Fat Thursdays

Garbeau’s Dinner Theatre

12401 Folsom Blvd.
Rancho Cordova, CA 95742

(916) 985-6361


All right, Rancho Cordova! Way to step up the nightlife! On my previous visit, nearly naked men sweated on my lap at Centerfolds. Last week, I crossed your borders again for Garbeau’s French Quarter Night. Who knew you were hiding so much fun in that dull strip of RV lots and furniture stores along Highway 50?

Now, New Orleans’ French Quarter is one of my favorite places on Earth and I visit as often as I can. I spent a week there in July walking the unevenly paved streets, buzzing with chicory coffee and sugary beignets, and listening to the songs of the street musicians mix with the horns of passing ships. (Don’t tell Sacramento, but I often suspect our love stems from her similarities to the French Quarter: gorgeous old houses, plenty of ghosts, a walkable street grid, flood threats, unbearable heat, church bells, gardenias in bloom, live music, and an endlessly flowing river.)

It would be foolish to expect a suburban supper club like Garbeau’s to re-create all that jazz, but I was willing to settle for some raunchy live blues, Creole cooking, and a date with my New Orleans nostalgia. Of course, the sterile-looking Nimbus Winery shopping center that houses Garbeau’s is a far cry from the Quarter atmosphere, but I pretended the legions of families flip-flopping their way to the Old Spaghetti Factory were tourists in the Big Easy. Passing Centerfolds on Highway 50 lent a seedy Bourbon Street feel to the otherwise conventional environment—though I doubt Garbeau’s would appreciate the association.

Then again, who can say what Garbeau’s is into these days? The new owner, 26-year-old Mark Ferreira, is phasing the words “dinner theatre” out of the name of his business, along with the cheesy plays and rubbery-chicken dinners they invoke. He’s promised to spice things up by taking full advantage of the club’s inherent cabaret vibe and, so far, he’s keeping his word. Ferreira’s added a walk-up area to the bar and recently launched an eight-week run of The Rocky Horror Show—midnight performances only. And every Thursday, he and executive chef Charles Brown (a New Orleans native) pay tribute to the nation’s spiciest city with French Quarter Night.

The club donates 50 percent of French Quarter Night proceeds to New Orleans hurricane-relief funds. On the night I visited, the beneficiary was Renew Our Music, an organization dedicated to rebuilding music venues and homes for musicians displaced by Katrina. The modest $5 cover, which might fund a light bulb in a restored home, was offset by a wallet-tempting menu of New Orleans dishes including oysters on the half shell, shrimp Creole, po’ boys, gumbo and jambalaya. The menu also featured vegetarian red beans and rice—something I’ve never found in the hamhock-infused kitchens of Louisiana.

Delighted at this California twist, I ordered a bowl and asked my waitress about New Orleans-themed cocktail specials. Perplexingly, for a night dedicated to the city that invented the hurricane, the Sazerac, the Ramos gin fizz, and Southern Comfort, there were none. I ordered a hurricane, anyway, and settled in to watch the band.

The Sacramento Blues Revue entertained the mostly seated, mostly white crowd through three progressively rowdier sets featuring a rotating cast of chanteuses, harmonica players and blues frontmen. A throaty singer with wild hair and cha-cha heels melodically seduced the audience with promises of champagne, pigs’ feet and love in the afternoon. Phenomenal 14-year-old harmonica player Kyle Rowland dueled with older bluesman Deacon Baker and set the crowd hollering.

Though a few couples danced, most stayed glued to their seats, through no fault of the band. They were probably weighed down by oyster po’ boys and the lingering ghost of dinner-theatre inertia. That’s OK. A few more nights in Rancho Cordova ought to loosen them up.