Dining Review: Table 260 Downtown

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In an era of healthful living, virtuous consumers buy high-fiber breakfast cereal and substitute olive oil for butter. They shop at the farmers market, work out at the gym and send their kids to school with apple slices instead of potato chips. But lurking under the surface of every health-conscious consumer’s good intentions is a latent desire to indulge. I believe there’s nothing wrong with going hog wild once in a while and satisfying a craving for fattening, nurturing food. When you’re ready to let ’er rip, head to Table 260 Downtown. (The original Table 260 is in Elk Grove.) Specializing in American soul fusion cuisine, the restaurant celebrates taste over calorie counting. It’s not afraid to serve Cajun garlic shrimp in a glossy pool of melted butter or blackened chicken fettuccine in a heavy cream sauce. This is lavishly prepared, unapologetic food.

Dimly lit and speakeasyish, Table 260 Downtown has mud-brown walls, dark, varnished wood floors and unusual wavy ceiling extensions that hang like quirky sculptures above the cluster of booths in the center of the dining room. A large wide-screen television flickers distractingly in the tidy bar area, and a small fireplace, located strangely in the middle of the room, faces away from diners. Two large booths are snugged into the corners of the dining area, with swooping sides that curl around, affording a fun bit of privacy for diners lucky enough to be seated there. Table 260 Downtown’s ambiance is stylish—far more sophisticated than the rustic, down-home cuisine it serves.

If you want to eat hush puppies, grits and “backyard style” ribs, this is the place to do it. On a recent visit, I sampled the homespun fried green tomato appetizer. With a crunchy cornmeal exterior, the meaty tomato slices were warm and firm, with a hint of sweetness and a moist, appealing flavor. Served with a spicy Cajun dipping sauce, they made a pleasing start to my Southern repast. The Cajun garlic shrimp were aromatic and very tasty, and the abundant butter made an excellent bread dip. Other appetizers included panko-crusted crab cakes and “signature” garlic bread, a French baguette slathered with garlic butter and fresh Parmesan cheese.

The menu offers a nice selection of salads and sandwiches, with an emphasis on seafood. A blackened salmon salad was topped, inexplicably, with sweet Thai chili sauce, while a lobster roll sandwich was accompanied by sweet potato fries. I ordered a soft-shell crab po’ boy and had to laugh when it arrived. The slim roll encasing the two deep-fried crabs was hardly wide enough, and the crabs erupted out of the side of the sandwich, pincers out, looking like they were spoiling for a fistfight. The flimsy roll, coated with a sweet “spice mustard” sauce (which didn’t taste of mustard) and piled with lettuce and tomatoes, simply couldn’t hold its bulky ingredients, and the sandwich fell apart quickly as I tried to eat it. The crabs, while prettily fried, were greasy and bland, and the sandwich was a disappointment. More successful was an attractively grilled whole trout, whose firm, flavorful flesh was sprinkled with mango bell pepper salsa. Served with lumpy, like-your-mom’s mashed potatoes and luscious barbecued beans, this was a dish I would return for.

It seems a crime to visit a Southern-style restaurant without eating some grits, and I eagerly tucked into Table 260 Downtown’s shrimp and cheese grits, only to put my spoon down after several bites. While I relish an occasional dining indulgence as much as the next guy, the grits were so outlandishly buttery I felt a wave of sympathy for my arteries. Eschewing the grits, I picked off the delicious shrimp and bits of smoked sausage. I had no problem, however, finishing the ribs. Excellent and sweetly satisfying, the meat had a slightly chewy exterior and a moist, tender interior. Less flavorful was the stewlike jambalaya, loaded with sausage, shrimp and chicken and immersed in a pungent, intense tomato-based broth. The dish arrived with a small pile of rice in the center, but the promise of its fragrance fell flat; the jambalaya tasted oddly bland despite the spiciness of the broth.

While Table 260 Downtown’s cuisine may have been somewhat uneven, the service was exemplary. Waiters are clearly proud of the restaurant and its food. On one visit, the server was so enthusiastic that she practically talked us into all the dishes we ordered, including a bananas Foster so buttery and smothered in whipped cream that I could eat only a small portion. Other sweet temptations included Key lime pie and warm apple crumble.

Dessert or not, be prepared to let out your belt and pat your stomach at the end of your meal at Table 260 Downtown. Savor that feeling of utter contentment—it’s likely you’ll be back to aerobics class and bran cereal the very next day.

Good morning: Table 260 Downtown serves a feisty Louisiana scramble and sweet potato pancakes on Saturday and Sunday mornings
Something’s fishy: The “back porch” seafood fry ($27.95) serves two; it includes crab cakes, fried shrimp, a catfish fillet and deep-fried soft-shell crab
Music to your ears: There’s live jazz every Friday and Saturday from 7 to 11 p.m.

Table 260 Downtown: 826 J St., Sacramento, (916) 447-2260; table260.com
Hours: Monday–Thursday 11 a.m.–10 p.m., Friday 11 a.m.–1 a.m., Saturday 9 a.m.–1 a.m., Sunday 9 a.m.–10 p.m.
Prices: $$