Escape from Old Sac

One minute, you’re a card-carrying boheme all dressed up in your thrift-store black, hanging out at clubs ’til they close and then hitting 524 in the wee hours of the morning.

The next, you’re standing on the street corner in Old Sacramento with all the tourists on their way to the train museum, your kid pulling on your sweater because he just saw a store that sells Yu-Gi-Oh! cards, and you only got yourself into this mess because of a misguided attempt to wean said kid from the beloved PlayStation. It’s inevitable, really, the way you sacrifice so many of your aesthetic values once you have children. Sure, you can take a kid to see something cool like the Blind Boys of Alabama, as I did last fall, but it’s guaranteed he’ll remember the 10 minutes spent giggling over gag gifts in Evangeline’s far longer. And that’s what becomes important.

Normally, self-respecting locals avoid Old Sac, and for fairly good reasons. It’s crowded. It’s crowded with tourists. Almost all the shops sell schlocky tourist junk. Parking is impossible and expensive. With very few exceptions, the area doesn’t have destination restaurants that lure locals in. So, unless you have kids or train buffs in your family or are looking to entertain the relatives visiting from the Midwest, you just don’t go there. But there are a few gems amid the dross, and the train museum is definitely one of them. If you’re even remotely interested in trains or rail history, this is a great place to while away an hour or so.

Too much of the food available in Old Sac is of the overpriced-hot-dog variety. But the good folks at the Delta King have given harried sightseers an attractive yet casual option with B.B. Brink’s, which opened seven months ago in the space formerly occupied by Carl’s Jr. This is a great location surveying the kitschy bustle in the heart of Old Sac by the walkway linking the old town with Downtown Plaza, a location that was sadly wasted on a fast-food joint. The space has been reconfigured into a serene, clean-lined room accented in soothing eggplant and sage, with jazz playing on the sound system. The restaurant, which serves lunch and dinner, began offering table-side service just a few weeks ago.

The lunch menu is small but varied, offering diners a selection of salads and sandwiches as well as more substantial entrees, mostly pasta dishes. Nibblers also have a good selection of appetizers to choose from, including an antipasto plate, fried calamari, artichoke hearts and smoked salmon. The one appetizer we tried, the stuffed mushroom caps ($4.95), proved to be the only disappointment. Though the mushrooms themselves were tender (and scalding hot), the sausage filling was bland, and the Parmesan topping was negligible.

The other dishes sampled were far more successful. B.B. Brink’s tweaks some of its more ordinary offerings to provide added interest; examples include a salmon salad and a smoked California turkey sandwich. An avocado and cucumber sandwich is elevated by arugula and herbed cream cheese to provide a vegetarian option that is not the status quo. B.B.’s Burger ($5.95) provides ample reassurance that the space does not house a fast-food conglomerate any more. The patty is hefty and juicy and obviously hand-formed, and it’s especially tasty with some lean cured bacon.

That same bacon also makes an appearance in a grilled salmon BLT ($7.95). Even though tomatoes are out of season, this sandwich was delicious. The salmon was expertly grilled to retain a moist, tender interior, and the bacon provided the classic crunch required. One small gripe: Too many restaurants describe any flat sandwich roll as focaccia, as B.B. Brink’s does here. This is not focaccia. Focaccia is a type of pizza and, as such, makes an awkward foundation for a sandwich. Calling a roll focaccia is a good way to discourage diners from ordering that particular sandwich.

I don’t know that I would go out of my way to eat at B.B. Brink’s, and, to be fair, it has not set out to be a destination restaurant. But, if you find yourself in Old Sacramento and in danger of overdosing on tchotchkes, the restaurant will provide the perfect escape from the madding crowds. At least for a while. Then, you can dodge the incredibly bad caricaturist camped outside and run for your life.