Juno’s Kitchen & Delicatessen: Small wonders

Juno’s Kitchen & Delicatessen

3675 J St.
Sacramento, CA 95816

If there isn’t more seating outside than inside at Juno’s on J Street in East Sacramento, it certainly feels like it. Maybe that’s because the 12 black iron seats are spread on either side of a sidewalk that seems wider than the space between Juno’s front door and its counter and register behind which chef Mark Helms can plainly be seen doing his thing.

But to quote Gov. Jerry Brown from his first iteration as California’s chief executive more than 30 years ago, “Small is beautiful.” Juno’s proves this axiom in spades.

Officially, the name is Juno’s Kitchen & Delicatessen, and there’s a brisk take-out trade consisting mainly, it appears, of frequently returning customers. Always a good sign.

“Thanks, Mark,” more than one patron says on the way out with his or her filled order. The waitress/hostess greets customers by name as well, sending them on their way with a cheery salutation. It’s a similar vibe to Helms’ last place, Ravenous Cafe, located in the Pocket area. That place, although not large, seems cavernous compared to Juno’s.

Like Ravenous, the menu at Juno’s is fairly compact but slanted more toward lunch than dinner, the 8 p.m. closing time being a tip-off. However, Mrs. Lucas and I share an early dinner on one visit that is both filling and memorable, particularly the mixed-green salad. It also tastes like there’s more flavors interacting in Juno’s banh mi than one of the traditional Vietnamese sandwiches purchased in Little Saigon. No accusation has ever been leveled about being crazy for kale, but it takes on a new appreciation in Juno’s Caesar salad with its two-tone watermelon radishes, anchovy vinaigrette and Grana Padano—a less salty but still invigorating Italian cheese than Parmigiano.

Missing, however, are the meaty mussels made three different ways—the ones spiced with paprika being the most memorable—that were a hallmark at Ravenous. But that isn’t to say there’s no shellfish. Juno’s macaroni-and-cheese dish comes with rock shrimp on rigatoni, a Grana Padano, Gruyère and cheddar trio, and a dusting of the aforementioned paprika—a creative take on a comfort-food classic.

In the traditional-sandwich realm, all start out with the advantage of Juno’s homemade sour—but not sourdough—bread with its crunchy crust and soft interior. In the Soppressata Salami sandwich, the bread amplifies the tartness of the pepperoncini, which, in turn, is leavened by the tomato, sweet little gem lettuce and red onion. The aioli, salami and queso Manchego stake out the middle ground. Manchego, from La Mancha in Spain, and the Jamon Serrano, cured Spanish ham, are reminders of Helms’ tenure at Tapa the World.

The turkey sandwich with provolone, tomato, arugula and pesto requires several napkins, as the oil in the pesto seeps inexorably through the airy bread slices, causing the sandwich to become mushier before its time, and the oil overpowers some of the other flavors. On one visit, mixed greens or roasted potatoes accompanied the sandwich. On another, there’s a basmati salad, sprinkled with currants, which is crunchy as though the rice isn’t quite done. The mixed greens offer several surprises—some mint leaves and other herbs to burnish the flavor. Here, too, a smattering of currants adds sweetness to each bite.

A standout is a daily special comprising a beefy broth stew of Israeli couscous—the peppercorn-sized pellets—with pieces of steak the size of Lego bricks, languorous roasted red-bell-pepper slices and a pungent array of spices. The only way to stop eating it is to empty the generously sized bowl. Alas, it hasn’t cropped back up on the menu lately. When it does, it can’t come too soon.

There’s no beer or wine here, but plenty of S.Pellegrino and its refreshing fruit sodas, Limonata and the irresistible Aranciata Rossa. Truly, small is beautiful: Juno’s is a first-class addition to East Sacramento.