The Dollar-Wise Gourmet: Good Food, Good Cause


The Dollar-Wise Gourmet is the Scrooge of Sacramento magazine, pinching pennies and counting coins. But even Scrooge would give it up for Plates Cafe and Catering, which serves up tasty cuisine at reasonable prices, all for a very good cause.
     Plates is not just a restaurant, but a place where formerly homeless women learn new skills and prepare to enter the workforce. It’s part of St. John’s Shelter Program for Women & Children, a Sacramento shelter for homeless women with children. Open since June, Plates provides a training program to prepare volunteer learners for careers in the food service, catering, hospitality and retail industries. They learn everything from hostessing to cashiering, food prep and line cooking.
     The Dollar-Wise Gourmet is all about chasing down a good deal. Plates’ food is so high caliber at such a low cost that it’s a perfect fit for this column. For less than $20, here’s what my gal pal J and I recently had for lunch there:

One huge burger
(with lettuce, tomato, red onion and pickle), cooked to perfection, with a pile of fantastic sweet potato fries: $8
Croque monsieur, with thinly sliced smoked ham, Swiss cheese, caramelized onions and tomatoes, grilled to gooey goodness on sourdough bread, plus a side of Mediterranean pasta salad: $7.50

     Most of the lunch entrées are between $6.75 and $8, and the range is impressive, from Greek spinach salad ($6.75) to a grilled vegetarian sandwich ($7) and pulled pork carnitas ($8). The deal is made even sweeter by the sides that come with all sandwiches: a choice of regular or sweet potato fries, pasta salad or garden salad. There are wonderful-sounding soups of the day—ours was purée of carrot and Fuji apple with cinnamon sour cream and candied walnuts—for $5. Divine-looking desserts are made on the premises, and they are cheap: There was lemon cheesecake, carrot cake and plum nectarine pie for $3 apiece the day we visited, and cookies were $1.75 each.
     The service couldn’t have been more gracious or attentive, and the ambiance is pleasing: spacious, light and bright, with colorful artwork adorning the walls.
     Plates’ motto is “Serving Inspiration,” and they are.
     Even Scrooge would have to agree.

Depot Park, 14 Business Park Way, Building 149, Sacramento; (916) 381-2233; 
Hours: Monday–Friday 7–10 a.m. (breakfast) and 11 a.m.–2 p.m. (lunch)