Eating dangerously

Ink Eats and Drinks

2730 N St.
Sacramento, CA 95816

(916) 456-2800

Who invented sliders? Was it White Castle, or did the chain just popularize them? I don’t know, but whoever’s responsible, it’s a brilliant piece of food ingenuity. What is better than one large juicy hamburger? Several small juicy hamburgers, of course!

Not everyone will agree. Some vulgar people will insist that a full-sized hamburger, a monstrosity as ugly and heavy as can be, is the only way to go. To them, let me make my case:

(1) More is better: Would you rather have lots of candy or one gigantic candy bar? Several pieces of dim sum or one giant shumai? Enough said.

(2) Small is cuter: Cornish game hens, baby squash and pudding packs—these are hard to resist. Our love of small, cute things is hardwired. It’s why we procreate.

(3) Sharing makes us feel good: Contrary to widespread international opinion that Americans are selfish pigs, in reality, we are generous pigs. We want to get fat and happy together. How better to do this than by sharing a plate of succulent sliders?

Now, make no mistake; sliders are different from a hamburger simply cut up into halves or into quarters. With sliders, portions are clearly delineated. Yours are yours, and mine are mine. Nothing falls out, nothing gets squashed, and there’s no mess.

“Enough with the sliders, already!” you say. “It’s not like they’re readily available in Sacramento.”

Ah, but they are. They are cleverly hidden away in an unlikely establishment on the eastern edge of Midtown. No, it’s not Biba. The restaurant in question is Ink: Eye, En, Kay. Ink.

Yes, Ink’s been open for a while. Yes, it’s been widely heralded as one of the few restaurants with late-night dining for the frisky, clubbing crowd. But late-night dining is one thing. Late-night dining ’til 4 a.m. is something else. And late-night dining ’til 4 a.m. with sliders? Genius.

How to characterize Ink in a word? Eclectic. All manners of people go there: seniors, hipsters, couples, singles, gays, straights, men wearing baseball caps, and women on a girls’ night out. The interior décor is eclectic, too: tattoo art; dark, exposed brick; and stainless-steel tabletops. Somehow the dominant reds and purples tie it together in an aura of relaxing hipness. Friendly service also goes a long way toward making one feel comfortable with the space.

These qualities aside, Ink’s real appeal is its menu. It’s an ode to nouveau comfort food. Think of a poem that reads: “House-made macaroni and cheese, boneless hot wings, grilled shrimp quesadilla / Spinach and artichoke dip, and sliders (of course!) / Triple grilled cheese, chili dog / Steak sandwich and tuna melts / Salads from classic Caesar to Cobb! / Plates of pork chops, New York steak / And meatloaf.”

(Vegetarians, vegans and poly-ethno enthusiasts may decry the lack of meatless, dairyless and international offerings. But they’ll outlive us all, so it evens out.)

We started an evening meal with cornmeal-encrusted artichoke hearts. Deep-fried in a nice cornmeal crust, the tender, mellow artichoke hearts provided the perfect textural contrast to the exterior crunch. The tangy lemon aioli added zip.

Next, the tostada salad was impressively large. It had crisp romaine stalks, marinated chicken, two kinds of cheese, tomatoes, corn, tortilla strips and a sour-cream-based dressing. Rather than the typically garish, overcompensating shell, the “shell” part of the salad came broken into four large pieces—tastefully arranged—with a thin layer of refried black beans. These pieces were light, crunchy and delicious. The salad itself was noteworthy for the flavor of the chicken, which leaped out at us, as well as the nice mix of crunchy vegetables with the smooth, mild dressing.

We also ordered the meatloaf dinner. Presented vertically, the portion looked deceptively small. Still, just half of the serving was more filling than the giant tostada salad. The mashed-potato foundation nestled two large slices of meatloaf, topped by strings of fried, battered onion. Dense mushroom gravy encircled the vertical structure. Everything about the dish was intense, salty and rich. The meatloaf had almost too much flavor, with spices dominating the meat. But because all the flavors were strong, they matched each other well.

On a subsequent brunch visit, we opted for slightly lighter fare (if you could call it that). We ordered a steak sandwich and breakfast sliders—fried eggs with sausage or hamburger meat. Tender, salty sausage snuggled with a perfectly fried egg in the comfort of a soft, sweet, white roll. Grilled onions further complemented the salty-sweet combination. Each one went down amazingly well. (And, yes, they were shared.) The steak sandwich—two thin filets of steak, nicely marinated, in a roll with fried onions—was simple but quite satisfying.

I don’t say this about a lot of restaurants, but I think Ink is a dangerous place. I could eat there several times a week; it’s my kind of comfort food. It’s affordable, too, with ample portions. Maybe Ink will become so consistently crowded that I won’t be able get a seat, and gradually, I’ll forget it ever existed. That’s my secret hope because that’s the only thing standing between me and an ever-expanding waistband.