Almost a monk's dream
Roseville, CA 95678
Good for: drinking Belgian beer and eating traditional European food
Notable dishes: the Monk's Burger, carbonnade
Monk’s Cellar is one of many relatively new breweries in the Sacramento area serving up food (see: Oak Park Brewing Co., Yolo Brewing Co., etc.). What sets it apart from most of these other breweries? A reverence for the Old World. The décor here resembles a pub that might exist somewhere in Europe, with copious wood and dark brick throughout. Most of the beer served here is Belgian-style and most of the food is European pub-inspired—including burgers, charcuterie and stews.
The house beer is pretty good, especially the St. Arnold Ale, a Belgian quadrupel (see “Like the Belgians do,” SN&R Drink Me, January 29). There is also a handful of tasty rotating Belgian beers on tap.
This review is about the food, so if you do happen to sample the house beer (a flight of seven beers costs $10.50), it’s probably a good idea to pair that brew with some appetizers. We tried almost all of them: house-marinated olives, house-made pickles, the cellar board (assorted meats and cheeses with crackers), duck-fat fries and steamed mussels.
The cellar board was just average. The meats and cheeses weren’t as fine as ones from some of the charcuterie-centric spots in Sacramento such as the Rind and Block Butcher Bar. But the extra orders of pickles and olives were both tasty and hefty, and helped to spruce up the somewhat uninspired board. At $4 each, they both came in what seemed to be (approximately) 6-ounce glass jars and their combination of sweet and sour paired well with the salty meats and cheese. The steamed mussels came with fries and we chose a white wine, butter and garlic marinade, which was good—but we still prefer the mussels at Shady Lady Saloon, which may be the best in town.
The menu’s standout dish came as a surprise: a bowl of carbonnade (a.k.a. carbonade flamande, or Flemish carbonade). It was like the Audrey Hepburn of the menu—an unassuming, simply beautiful star that seemingly came out of nowhere, and that we didn’t really know was Belgian until we looked at its Wikipedia page. Though usually made with beef, this was a lamb version that boasts a ton of stewed onion, chunks of tender lamb and a nice combination of sweet and sour coming from stewed beer. Imagine Irish lamb stew, but with the consistency and rich, deep flavors of a goulash.
Later, we sampled a selection of sandwiches and salads: the Monk’s Burger (the “standard” burger), the Brewmaster Veggie Burger, a Reuben sandwich, the Cellar Salad (arugula with apple, cabbage and candied walnuts) and a Cobb salad (egg, bacon, chicken, radish and lettuce). Out of all the sandwiches, the Monk’s Burger was the best, with a juicy beef patty, pickled onions and Gruyere cheese playing well together. Both the Reuben and the veggie burger came out dry, and needed to be slathered with garlic aoili to even make then swallow-able. Like most pub food, the salads were simple but effective, with fresh ingredients and not too much pretension. A vegan might even be able to eat here by ordering the Cellar Salad and asking to hold the bleu cheese.
Overall, the menu has some pretty good selections on it, with standouts including the burger and carbonnade. Still, there are better versions of nearly everything else on the menu somewhere else in town (the duck-fat fries are better at LowBrau, the charcuterie is better at the Rind, the mussels are better at Shady Lady, etc.). So it comes down to this: Quality beer (the brewmasters have experience at Sacramento Brewing Co., Lodi Beer Co. and Sacramento Brewing Services) and a dark and beautiful ambiance (lots of brick and wood) are the best reason to visit Monk’s Cellar. Four stars for the brew and ambiance, three for the food.