THERE ARE ROUGHLY 1.44 MILLION PEOPLE LIVING IN THE URBAN SACRAMENTO AREA. And on Saturdays and Sundays, it seems like most of them are going out to brunch. Behold the throngs of people lined up outside local restaurants on weekend mornings, waiting for a chance to guzzle bottomless mimosas. What is it that makes perfectly sensible people willing to cool their heels on the sidewalk for an hour and a half for a plate of bacon and eggs?
ANSWER: BRUNCH IS THE NEW HAPPY HOUR. IT’S NOT JUST A FOOD PHENOMENON; IT’S A SOCIAL PHENOMENON.
“It’s the fun meal,” explains a brunch-loving colleague of mine who goes out to brunch at least two or three times a month. A hardworking millennial, she and her friends are often too busy during the week to meet for lunch or dinner. But on the weekend, all bets are off. For them, brunch offers an opportunity to relax, catch up and party down. The meal can stretch out to fill the entire day. “Brunch is awesome,” she says, “because it lasts so long.”
Local restaurants are responding to the brunch demand with increasingly sophisticated food and drink. Here, we present our 2018 guide to some of our favorites in Sacramento brunching.
HAWKS PUBLIC HOUSE
If you’re the type of person who gets easily overwhelmed by too many choices, brunch at Hawks Public House is for you. Owners Molly Hawks and Mike Fagnoni have created a carefully edited menu—only 10 entrées—that takes much of the decision making off your shoulders. You’re a waffle gal? Then order the buttermilk waffles, served with strawberries and peanut butter whipped cream. Eggs are your jam? Get the farm egg omelette. Not really a fan of traditional breakfast? Try Hawks’ brunch burger: a patty of Wagyu beef ground in-house, plus bacon and a fried egg on a house-made brioche bun. Each dish gets the Hawks treatment: top-flight ingredients, on-point cookery and beautiful plating.
The menu, while pared down, offers something for everyone. Avo toast is a beautiful-looking dish, with a guac-like mash slathered on grilled levain, topped with perfectly poached eggs, paper-thin radish slices and micro cilantro and served with a side of lightly dressed farm greens. In an elevated take on the lowly Egg Mc-Muffin, fried eggs, bacon and cheddar cheese are sandwiched within a house-made buttermilk biscuit. (Fagnoni says it’s his homage to the New York deli egg-and-cheese.) The sandwich comes with breakfast potatoes: cubes of Idaho spuds that are boiled, frozen, then deep-fried and tossed with fried rosemary and salt. They’re crispy on the outside, creamy on the inside.
The bar produces an interesting assortment of brunch cocktails and eye-openers, including sangria and a delicious michelada. For $30, you can order the “mimosa kit,” which includes a bottle of bubbles, a carafe of OJ and a couple of bar-made syrups that allow you to DIY your breakfast tipple.
10 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Sunday Only
1525 Alhambra Blvd.; (916) 588-4440;
It’s hard to believe food this good for you can also taste so good. But Pushkin’s manages to square that circle. Owners Danny and Olga Turner opened this hip midtown restaurant in late 2016, following the breakout success of their gluten-free bakery about a mile away. It’s a beautiful operation: a sleek, modern, light-filled building with big, metal-framed windows looking out onto busy Capitol Avenue. Pushkin’s does something quite unusual, offering brunch six days a week. (It’s closed Mondays.) On weekends, you can wait up to an hour for a table, and weekdays aren’t much better. But Pushkin’s fans don’t seem to mind, whiling away the time on the sidewalk out front with a coffee and a pastry grabbed at the counter.
The food here is simple, fresh and light—a far cry from the high-calorie grease bombs of your typical diner breakfast. Everything is gluten free, from the toast in the avocado toast to the breading in the fried chicken sandwich. (Breads here are made in-house.) A good portion of the menu is meat- and dairy-free, as well. But you don’t have to be a gluten denier or a vegan to eat here. Pushkin’s also serves brunch staples such as eggs and bacon. Meats are sourced from Niman Ranch; the restaurant recently started making its own chicken breakfast sausage. The menu offers a hefty selection of meat-and-dairy substitutes. There’s tofu in the vegan scramble, cashew-based pepper Jack in the grilled cheese sandwich, and thick, Greek-style coconut yogurt in the vegan yogurt parfait. A vegan Benedict utilizes pert little portobellini mushrooms in lieu of eggs, and the bacon is replaced with avocado and sweet potato. The kitchen finishes it all off with a drizzle of vegan hollandaise.
Pushkin’s is notable for the sheer prettiness of the plates coming out of the kitchen. Edible pansies decorate the yogurt parfait. Coddled eggs come with a sprinkling of ikura (salmon roe). Particularly Instagram worthy are the bowls, especially a quinoa bowl adorned with a poached egg, carrot ribbons, ruffled baby lettuces and rosy slices of house-cured salmon.
Even the coffee gets the attention it deserves. Trained baristas pull the espresso shots and create latte art, and coffee is served in warmed mugs to stay hot longer.
8 a.m.-3 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday (closed Monday)
1813 Capitol Ave.; (916) 823-5520; pushkinskitchen.com
If you’re looking to take your brunch game on the road, you won’t do any better than Element, a chic wine-country restaurant in downtown Sutter Creek. Designed by Sacramento’s Amy Aswell, it’s a far cry from Ye Olde Gold Country western saloons typically found in these parts. Sure, there’s some brick and reclaimed wood for a tinge of rusticity, but the crisp white interior, polished concrete floor, oversized windows and modern furnishings speak strictly of the here and now.
The restaurant’s young owners—Athena Padilla-Gordon and her husband, Robert Gordon—also run Hanford House Inn, the 16-room boutique hotel next door. When they bought Hanford House in 2008, Padilla-Gordon (a culinary-school graduate) prepared breakfast every morning for the inn’s guests. In 2013, the couple remodeled the hotel and added on a commercial kitchen and restaurant, enabling them to serve breakfast and brunch to much a wider audience.
Here, the fare is inventive and globally inspired. There’s always something Asian, something Latin and something vegan on the menu. One week, the kitchen might serve a breakfast tostada with braised red chile chicken and sunny-side eggs, the next week a brunchy version of ramen. In warm months, you could find a whimsical dish called Summer Split on offer: a banana split lengthwise and topped with Greek yogurt, granola, cashew butter, berries, and hemp and chia seeds.
A few dishes, however, always grace the menu: There’s the Hanford House Benny, featuring a light, bright, lemony hollandaise. Pan of Gold is the original inn recipe for French toast made with grilled challah bread. It comes with a little pitcher of maple syrup served with its own clever little warmer. Heftier fare might include bucatini pasta with bacon and a poached egg, or an open-faced sausage sandwich on a house-made biscuit.
The kitchen embraces the seasonal and the hyperlocal. It makes good use of eggs from “the girls”—eight chickens who live in a coop on the grounds and eat scraps from the restaurant—and herbs and veggies from the inn’s small garden.
You can order a cocktail from a full bar—not just mimosas and bloodies, but specials like the Ferris Wheel (a minty margarita). The gorgeous lattes and cappuccinos are made with beans from Sacramento’s own Temple Coffee Roasters.
8-11 a.m. Monday, Wednesday-Friday; 8 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturday and Sunday (closed Tuesday)
61 Hanford St., Sutter Creek; (209) 267-0747; restaurantelement.com
If you’re the kind of person who likes to ride the crest of every trend, hop on one of the city’s new JUMP electric share bikes and pedal over to Allora for brunch. Owned by chef Deneb Williams and his sommelier wife, Elizabeth-Rose Mandalou, the East Sac restaurant and wine bar has been packing ’em in since its opening in February with beautifully executed, modernist takes on Italian food.
The brunch fare, while provocative and upscale, is still approachable. Eggs in Purgatorio is Italian-style comfort food that looks like a Jackson Pollock painting: a bowl of silky-soft polenta with a splatter of fiery-red sauce, two perfectly coddled Vega Farm eggs, huge shards of Parmesan and a sprinkling of chives. In a twist on the classic New York breakfast of bagels and lox, smoked trout from Passmore Ranch is served with savory zeppole (fried dough—basically, Italian doughnuts) and traditional garnishes (chopped egg whites and yolks, pickled red onions). And a breakfast version of spaghetti carbonara features potato gnocchi in a captivating cream sauce with smoked pancetta and a poached egg, adorned with tiny pea tendrils. Food-coma warning: Eat this and you’ll need a nap.
Mandalou oversees the restaurant’s wine list, which focuses on Italian wines and Italian varietals from Cali-fornia and Europe. At brunch, Italian bubbles like Franciacorta’s Blend Il Mosnel Pas Dosé pair well with Williams’ food. Located in a small brick building that was once a florist shop, Allora has a pretty dining room with big picture windows looking onto Folsom Boulevard if you want to be noticed, and a lovely, secluded patio out back if you don’t. Out on the patio, micro herbs and edible flowers are grown for the restaurant in tiered planter boxes that are lovingly tended by Williams’ mother.
10 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
5215 Folsom Blvd.; (916) 538-6434;
PANGAEA BIER CAFE
This Curtis Park watering hole doesn’t try to pretend to be something it’s not. What it is is a simple, no-airs place offering good, honest food and an excellent selection of beers on tap and in bottles.
Here, brunch is available only on Sundays. Place your order at the counter and find a seat in the dining room or out on the patio. Be prepared to share your table with strangers—that’s half the fun. The crowd is made up largely of locals from Curtis Park and nearby midtown. Service is quick and friendly, and the food is all made from scratch. The brunch cocktails have beer as a common denominator: The bloody beer is made with tomato juice and Pizza Port golden ale, the beermosa with Allagash White and OJ.
Executive chef Brett Stockdale devised a menu of hearty, down-home dishes with Southern roots. Shrimp and grits features Grass Valley white polenta and sautéed prawns, served with hot-sauce-infused red-eye gravy that packs a punch. For the fried chicken and waffle, a yeasted Liege waffle with a crisp, crunchy exterior from the addition of pressed pearl sugar is topped with tasty batter-dipped, deep-fried boneless chicken thighs.
For his “home-style hash,” Stockdale relies upon his grandmother’s tried-and-true recipe: corned beef with onions and peppers, topped with two fried eggs. House-made biscuits are the underpinnings for Stockdale’s breakfast sliders, served with sausage patties, scrambled eggs, melted cheese and house gravy. And instead of the obligatory eggs Benedict, he serves eggs Benevento: poached eggs on toasted Pugliese bread with hollandaise (a recipe bequeathed from Stockdale’s predecessor, Robb Venditti.)
Asked if there’s anything healthy on the menu, Stockdale answers candidly: “No, sadly.” But he’ll make egg whites on request, or leave off the hollandaise. Mostly, though, “we cook for someone with a nice appetite.”
10 a.m.-1:30 p.m. Sunday only
2743 Franklin Blvd.; (916) 454-4942; pangaeabiercafe.com
Every so often, a new restaurant comes along and takes Sacramento by storm. In 2017, that restaurant was Canon in East Sacramento. Diners were beguiled by its adventurous selection of idiosyncratic small plates: things like house-made tater tots with mole and urfa chili-sauced chicken drumsticks with Greek yogurt. Once they had their dinner game firmly in hand, Canon owners Brad Cecchi and Clay Nutting expanded to brunch and quickly had another hit on their hands.
Cecchi, a Michelin-starred chef who’s worked in Cleveland and Calistoga, doesn’t “do” normal food. Instead, he’s known for beautifully composed dishes with big, bold, unexpected flavors. His smoked trout hash, for instance, is a flavor bomb, a tasty mélange of tater tots (yes, those tater tots), brown-butter-braised cippolinis, an egg crepe, pickled lemon and house-smoked trout and roe from local favorite Passmore Ranch.
A blueberry acai bowl is an edible work of art: chia-seed pudding dusted with granola and surrounded by a riotous assortment of colorful berries and flowers. English pea hummus is served, open faced, on English muffin with burrata di bufala, seasonal green vegetables and herbs picked from the garden out front. For the morning after the night before, Cecchi serves the perfect dish for soaking up all that booze: fried rice with a veritable buffet of toppings, including poached shrimp, sausage, fried egg, peppers, peas and, for good measure, a confited chicken drumstick. It’s a tip of the toque to a dish once served at Chargins’ bar in East Sac.
Classic breakfast items like pancakes and French toast also get the Cecchi treatment. The lemon ricotta pancakes resemble a soufflé, thanks to the addition of an egg white to the batter, and the bread puddinglike French toast is served with strawberry “raisins.” Even the oatmeal is Cecchified. Steel-cut oats are cooked in water with whole grains—bulgur, barley, farro and wild rice—and served with warm clotted cream. You decide where on the heart-healthy meter you want the dish to fall.
At the bar, bloody marys—made with roasted chilies and kimchi juice—are shaken to order. And inspired by Fitness Rangers, the exercise boot camp next door, the bar serves freshly squeezed juices. Create your own custom concoction, starting with a base of OJ or grapefruit juice; apple, carrot and celery juice additions cost $1 apiece.
10 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
1719 34th St.; (916) 469-2433; canoneastsac.com
SHADY LADY SALOON
“I probably shouldn’t be telling you this,” a young bruncher-around-town confides, sotto voce, when asked to name her favorite brunch spot. “It’s Shady Lady. Great food. Never a line.” Looking around furtively, she grimaces. “Now you’ll write about it, and it’ll become too popular.”
It’s hard to figure out exactly why Shady Lady Saloon doesn’t get the same brunch love as places like Tower Cafe and Bacon & Butter. The made-from-scratch food is top-notch, and the bordello-like décor and naughty art is dark and atmospheric—the perfect place to nurse last night’s hangover, when every neuron in your body is screaming, No bright lights!
When I’m hangry as well as hung over, I like to start with a small nosh to take the edge off. Shady Lady beignets are up to the task—they’re hot, crispy little doughnuts covered in powdered sugar and served with house-made preserves. I like to continue with the French Quarter theme by ordering a shrimp po’ boy and a Ramos gin fizz.
But eggs are really the name of the game here. Head chef Sal Gutierrez made his breakfast bones slinging eggs at the original Cafe Bernardo on Capitol Avenue, and Shady Lady co-owner Jason Boggs confidently says there’s no more talented egg man in the world—or at least in Sacramento. “You’ll never get a better poached or over-easy egg,” Boggs claims. For proof, just order the eggs Benedict: two perfectly poached eggs on Bella Bru sourdough with your choice of Black Forest ham or spinach and tomato, topped with a velvety blanket of lemony hollandaise that’s pleasingly tart. Originally from Mexico City, Gutierrez concocts a delicious ranchero sauce to accompany his classic rancheros (two sunny-side eggs, black beans and cotija cheese on a corn tortilla) and breakfast chimichanga (scrambled eggs and beans in a deep-fried tortilla).
Shady Lady Saloon is one of Sacramento’s original craft-cocktail bars, so it should come as no surprise that the drinks here are simply first rate. The bloody mary is old school and heavy on the horseradish. But don’t come here looking for bottomless mimosas: Shady Lady doesn’t truck in such nonsense. In a nod to the bottomless crowd, it recently began serving mimosas by the carafe: $10 for a 750 ml carafe, the equivalent of about four mimosas. Not bottomless, but still pretty darn good.
9 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
1409 R St.; (916) 231-9121; shadyladybar.com
ECHO & RIG
When is a Vegas hotel steakhouse not a Vegas hotel steakhouse? Answer: on Saturday and Sunday mornings. That’s when Echo & Rig, the upscale new restaurant inside The Sawyer boutique hotel in downtown Sac, becomes a casual commissary for the city’s brunching classes. The dress code is come-as-you-are; some diners look like they just stumbled out of bed, others like they moseyed down from the pool on the hotel’s third-story rooftop deck. Located in Downtown Commons, a stone’s throw from Golden 1 Center, this restaurant has a fast-paced, urban feel. A mashup of sleek marble, glass and wood, Echo & Rig is all hard surfaces, giving the dining room a tingling, high-energy vibe. (Translation: It’s loud.)
You can go bottomless here—bottomless mimosas, that is. Attentive servers move like sharks around the dining room, endlessly refilling glasses with sparkling wine. You control the amount of OJ from a juice carafe left on your table. The cost is $16 for all-you can-drink mimosas, $22 for unlimited bloody marys.
The brunch menu nods to Echo & Rig’s steakhouse roots with a number of beef-centric dishes. There’s steak and eggs frites (made with Spencer steak, aka boneless rib-eye), steakhouse scramble (scrambled eggs with filet mignon) and brisket hash, a flavorful medley of meat, bell peppers, potatoes, eggs and hollandaise. There’s also a heavy focus on small plates and sharable sides, such as the Bacon Stack: eight thick squares of fat-marbled bacon, stacked one on top of the other and served with house-made barbecue sauce. To quote Homer Simpson: Mmm, bacon. For something a little less meat-in-your-face, order the portobello fries, which come with a side of aioli.
For a steakhouse, Echo & Rig offers a surprising number of options for vegetarians. Avo toast is served on squaw bread, a sweet molasses brown bread that’s made in-house. There’s also spinach and goat cheese quiche, lemon ricotta blueberry pancakes and the Drunken Goat sandwich: red wine-marinated goat cheese, brie, cranberry chutney and green apple slices on walnut bread.
9 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
500 J St.; (916) 619-8939; sawyerhotel.com
‘GRAMMING YOUR BRUNCH
There’s an old saying: If you didn’t post your brunch on Instagram, did you even brunch at all?
One of the facts of social-media success is that food photos are basically guaranteed likes, with brunch being the most ’grammable. Brunch has in spades everything that drives like-happy fingers to double-tap: soft morning lighting, sparkling rosé, eggs on everything, and the real MVP, avocado toast.
That brunching is generally a group activity makes it perfect for the trendy flat-lay overhead shot crammed with plates. It screams, “Look at all this bounty and admire the decadence with which I live!” No matter that most days you’re eating sad desk yogurt at the office. On Instagram, you and your coterie of beautiful besties live in perpetual holiday.
Ordering brunch becomes a balancing act between picking the plate that you most want to eat and the plate with the most ’grammability. The French toast may be the tastiest thing on the menu at Bacon & Butter, but may not be the most photogenic. Fried chicken and waffles, drowning in pools of fig chili syrup? That’s Instagold.
Brunch ’gramming can sometimes be ill-advised. The associated day drinking—looking at you, LowBrau megamosas—makes blasting out a lengthy series of near-pornographic hash brown close-ups seem like an excellent idea in the moment.
Whether you’re operating with a bloody mary on board or coffee alone, the rules of ’gramming brunch stay the same: Post only one photo per meal, go for color, get some booze in there and shoot directly overhead. You’ll catch more likes with honey and fat than with oatmeal, so skip the healthy stuff and go for fried. Oh, and please, please turn the flash off—it’s early and your brunchmates are probably hungover. —Diana Bizjak