Bigger, not necessarily better

Iron Horse Tavern

Good for: chill bar food
Notable dishes: short rib stroganoff and cinnamon roll pancakes

Iron Horse Tavern

1800 15th St.
Sacramento, CA 95811

(916) 448-4488

Iron Horse Tavern is another new addition to the still booming R Street Corridor. It’s a glorious dark wood dining room covered in tile with a popular bar packed so tight that one must ostensibly throw out good manners to breach the mass and put good money down for a drink. It also possesses one of the most enviable patio dining areas in town.

The menu is huge, which may not be to Iron Horse’s benefit, as in my experience if a restaurant makes everything, then none of it is done too well. In this review I barely cover even a fraction of the menu, which is staggering, so one has to wonder how well everything else is executed.

At breakfast, an egg white frittata ($11.50) makes for the ultimate skinny girl meal: egg whites baked with bland potatoes and diced asparagus. None of the vegetables seemed to have been seasoned before going into the frittata so it was a never-ending spiral of blah.

A Korean fried chicken bowl ($14.95) lacks impact. The tasty morsels of sweet-and-somewhat-spicy bits of fried and glazed chicken proved addictive, but the mushy rice and slimy kimchi were more than off-putting.

The cinnamon roll pancakes ($10.95), however, are things of beauty: fragrant with cinnamon, poofy as clouds and drizzled with frosting.

The green eggs and ham ($11.95) consist of a slab of ham big enough to fight crime with and some scrambled eggs mixed with pesto. Hearty and complete.

A second visit for dinner opened up the rest of the extensive menu to us. The pizzas ($12.95-$13.95) are all fantastic; the dough sweet with a crispy char and abundant toppings.

The buffalo chicken egg roll ($8.50) seems like a novel concept, but the execution is a mess. First, the chewy, dry mess of chicken in the egg roll can’t be properly sauced without losing the crunch of the wrapper. Second, the blue cheese crumbled on top is simply impossible to eat with the egg roll. It just falls off. Third, the inconceivably utter lack of flavor. This dish is simply a fail on all fronts.

The brandy fried chicken nuggets ($8.95) are kids’ food for adults, excellently cooked with large chucks of juicy chicken served with crispy, well-seasoned fries. They’re a bit greasy; but you come into nuggets and fries knowing that and, by God, they’re tasty.

Oh, and the beef rib stroganoff ($18.95). Here, creamy stroganoff is tossed with mushrooms and spinach, then topped with a colossal short rib so well cooked it melts apart. Now this is something I could come back for time and again when the weather turns cold.

A smart menu addition is the selection of mocktails. A good cocktail bar knows how to make a few, but so few readily put them front and center on the menu. The Watermelon Fizz ($3.95), was bright, and tasted like a Jolly Rancher, which was a plus and a minus at our table, depending who you asked.

Lastly, we tried the red velvet “Ho-Hos” ($7.50). This red velvet pastry had more chocolate tang than most I’ve tried. However, the gravity well of cream cheese filling was so dense it threatened to collapse in on itself and take half of Midtown with it.

In the end, Iron Horse feels like a revamped version of a popular family-oriented ’90s chain. A TGI Friday’s dressed up in J. Crew: it looks fabulous and occasionally is, but more often than not the hemming is off and a button has gone missing. This isn’t to say it’s bad. It’s a welcome and needed addition to the corridor, offering large portion of mass-appeal food in stomach-stretching portions for a (usually) good price.