A rung above
Hook & Ladder Manufacturing Co.
Sacramento, CA 95811
The sure sign that a city boasts a vibrant food culture is if it possesses a wide variety of venues: not too heavy on the fast food or booming dance clubs, or even too many solemn, high-end establishments. Until recently, it has been a bit scarce when it comes to restaurants for adults who want to socialize in style in Sacramento.
Fortunately, Hook & Ladder Manufacturing Co. has come to the rescue.
The restaurant, from the same owners as Midtown’s The Golden Bear, has been open for five-and-a-half months. The chef, Brian Mizner, worked at Hot Italian and L Wine Lounge and Urban Kitchen. Here, they’ve redesigned the interior of the former Hangar 17 Quonset hut to include clever nods to the firefighting theme: a ladder on the ceiling duct work, shiny silver wallpaper with a surprising rat-and-hydrant theme. Wooden pallets on the walls and a fabric-covered ceiling help dampen the noise.
My dining companion and I first sit at the communal table by the bar. This setup encourages patrons to talk to each other and gives the place a community feel. There’s also a similar lounge area with a sofa where patrons can curl up and enjoy a terrific cocktail, like the weekly “brunch punch” or the nonalcoholic seasonal shrub.
The punch I tried had rum, honey, champagne and lime juice—a fizzy but light spring drink. The shrub, which is a Colonial-era libation of fruit, vinegar and sugar, was surprisingly refreshing. Even more spectacular, though, was the West Indies Sour, made with St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram, brandy, lime juice and red wine. Hook & Ladder’s interesting wine list includes entries from Spain and Israel; there are also draft cocktails and at least eight beers on tap.
The food follows suit. First, though, pull out your cellphone to light up the menu, which has a faint type and small font. I saw several tables doing just that, despite great light fixtures throughout the space.
Both of our meals started with complimentary amuse-bouches. Quartered muffins at brunch were tasty but a bit dry. Better was the dinner offering of a crisp square of cheesy potatoes Anna with zesty Calabrian chili aioli.
The brunch menu is heavy on the eggs, but they’re prepared in lots of ways. One option is the Croque Madame, a ham-and-Gruyere sandwich usually battered with egg. This one had a fried egg and béchamel, with a generous smear of mustard inside. The mountain of potato hash alongside tasted flavorful and not too greasy.
I have very high standards for biscuits, but the biscuits and gravy here are a bit disappointing. They’re supposed to be made with jack cheese and pancetta, but are light on those ingredients and are not flaky enough. Still, the peppery gravy adds good flavor.
Pizzas are featured on all the menus; we sampled the one with house-made chili sausage and roasted artichokes. The meat was juicy if a bit scant, but there was plenty of fresh, raw arugula on top to balance the rich cheese and sausage. The crust had great chew, but needed another day or two of fermentation to develop a really good flavor.
Pastas are also house made, and the olive cavatelli sounded intriguing. But while the rock shrimp were perfectly sweet and tender, tossed with chunks of eggplant, tomato and mushrooms, unfortunately the fresh pasta was so overcooked it felt gummy.
The revelations of the dinner included the excellent smoked-eggplant baba ganoush, which is smoky and garlicky and served with warm flatbread wedges and oil-cured olives.
The bananas foster bread pudding is equally transcendent, accompanied by very salty caramel gelato and slivers of brûléed bananas. Chunks of banana and pecan studded the tender, custardy pudding.
Perhaps like the volunteer 1850s Mutual Hook & Ladder Company for which it is named, the restaurant is a great idea that needs a bit more coordination. A few tweaks to quality and detail will have it rescuing diners from hunger for years to come.