Margin account

Tuesday night. 7:30 p.m. The Stockmarket is empty. I am staring at replicas of a Pennsylvania Railroad Company bond certificate, circa 1893, and an American Thread Company stock certificate, circa 1900. I look around, half expecting to see Ivy League graduates and their fathers drinking good Scotch. But no one seems to be buying or selling anything, and there’s nary a person in sight. Has capitalism come to a grinding halt? Is the Stockmarket closed? No. Turns out, it’s just a slow weeknight in Sacramento’s Rosemont neighborhood.

How did I get here? Well, anyone who’s traveled along Folsom Boulevard beyond 65th Street knows that the area is not exactly teeming with restaurants. There’s Roma Pizzeria II, a Japanese restaurant or two, a Korean restaurant or two, and maybe a handful of Chinese places. The Stockmarket, just by its name, was a clear standout.

The Stockmarket Lounge and Grill, if you call it by its full name, is a tribute to cozy capitalism at its finest. Wine-colored leather booths and armchairs fill up the dining room. The walls are adorned with framed stock certificates and posters celebrating the stock market’s history. Old bound books of U.S. tax law and dated bric-a-brac sit perched high on a near ceiling-level shelf. The décor is mature, manly, with just a hint of old money. It’s almost guaranteed you’ll feel like a Good Ol’ Boy as soon as you step in.

So what’s a place like this doing on a street like Folsom? And why on earth is there stand-up comedy on Tuesday night? And why is such a restaurant sitting near empty on a weeknight?

According to owner Eric Herlow, who purchased the Stockmarket a few years ago with his wife, Laura, there are answers. Answer One: The Stockmarket is a go-to place for business lunchers in the vicinity, which include insurance people and finance people, predominantly. They need a nice place to take their clients to lunch. Answer Two: Aspiring comics, aka students of local comedian Del Van Dyke, need a place to practice their comedy without a lot of pressure, and the Stockmarket likes to have an added draw on a night when sales are naturally slow. Answer Three: The same lunch people that slam the restaurant at the noon hour almost invariably commute home for dinner. While they might drop in for Happy Hour, they’re not likely to make an evening of it.

One might question whether a restaurant with a theme, a side comedy show, and virtually no competition in the area would serve great food. But the Stockmarket does surprisingly well—so well that they run a business of private parties and banquets on the side.

The menu is a classic American read. Appetizers run toward the fried with jalapeño poppers, tempura-battered shrimp and mozzarella sticks, while salads run toward the classics like Cobb, Shrimp Louie and Caesar. Substantial sandwiches are offered in the $10 range. Entrées like New York steak, grilled rib eye or center-cut pork loin might cost you another paper Lincoln or two.

Of the seven or eight appetizer options, our server recommended the tempura-battered shrimp. Though not quite as tempura-like as expected, the shrimp were exceedingly good. The batter was light and not too greasy, while the shrimp had a nice, firm, delicate flesh. The side Caesars (an extra $2.95) came next: modest portions of fresh romaine lettuce and light crunchy croutons were thoroughly coated with a tangy rendition of Caesar dressing.

So far, so good. The Stockmarket was treating us well. Next, a peppery, medium-rare steak sandwich impressed us with just the right combination of tender, flavorful steak, tangy mayonnaise, bread, lettuce and tomato. The bread could have been a bit fresher, however, and the French fries were on the disappointing side. A seafood pasta presented fresh penne with bay shrimp, bay scallops and large shrimp in a wine garlic sauce. Understated, but a fine execution of fresh ingredients.

If there’s one thing that detracts from dinner at the Stockmarket, it’s a palpable absence of people-watching—a seen-and-be-seen exchange that marks moneyed, or money-themed, establishments. The food is fresh, simple and good. But isn’t part of the point of going out to see other people, watch them eating what you’re eating, and getting some validation that you’re in the right spot? Surely, that’s part of the dining out mystique, no? Without that, you can’t help but feel that you might as well have eaten at home.

My advice? Until the Rosemont neighborhood gets its weeknight dinner act together and eats out for a change, go early or go for lunch. You’ll be a bit less lonely during real market hours.