No slam dunk
Center Court with C-Webb3600 N. Freeway Blvd.
Sacramento, CA 95834
A themed restaurant like Center Court with C-Webb sets up a reviewer’s dilemma: To pun or not to pun? The restaurant is practically begging for one to say that it’s a slam dunk, it’s fouled out or it’s got game. But that’s predictable, isn’t it? I mean, the whole restaurant is a giant pun already: the sunken main dining room is a mini center court, complete with hardwood floors, nets at either end and a four-sided scoreboard sporting a few of the restaurant’s countless TVs over the middle.
Basketball is everywhere at the restaurant, though I saw no sign of C-Webb himself (I understand he’s busy at the moment, playing ball for a totally different team). There are signed, framed letters to the eponymous host, tables lacquered over with collages of basketball stars, framed jerseys, quotes from hoops greats and so on. We actually sat on the rather hip, sleek patio, which is about as pleasant as a patio that directly faces a Target can be.
The menu items’ names, at least some of them, succumb to the punning temptation. My cocktail, an orange mojito, was the “traveler”—other things are named for various stars. There’s also an “arena dog” and the daunting “tailgater.” At $99, it’s a table’s worth of food for six, featuring a flock of fried chickens, ribs and more. The menu is also notably heavy on stats, as if it were some kind of courtside program. Things are quantified in ounces (like the slightly scary Fab 5 burger, which weighs in at 44 ounces) and tend to be sized to feed professional athletes.
Given the food’s hugeness, it is a bit of a disappointment to find that the drinks were on the small side. I liked the flavor of my husband’s margarita, which was made with fresh lime juice, but it was shy on the booze and a touch watery. My orange mojito tasted a little too much like that orange-oil cleanser smells and the mint flavor was understated, but it at least lacked the wateriness. Still, I expect a little more from cocktails that come at $9 a pop. The restaurant also has a fairly appealing, if middle-of-the-road, wine list, with respectable if not exciting choices.
That statement defines the food, too. Practically everything on the menu seemed to be described as “housemade,” and, indeed, most of it seemed fresh. It’s a cut above—and more ambitious than—your average sports-bar food. Given that the proprietor’s early complaints about life in Sacramento centered on the lack of good soul food, I was really hoping for a strong streak of it in the cooking. There are touches of it—fried chicken here, baby-back ribs there—but all in all this is straight-up, mass-market fare. Spinach and artichoke dip, tostada salad, steaks, meatloaf, pizzas and bunches of burgers outnumber catfish po’ boys and the like about 10 to one.
A contemporary-restaurant basic like fried calamari got good treatment. Nicely seasoned with plenty of salt and pepper, it came with a creamy, slightly-too-sweet Southeast Asian-flavored sauce (my guess: it was sweet chili sauce mixed with mayo). The floury breading on the calamari was light and crispy and the meat within was extra tender.
My house salad was also nicely prepared, with a very light balsamic dressing and lots of different, flavorful greens. For a side salad, however, it was enormous.
After the promising start of the appetizers, the entrees were a little disappointing. My husband’s fried half-chicken was tender and juicy, with nicely fried breading, but the coating was low on flavor. Adding spices would have been a major improvement. Mashed potatoes were nicely homemade-tasting, but the gravy was salty, bland and one-note.
I had a trio of sliders from the sandwich section of the menu. They arrived in a cute little row, each speared with a cornichon and a cherry tomato, accompanied by garlic fries. They were the smallest thing I’d seen at the restaurant, but, alas, their good looks were not uniformly matched by their flavors. On the dry side, the little bread rolls seemed past their prime. A mini salmon cake with remoulade was mushy and fishy. The miniature burger with caramelized onions and blue cheese needed more of both of the latter, not to mention a less puck-like burger. The best of the lot was the pulled pork, which was stuffed full of the saucy but mild pork, as well as some crispy little onion rings. The garlic fries were unremarkable; I’d have liked more of the parsley-garlic mixture.
Dessert seemed unnecessary, but the dessert menu is really a sight to behold. It reads like the invention of a sugar-deprived 8-year-old, with brownie sundaes, a “big drumstick ice cream sandwich,” a banana split and more. We succumbed helplessly to the “C-Webb Attack,” which was like some kind of demented trifle: In a big glass, it had layers of chocolate cookies (Oreos, I think), caramel sauce and a rather soupy milk-chocolate mousse, plus cream. The best defense being a vigorous offense, we ate it, but the sugar overload was kind of astounding. I also ordered an espresso, but it arrived as a cappuccino. I didn’t want to complain to the sweet and peppy server (who, in any event, tended to disappear for longish stretches), so I went with it.
Center Court isn’t really about what you actually eat. It’s about finding a way to pack in calories while you’re watching a game, which you can’t help but do. There’s even a TV in the women’s bathroom, lest you miss a moment while washing your hands. Unfortunately, those of us who aren’t athletes really don’t need quite that much carb-loading.