Firestone Public House: Close enough for jazz
Firestone Public House1132 16th St.
Sacramento, CA 95814
Remember that heady 2007-era prerecession time and how it played out for businesses in Sacramento? There were so many grand plans coming thick and fast that some “Keep Midtown janky”-type grid residents were worried that Sac would turn into a valet-luxury-douche-bag city.
The 2009 opening of a California Pizza Kitchen in the historic Firestone building, located in the heart of downtown, epitomized this fear. But lo and behold, Sacramento’s tastes proved to be more sophisticated than the city is usually given credit for, and the downtown branch of the chain closed in July 2011.
In the wake of its closing, two local prominent restaurant families, the Wongs and the DeVere Whites, whose previous separate ventures include The Park Ultra Lounge and de Vere’s Irish Pub respectively, announced a joint venture: a sports bar serving pizza and sandwiches, with a focus on craft beer. Not exactly a groundbreaking concept, but these two families have proven to have their fingers on the pulse of Sacramento. Maybe some locals could thrive where a corporation withered.
This seems to be the case, as there’s a 25-minute wait at 11:30 a.m. for Sunday brunch at the recently opened Firestone Public House. Bottomless mimosas are flowing, and high fives are exchanged by strangers.
A texting young lady at the bar chirps to her companion, “Did I meet her last night? Was I that stoned?”
To fit in, I order the Dirty Blonde, a cocktail made with Bombay Sapphire gin, St-Germain and citrus. The drink is strong with gin, and pretty soon, I’m as buzzed as everyone else.
The interior is industrial chic, with metal-studded walls and large hanging lamps lined with burlap. Metal kegs line the walls, and flat-screen high-definition TVs are everywhere—thankfully, tuned in with the sound off. Even with the tall ceilings, open floor plan and all that metal, the noise level here is tolerable, and one doesn’t have to strain to hear a companion. The bar is the centerpiece of the room, with a full stock of liquor and 60 beers on draught. The beer list mostly comprises typical stuff found elsewhere in town (e.g., Lagunitas IPA and Moose Drool Brown Ale) but also includes a smattering of well-known Belgians (Chimay Brewery, Delirium Tremens, etc.), as well as a few seasonal and rotating taps.
When the buzzer goes off, I’m led to a large booth and quickly receive a menu and glass of water. This sets the tone for the professional and courteous service I’ll experience on every visit. Transfer your card from the bar to your table? No problem. Sauce on the side? It arrives that way. I ask my server about the rotating tap from The Bruery, an excellent SoCal brewery, and not only does she know what it is, she asks, “Have you been there? It’s super fun!”
Our appetizers arrive quickly; hunks of poached chicken and avocado float in the tomatoey, savory tortilla soup. The menu doesn’t specify that the avocado spring rolls are deep-fried, but unfortunately, they are. Hot avocado is never a good idea. The pizza emerges from the handsome yellow-tiled wood-fired pizza oven with a good char and bubble on the crust, but the thick blanket of grated mozzarella makes it taste old school, for good and for bad. The restaurant does, however, also offer a simple pizza with fresh mozzarella and tomato sauce.
The Ahi Tuna Burger patty has a mushy texture and lacks flavor, but the quick-pickled sliced cucumbers, Sriracha-sauce mayonnaise and daikon sprouts add crunch and a slightly spicy bite. A drippy chicken salad, served between thick slices of sourdough, is made with generous chunks of chicken and tastes of celery. The Reuben sandwich would be the real deal if the too-thick bread had more than a passing acquaintance with rye flour. Still, its fatty, delightful corned beef makes it close enough for jazz.
On another visit, this one on a Saturday night, the wait is 45 minutes, and the short shorts and flesh-colored platform heels are in full effect with the ladies. Firestone seems to have mastered the trick of exuding a casual, flip-flop vibe during the day and serving as a dressy see-and-be-seen spot at night. The DeVere Whites and the Wongs know what Sacramento wants: good beer, solid pub grub, and a casual, unpretentious atmosphere.