Sacramento, CA 95811
With all the glass and high ceilings, Sweetwater’s new Midtown digs seem way more expansive than its former five-year home at the original Shakey’s on 57th and J streets. It isn’t; it’s 20 percent smaller. The ceilings, of course, crawl with ducts and pipes since the formerly Fins Market & Grill location is deep inside the city’s apparently mandatory, no-finished-ceiling zone.
Sweetwater offers American food in the most inclusive sense of the word, its menu reflective of this grand melting pot. There are Asian-influenced items, Italian, Creole, Hawaiian, Greek, vegetarian and pescatarian. Not sure what the classification is of beef marinated in homemade Bloody Mary mix, wrapped with tomato and red onion in a tomato flour tortilla. It tags a bunch of bases, not the least of which being taste buds.
First visit: On a blazing August day, a seat next to the window makes me quickly hot and bothered—and not in a good way. Conni, the manager, who is also serving, remarks on the temperature spike. With cool precision, she ticks off her menu’s greatest hits—and hits the mark each time.
Conni brags justifiably about the Caesar, which is a cut above the competition mainly because of the housemade dressing, which isn’t as cloyingly creamy as many Caesars but isn’t as lemony and thin as too many “lite” Caesars.
The romaine is crisp, the crumbled croutons crunchy. With chicken in the mix, the salad is pretty much a meal. Without, any number of appealing appetizers offer excellent accompaniment.
Conni favors the Buffalo meatballs, shrimp pot stickers and Big Easy shrimp. Not grooving on the Buffalo vibe, the $8.95 Big Easy gets the nod. In this case, “Big” is used only in conjunction with “Easy,” not as a description of portion size. Five or so shrimps bob in a shallow pool of bourbon, hot sauce and Worcestershire, a combination in which the garlic seems almost gratuitous. Bread is brought with this dish for a reason.
The Italian sausage, red bell pepper, potato soup—the menu fails to note the carrots and onions—is a hefty, well-entwined collaboration better suited, perhaps, for a gray winter day than inside-the-blast-furnace August.
The $4.95 bowl with Caesar or the anything-but-simple—greens, bleu cheese, almonds—Simple Salad with chicken constitutes a meal. Ask for garlic bread and, for some levity at someone else’s expense, offer it first to your dining companion, who likely won’t notice immediately that the butter is on the outside, thereby turning tearing off a chunk into a riveting spectator sport.
Round two: Ronda without hesitation recommends the Royale Burger over the “classic” and the “Greek.” At $10.95, it’s a couple bucks more than its cohorts, but the fat brick of brie, red onion and tousle of watercress with the hefty Sweetwater-seasoned beef patty is something special.
On the other end of the food spectrum, so is the $12.95 roasted-veggie lasagna. There’s something missing in the ahi poke-tini—“tini” because it’s served in a martini glass. The dish comes with wasabi lime aioli, which seems squandered lying in a squiggle on the rectangular plate the poke-tini presides over. Add red onion to the diced cucumber and bell pepper backbone of the appetizer is my two cents and, as always, worth every penny.
Scoring higher on the seafood scale is the $13.95 shrimp and sausage penne, strongly recommended by Christie. The portion is prodigious—particularly after a not-so-simple salad, even the chickenless kind. The basil-dusted cream sauce complements the sausage and shrimp, which, in turn, are enhanced by bright bits of red pepper. Tragically, the sausage is gone before the shrimp, so the triple threat can’t be enjoyed all the way to empty bowl time.
The bar is long and laden with liquor and lagers on tap. In East Sacramento, Sweetwater was a comfy and comely neighborhood hangout. The tradition lives on in Midtown.