Clark’s Corner: Bar food with a human touch

Clark’s Corner

5641 J St.
Sacramento, CA 95819

(916) 457-5600

Restaurants live and die on the human touch, backstage and out front. Given that, why do some eateries not incorporate that kind of personal effect in their title?

Hezekiah’s House of Ptomaine will always be superior to Ptomaine House just as Petunia’s Pit & Spit Olive Emporium is more inviting than Pit & Spit.

And so on.

Following that thread, narrow as it is, Clark’s Corner must be better than its predecessor, The Corner.

It is.

While its goal is similarly oriented—a neighborhood bar/hangout with dog-friendly patio for East Sacramento denizens—the hallowed corner of J and 57th streets where Shakey’s began in 1954 now feels a bit friendlier with Clark’s in the title. And within the confines of the bar/hang-out world, it’s also more ambitious.

The quest continues for Sacramento’s “Philly cheese steak of the gods,” but Clark’s entry deserves a slot in the semifinals. Chief among the reasons: chimichurri, arguably the greatest gift that, culinary or otherwise, Argentina has bestowed on the cosmos. The parsley, oregano, cumin, cilantro, vinegar, garlic and red pepper amalgam that are so much more than the sum of its parts always impart character in any dish, from eggs to artichoke. Here, its inclusion on a Philly, while wildly unconventional, takes the relatively thick—by cheese-steak template standards—skirt steak slices to a rarefied place that is only intensified by a layer of caramelized onions instead of the usual sautéed bell pepper and onions. The downside is that the sweet combination overwhelms the pepper jack cheese, which is, again, another inspired choice. This sandwich’s French roll requires strong mastication, but it’s a contribution to the creative whole. On a subsequent visit, a request for more of the chimichurri is rebuffed—none until the chef creates more on the morrow.

The gussied-up bar fare offers several other unexpected options in both appetizer and entrée options. Brussels sprouts rarely—if ever—are a go-to menu item, but here, crispy apple bacon, plenty of vinegar, a handful of capers and olive oil make them not only palatable but preferable—right up until the bacon and capers are gone, and there’s nothing left but the sprouts.

Thanks, yes, you can take this plate.

Also festive are the three styles of deviled eggs: Greek, Caesar and English. There’s a bite of bleu to the English; feta and Kalamata olive bits on the Greek and parmesan shavings on the Caesar. The eggs rest upon a pile of dressed arugula that, together, makes a great salad accompaniment to an entrée. For those going the house-salad route, there’s a generous portion served with feta and small rings of sweet tomatoes. The steak salad has plenty of same, cooked strikingly to order. It is a meal unto itself. The potato leek soup is, however, staid. Sliders, which seem now to be required on every menu, feature Kobe beef with caramelized onions that add more than the bacon. A shoot-for-the-fences miss is the osso buco-style carnitas plate. Here, pork shoulder, a bit too crisped on the exterior, sits on polenta ringed by the house Mexican barbecue sauce—close to killer already, but now add bit more Fahrenheit—next to three fat lines of wildly fresh pico de gallo, sour cream and guacamole.

There are tortillas, but why bother? This is a plethora of disparate flavors on the plate that’s schizophrenic at best.

The word schizophrenic also applies to the service as well. In the aggregate, all is dutiful and sometimes delightful. There are wide pendulum swings, however. One night, the waiter is curious about the scribbling going on at the table and sits down to talk about it. Another night, the waitress, struggling with English, has difficulty taking our order.

Also: Beware of game nights. The bar is louder and bawdier and, at least in the front dining room, this sharply curtails intimate conversation.

Still, it’s clear the staff is sweating to make Clark’s a better place. Give it a go. They are.