Clove crazy

The Garlic Shack

1830 J St.
Sacramento, CA 95816

(916) 730-0977

To its halitosis-ravaged devotees, garlic is a wellspring of numerous salutary benefactions. Among them: lower cholesterol and triglycerides, lower blood pressure, oodles of vitamin C, control of bacterial and viral infections, and—when ingested daily—a lower risk of all cancers, except breast and prostate. To say nothing of bringing good luck and warding off mosquitoes, the evil eye, werewolves, vampires and tedious office mates.

If all these attributes are true—some recent studies have called a few of such claims into question (the werewolf thing is particularly shaky)—then the Garlic Shack at 19th and J streets doles out health benefits in bulbs. The menu says what’s offered is “Food, Beer & Garlic.” Garlic, Food & Beer is more accurate, with a steep drop-off between item No. 1 and item No. 2, although item No. 1 is a major ingredient of item No. 2.

It’s not like there are cloves in the water glasses, although Kynsilaukka Garlic in Helsinki puts garlic in its beer and ice cream. At the Shack, the other beverages and the desserts appear to be the only other items not imbued with the chaw of choice for Roman soldiers looking to nut up for battle.

Remarkably, on one visit, a departing patron says to Heather, the engaging and knowledgeable waitress, that on a previous visit he found the punch of the garlic to be merely a glancing blow at best. No face has ever come up faster from a plate to gaze upon an individual so singular as to bemoan as muted the level of garlic in any dish proffered at Garlic Shack. This is akin to pronouncing primal screams to be murmurings.

Upon his departure, this elicits some questioning of Heather. Initially, she explains, the chefs would sauté the garlic used in the Shack’s salads, fries, wraps and other specialties. Doing so strips away some of the garlic’s oomph. This is the genesis of Clove-Crazy Customer’s complaint. Heather says now the sautéed stuff gets mixed with the freshly chopped to ensure no equivocation when it comes to the garlic’s potent presence.

Before explaining exactly how potent, briefly, there are two clear glass garage doors at the Shack, which open onto patio seating along J Street. Meal interruptions can occur out here from folks in need of coinage, or cars and hogs revving up in preparation for peeling out at the light change. Brown butcher-paper tablecloths and tumblers of crayons offer artistic amusement opportunities during the generally brief time before the food arrives.

Back to potency. Never say this at Garlic Shack: “Love garlic. Love spice. What has the most of both?” Lukes is a $7.75 tray of triangle tortilla chips and a French onion soup tureen worth of artichoke dip. It is truly spicy.

“What pepper gives it the heat?”

Just the garlic.

Wait a second. This is a biting, unremitting, open-mouth-wide-to-breathe scald and it comes solely from garlic? How many vats are emptied here daily?

The $10.50 U2 spinach salad is mushrooms, green onions, feta and bacon drenched in dressing atop a mantle of chopped garlic. The 40 Cloves, probably accurate, is an organic burger—a bit too pink—with onions, bacon, mushrooms, gorgonzola and pepper jack. The accompanying garlic fries are intensely so. Garlic drowns the pepper jack.

Less body-blow-to-the-palate is a $13.95 special of one pound of shrimp in a slick of buttery garlic with a bit of zip. Diners must peel the shrimp themselves. The buttery bowl of brown rice accompanying is moist and, relatively speaking, a near garlic-free zone. The mixed green salad is less garlic-geddon than the spinach one.

For the hang-loose, get-garlicked, suck-on-breath-mints-for-days vibe Garlic Shack tries to engender, the prices seem dear. The service is stellar, and the fare is improving. But there’s a big difference between garlic lover and garlic masochist.