Close to the borderline

Table 260

800 J St.
Sacramento, CA 95814

(916) 447-2260

As the economy’s ship appears to be going down, you’ve got to admire people who are still opening downtown restaurants. But then, Table 260, which serves modestly upscale Southern and soul food, isn’t a venture undertaken blindly; it’s a spinoff of an already successful Elk Grove business, though I understand the new J Street branch is a higher-gloss affair. The restaurant is close to some pretty run-down streets, yet developments like hotels and lofts are still going forward (also a cause for admiring wonder) within a short distance.

There’s valet parking out front, and inside the aesthetic is dark and chic: black walls; tilted, deep-red ceiling panels; canvases of vibrant polychromatic blobs punctuated by golden rings. I will say, they should do something about the music; we noted a cover of Billy Joel’s “New York State of Mind” (a rather off message for a Southern place) and something we decided was unusually aggressive smooth jazz. (I’d suggest blues, to match both the dark space and the Southern feel of the menu.)

Speaking of the menu, it covers a full range of fried foods—we started off with hush puppies and fried green tomatoes, for instance—plus sandwiches; big, meal-sized salads; and varied entrees, like ribs, jambalaya, a mixed-seafood fry or chicken and waffles. There’s also a full bar with some amusing signature drinks, like the margatini—which my husband just went ahead and ordered, figuring it would be somewhere between a margarita and a martini, and—bingo: a highly alcoholic and lightly limey concoction in a stemless martini glass. Sweet tea came in a cute little Mason jar, garnished with mint and very sweet indeed—just right, if that’s your thing. There’s a short wine list, too, though it’s not very compelling; I’d go for the cocktails.

The hush puppies were tasty: “little round balls with crunchy on the outside,” as my daughter put it. They weren’t just plain cornmeal but herbed to add some flavor, and they came with a dip of something like a lightly Cajun-spiced aioli. The same pinkish sauce was squirted over the excellent fried green tomatoes. The juicy tang of the tomato flesh was perfectly offset by the gritty, greaseless crispness of the fried cornmeal batter encasing them; these were the best thing we sampled.

We also liked the lobster roll sandwich, which my husband got. It came on a soft, toasty roll, with a flavorful salad of lots of sweet, pink crustacean, punctuated by fresh red and green bell peppers filling the sandwich. The sweet potato fries with it were a little less pleasing; they were batter-fried, with a tempuralike coating, and the fried shell was a little limp, as were the sweet potatoes within.

I got the shrimp and grits, a simple dish that put together a mound of rather stiff, granular grits, a lot of cubes of porky smoked sausage, and alas, not very many shrimp. (What there was had not been cleaned quite enough, so there was also grit in the dark vein running through them.) Those shrimp had been tossed with spices and butter, and the flesh was sweet and not overcooked. The grits were covered in melted cheese that mainly added calories to the plate. I wanted to like the dish more than I did, but it seemed like an unintegrated series of elements that—especially if you’re going to serve in splashy surroundings and charge a lot for—needs a little more dressing up.

Our dining companions tried out the half-slab of ribs, with a sweetish, thick sauce and tender meat; they were succulent enough but not especially distinctive. The entrees come with a choice of sides, and for once the seasonal vegetables—here doused in a strong garlic butter—were the pick of the bunch. Our other friend’s jambalaya was tomatoey, with a strong black-pepper flavor and a good dose of the same smoked sausage I had in my shrimp and grits, but the piece of fish I tried from the stew was badly overcooked, unfortunately.

Desserts include “sorbet” (which turned out, amusingly, to be rainbow sherbet), key lime pie (which we should have tried), apple crumble in a little iron skillet—sweet and buttery, with lots of brown-sugar notes in the crumble, but the topping was a little underbaked and doughy—and a giant plate of bananas Foster. The boozy, syrupy sauce had separated on this so that it had a slick of butter, but it still complemented the softly cooked, sticky bananas; toasted poundcake is never amiss. I could have done without the spray of canned whipped cream, but hey, my 3-year-old was all over that.

Service was accommodating and warm—a bit of Southern hospitality, perhaps—throughout the meal. Table 260 is a friendly place with some tasty Southern-fried cooking going on, as well as some kinks to work out in the kitchen. If they can step up a few things, and if you order cautiously and don’t expect health food, it makes a pleasant, if unexpected, downtown stop.