Kings of Loomis
Loomis, CA 95650
You’ve got to be driven to visit Cafe Zorro, figuratively and, if lucky, literally. The casual Italian eatery is in Loomis and then a jog to the left and a jog to the right off the main drag, which isn’t exactly a bustling metropolis to begin with.
“It’s worth the effort” is the consensus of the four far more cultured food aficionados at the table. The sixth diner, Jim Williams, is the father of Matt, the owner, and, therefore, his objectivity suspect.
Accompanying my friend Sotiris Kolokotronis, who graced these pages previously, are a few of his many other friends—Rusty Areias, Judge Frank Damrell and David Berkeley.
It’s VIP treatment all the way, but since we outnumber the other patrons seated at the tables 2-to-1, our smooth and gracious waitress has the luxury to make us feel like a bunch of big-deal swells.
We eat family style, plates and bowls circling the table. His Honor regrets we’re not here on Thursday, which, in March, was oyster night. We briefly discuss the delights of mussels in Brussels. Everyone brightens at the arrival of a cauldron of Foxy Caesar Salad, on the menu for $3 and $5. Cute it’s not, but the romaine is crisp and, like the old country, the dressing anchovy-enriched.
David wants to sample La Luna, the mother of all pizza pies, which consists of just about everything except anchovies: pepperoni, sausage, artichoke hearts, olives, red pepper, etc., etc. Live large—at $16, it’s only a buck more than medium. It being a family-style lunch and all, the monstrous pie may well be the $17 family version. In a world in which menus are routinely larded with felonious hyperbole, Cafe Zorro’s description of its pizza as “legendary” is, at worst, a fix-it ticket.
Also logged on the “to-eat” list are cannelloni, linguini carbonara and quartered Zorro burgers of nicely spiced organic beef sandwiched in ciabatta.
No lunch guests go Chapter 11 at Zorro. Burgers and cannelloni are $10. The carbonara, a hefty steal at $8. Lunch has been offered for only a year, Williams says. Dinner has been the chief focus for him and his chef, Casey Morell, since Williams took over the place in February 2007.
The dinner menu is pricier. Carbonara and cannelloni are $16 each. A bacon-wrapped fillet with wild-mushroom sauce tops the charts at $18—the price of a New York City well drink. If lunch is any indicator, dinner portions are equally unpetite. The carbonara tastes authentic—no cream. With eyes closed, it’s a black-dressed granny in Little Italy spooning her granny’s special tomato sauce onto the bulging cannelloni, not a former PR exec with a penchant for Pink Floyd posters.
The crowd at our table isn’t big on lip smacking, but there are some judicious head nods. A fusillade of compliments is leveled at Williams when he comes out of the kitchen to take a victory lap.
While feasting, we skip down memory lane, waxing poetic about the joys of restaurants past.
Rosemount Grill on Folsom Boulevard. Alhambra Fuel & Transit. Powder-blue velour Aldo’s with the “new” 82-year-old piano player. Wulff’s French Restaurant behind the dry cleaners on Fair Oaks. Nicole’s on J Street for brunch. We dolly back, hurriedly fade to black to prevent open weeping.
David regales with a stemwinder about Cafe Natoma, a long-shuttered Folsom restaurant with a solar-system-class wine cellar. David involved; go figure. While in no way impugning David’s veracity, without corroboration, it seems sensible, in this instance, to let what happens in Cafe Zorro stay in Cafe Zorro.
Speaking of regional culinary history and Zorro, the previous owner of the cafe has been a restaurateur for 47 years. Longtime Roseville residents will remember the city’s first pizzeria as Zorro’s.
While Williams builds on Zorro’s Italian heritage—the red sauce is the old man’s recipe—he and Morell are responsible for the nonred offerings. Preserving the best and making it better. Very appealing indeed.