High-end burgers

Ever since New Helvetia closed, a band of Midtown Sacramentans have been moping around, rootless and aimless in their quest for a decent cup of Joe. It’s not so much the coffee they’re missing as it is a place to hang their inner hat. Friendly service, good eats, passable coffee and a general mood of grooviness are harder to find in Sacramento than you would think. Though Jump Start Café—a stone’s throw from the Capitol—may not be as comfortably hip as New Helvetia (R.I.P.), it’s a good start for those willing to brave the winds of change and the bluster of politics currently dominating the downtown area.

Jump Start, which opened about a year ago, is related to East Sacramento’s Coffee Works. Its coffee comes from the roasting quarters of proprietor John Shahabian’s East Sac location, and the two cafes duplicate pastry offerings. However, the food at Jump Start is uniquely Jump Start’s. The cafe offers panini, burgers, deli sandwiches and salads—courtesy of chef Linda McCune. Pizzas and calzones are only offered during the busier legislative months, which run January through September. (This is a shame because the pizzas are quite good. On the high end of Jump Start’s menu, at around $10 each, they come large and bubbly with cheese on a light crust. They’re made cafe-style, with ingredients like roasted chicken, pesto and sun-dried tomatoes. Ah, but why talk about them now? Just wait until January. McCune says they’ll be back.)

From the perennial items, we selected the roasted turkey, prosciutto and melted cambazola (a cross between Camembert and Gorgonzola cheeses) panino—reputedly a favorite. It came dressed in a pesto-like sauce on light, crispy focaccia. The substantial sandwich held a strong balance between each assertive ingredient.

The albacore tuna deli sandwich was a tasty rendition of the classic tuna salad, with diced bits of celery, pickle and red onion. The portion was not overly hefty, and the sliced wheat bread was a bit plain for $6.25, but the exceptional cheddar cheese (ordered for $1 more) made for a satisfying sandwich. We could have done without the side salad of mixed greens for an extra $1.50, which seemed a half-hearted effort in minding one’s health. It seemed better not to bother.

The fries were a more tempting option. At the same price, they were clearly a better bang for the buck-fifty. These weren’t just ordinary fries, either. “Hand-cut,” generously portioned and liberally salted, these hot fries were worth every luscious fat gram.

In the burger category, the Jump Start burger ranks up there with Sacramento’s finest. But this serious specimen is not without some controversy. It can set you back a mere Lincoln and two Washingtons, or it can set you back nearly a Lincoln and a Hamilton, depending on how many “hamburger amendments” you take. Cheese will cost you $1. Bacon, $1.50. Avocado, $1.95. If you get all of those plus fries, you’re in for a $13 burger meal. A drink is another two bucks.

Now, before you go racing down 10th Street to OB 2000, ask yourself two important questions: (1) Is the meal worth it? (2) Does it say more about the person who orders it than anything else? The answer to the first is yes. If you like a good, heavyweight burger that comes on a wonderful focaccia-like roll, with top-notch bacon and excellent fries, this happiest of meals is clearly worth it. The answer to the second is also yes. Some people, like myself, think that burgers must be eaten with bacon and cheese, like eggs Benedict with hollandaise, or rice with kimchi. For that, we pay a higher price. But to abstain from these gustatory accouterments is folly; to partake is divine.

As far as cafe fare is concerned, Jump Start is not a cheap eat (which would fall squarely under $5, minus the drink). However, it is a quality eat. The ingredients are fresh. The food is well-prepared. The place has the aura of there being someone in the back caring about what goes out front. To wit: The pizza chef brought out our order personally, noting that it was between shifts and he didn’t want our food to get cold. This scored many points, offsetting the higher price tag and the occasional slowness of service—which can be rationalized because Jump Start’s food tastes made to order.

Who could complain about that?