cheese Benedict
Drinks: Interesting selection of craft beers; limited number of wines by the glass; soda, juice, coffee and tea; no espresso drinks
Atmosphere: Family friendly
Noise Level: Quite loud
Hours: Tuesday–Friday 7 a.m.–3 p.m., Saturday–Sunday 8 a.m.–3 p.m., closed Monday
Contact: (916) 346-4445; baconandbuttersac.com