All things to all people?
Sacramento, CA 95814
When you walk into a coffeehouse, you pretty much know what you’re going to get: coffee or espresso or some fancied-up variation thereof. There also might be some scones, some giant cookies and the odd carton of juice. You don’t expect to find a full bar, a very creditable cheeseburger with bacon and guacamole, or excellent french fries. But Capitol Garage, which at first blush pretty much looks like a coffeehouse—albeit one with a lot of colorfully hard-edged, graffiti-look murals—has all this and more.
Of course, Capitol Garage is only a coffeehouse by day. After dark, it’s more of a bar/club scene, with cocktails as well as beer and wine, live music and other events. In other words, this favorite spot seems to be trying to do a little of everything. (It even offers catering and delivery.) It moved a few months ago from a much-loved, funkier location just a block away and gained a sleeker atmosphere, a full kitchen and an expanded menu.
These expanded offerings aren’t necessarily obvious. Although the tagline on Capitol Garage’s sign reads “Fodder & Libations,” the menu above the case of food near the register lists only coffee drinks, smoothies and the like. When we went in during the evening and mentioned that we wanted to order food, the guy at the register pointed us to a little bundle of paper menus discreetly placed nearby—so discreetly, in fact, that it was easy to miss.
The food in the case was quite different from that listed on the menu. Indeed, except for the setting, I might not have really known that I wasn’t at one of my three (yes, three) neighborhood Starbucks stores. The case offered a few salads in clear plastic boxes; bottles of water, juice and juice blends; giant cookies; and a selection of cakes, cheesecakes, éclairs and some otherworldly, spherical, chocolate-coated desserty items that were hard to place in a genre. The desserts looked better than the run-of-the-mill selections one generally sees at Starbucks, raising my hopes that the bigger menu also might yield the unexpected.
Happily, it did, after a fashion. Although the menu’s offerings are very far from haute, Capitol Garage now has good, basic food at reasonable prices. Much of it is more or less pub grub. Appetizers include nachos, onion rings and hot wings, and the main courses are basically sandwiches, burgers and salads. There are some nice touches, like grilled hot sandwiches on focaccia and a build-your-own sandwich menu that offers three kinds of aioli plus pesto.
My husband and I both went for the hot sandwiches, which rely more on the new kitchen and less on the simple assembly of ingredients. His half-pound gourmet burger was on a bun so small it could barely contain the lavish fixings of pepper-jack cheese, copious guacamole, bacon and sautéed mushrooms plus the usual lettuce, tomato and onions. The burger, cooked well-done, was perhaps not the juiciest beef in the world (its perfect flattened-hockey-puck shape made me suspect it was a preformed patty), but under all the tasty accoutrements, it was enjoyable nonetheless. Along with a basic side salad and a sweet, flavorful piña-colada smoothie, the whole thing made for a messy but satisfying meal.
I tried a grilled chicken sandwich with thick slices of chicken meat, aioli, basil, fresh mozzarella and tomatoes on focaccia. It was piping hot, crunchy and nicely striped from the sandwich press, not to mention gooey with cheese. It would have benefited in both color and flavor from riper tomatoes (as it was, the sandwich’s interior was disconcertingly pale), but that’s spring for you. The aioli’s garlic was a little too strong for the subtle flavors of the other components, but after I pried the sandwich open and applied a little sprinkling of salt, things balanced out better. The fries that came with my sandwich, on the other hand, were great. Thick but light and golden, they came with a modest dusting of spicy salt.
For dessert, we tried one of the peculiar spherical, chocolate-coated objects labeled “tiramisu.” (Desserts are not made in-house.) It was yummy and sweet, with chocolate cake and some creamy, fluffy stuff inside. It didn’t taste much like tiramisu, except for a piping of coffee-flavored buttercream on top. I found it perplexing, but, then again, far fancier restaurants than Capitol Garage have revamped the classic Italian dessert to the point that the name doesn’t mean much anymore. In short, we should have gone with my husband’s choice, a dark and rich-looking fudge cake.
All this, however, left a key question unanswered, one that directly affects whether I’ll drop in again when I’m in the area. How’s the coffee? After all, the place is a coffee bar by day. Later, I headed back for a cappuccino, and I’m pleased to report that it was excellent, with a thick layer of milk-sweet foam and just enough of a modestly bitter edge in the full-flavored espresso. Plus, a buttery chocolate chip shortbread cookie redeemed my opinion of the desserts. As long as its patrons expect tasty but basic fare that’s a cut above the average coffeehouse offerings, perhaps Capitol Garage can be at least most things to most people.