Cowboy up

Bulls Bar & Restaurant

1330 H St.
Sacramento, CA 95814

(916) 235-8674

At Bulls, the server/bartender gamely restrains her mirth at a request for club soda. With a lime. Probably rules out foie gras or timpano. Entering Bulls, only an all-world dunderhead would broach fizzy water—with or without a lime.

Bulls is beer in bottles. Tri-tip or die. Hay bales, a washboard and ceramic red-white-and-blue boot above the bar. An American flag in a barbed-wire-trimmed frame over the front door. Cardboard Captain Morgan condiment caddies on the bar-height, tad-sticky, long, wood tables. Fizzy water? You wear espadrilles, too, dude? The brown-and-white mechanical bull and its monthly bikini-rider contest probably should have been a tip-off.

A cynic might say it’s no coincidence there’s a photo of a sleek bikinied woman stretched along the back of “the bull” on Bulls’ website while clicking on “menu” yields nothing but the word menu. SN&R provides nothing in the way of remuneration remotely large enough to either, 1) don a bikini or, 2) be flung to the ground by a bucking bull, mechanical or otherwise. Therefore, this caveat: A fuller appreciation of Bulls would likely be gained by getting a group together to go watch a ballgame there—although the flat screens are a little small—or strike a few blows for liberty some Friday night guffawing at the poor slobs being vaulted from “the bull.”

This is a windy way of saying the fare might not be Bulls’ primary attraction.

On several visits, the owner, Andrea Martin, is riding shotgun on her establishment. One visit, she says the Stella Artois she brings looks good. Committing random acts of generosity is greatly empowered by the miracle of SN&R’s expense account. Please accept a Stella, darlin’, with the compliments of Sacramento’s premiere weekly. (Of course, the true source of the munificence must be masked, because restaurant reviewers are supposed to be incognito and stuff.)

No vegetarian she, Andrea says the tri-tip is tip-top in its two sandwich iterations, au jus or drenched with chipotle barbecue sauce. The mixed-green salad on the menu’s back page that is graced by tri-tip—avocado, tomato, red onion and blue cheese along for the ride—stays in the bullpen. The “Wild Trail” ribs fall rakishly from the bones, islands of chunky meat in a sea of puissant pineapple-ish sauce that provides a peppy alternative to ketchup for the “signature” fries. They’re certainly salutary—crisp on the outside but still springy inside. Slaw over the potato salad.

Vegetarian options are sparse. Meat is manna, not murder, at Bulls. But the corn on the cob, offered as both an appetizer and a ribs accompaniment, is a “whoa, big fella” moment. The not-egregiously-garlic aioli liberally slathered on it kicks mightily but wouldn’t work near as well without the lime juice that must be squeezed out of a plastic bottle into the boiling water, since a club soda with a slab o’ lime is so antithetical.

Orphaned on the meat-mania menu is the spinach salad, one of the few items not prefaced with “Colt 45” or “Chuck Wagon” or some other faux Western tag. Its Granny Smith apples, cotija cheese, candied walnuts, dried cranberries and bacon make for a busy but bountiful salad that doesn’t seem like it should be offered at a place with a mechanical bull in the corner. Similarly, while a New York deli purist would recoil at pastrami with swathes of iceberg lettuce on the bottom of the fresh bun, the lettuce and—praise God—almost enough slices of red onion make for a light, festive sandwich.

Not to go Norman Rockwell, but seeing Andrea succeed would sure be swell. Among her pluses is a passion for poppyseed dressing. Asked her preference for the house salad of mixed greens, crinkle-cut carrots, red onion and twists of red cabbage, she says: “You probably won’t like it but—poppyseed.” It’s Claude Rains and Humphrey Bogart at the end of Casablanca, save Andrea’s much better looking than either.