Passing the bar (and grill)

A trip down Freeport Boulevard is a study in contrasts. It begins where 19th Street crosses Broadway and becomes Freeport, near the edge of one of the city’s more tony neighborhoods, Land Park. The boulevard meanders past small but opulent tree-shaded homes, Sacramento City College and the park itself before crossing Sutterville Road into a no man’s land of strip malls and fast-food restaurants that extends all the way out to Executive Airport. Past the airport, the businesses give way first to open space and then to the modest homes that form south Sacramento’s western border. Despite the constantly shifting landscape, nothing really prepares you for the change that occurs when Freeport crosses Meadow-view/Pocket Road.

Quite suddenly, you’re not in Sacramento anymore.

Freeport Boulevard becomes Highway 160; it crosses beneath I-5 and passes a huge silver water tank that squats next to the interstate like a pregnant UFO mothership before tunneling through a grove of trees next to the Sacramento River levee. It arrives at a large clearing where a sign informs you that you’ve arrived in Freeport, Gateway to the Delta, where the bait shops outnumber the grocery stores three to none. You’re dealing with bank anglers and the marina crowd now—hungry fishermen, thirsty boat-people and sunburned tourists, and that can mean only one thing: a bar and grill must be nearby. Sure enough, there it is—the Freeport Bar & Grill, a cozy-looking place set back off the east side of the road.

The bar and grill lives in the Sacramento Delta, thanks to the aforementioned built-in clientele. No need to ask if that’s a full “bar” and grill. They serve bourbon in pitchers at these places. Not really. But they have bourbon. And they have meat and potatoes. Three years ago, on my last visit, the Freeport Bar & Grill’s specialties were rotisserie chicken and garlic mashed potatoes. Those are still the specialties, and I’m happy to report there’s been a quantitative increase in the quality of the chow during the intervening years.

The place also seems to have become quite popular, and reservations are necessary on weekend nights. My dining companion and I arrived at the prearranged time and were seated promptly, right next to a loud party of eight retirees. We skipped the appetizer and ordered a $16 bottle of merlot to drown out the noise. It was a local vintage, Bogle, from across the river in Clarksburg. I’ll be nice: it tasted like you’d expect a $16 bottle of merlot to taste.

She ordered the barbecued beef ribs and rotisserie-spun half-chicken combination; in keeping with the nautical theme, I chose scampi. Her salad of mixed lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, kidney beans and croutons was fresh. My cup of clam chowder was creamy, clammy, but a little heavy on the celery. A mini-loaf of hot, fresh-baked bread gave us plenty to chew on while we waited for our entrees and discussed whether or not the interior designer had succeeded in creating a homey atmosphere. We decided that the inside of Freeport Bar & Grill feels a little chain-like.

But never mind, because it’s the meat that matters here. When it comes to barbecue, I’m a man of simple standards. Does the meat fall easily off the bone? It does at the Freeport Bar & Grill, more so than any other local barbecue I’ve eaten lately. Absolutely no utensils were required to devour the beefy short ribs. I lifted a chicken drumstick to my mouth and watched as the meat melted off the bone. The only drawback? The barbecue sauce was overly mild.

The scampi also scored well, with five perfectly cooked large shellfish resting on a bed of al dente angel hair smothered with garlic, butter and chopped green onion. Also making the grade this time out were the mashed potatoes, whipped fluffy light with garlic and butter and served hot.

We finished with a gut-busting dessert of tempura-fried bananas, whipped cream and chocolate sauce. It was just about all we could do to roll out of the place. And that, I believe, is what you want from a good bar and grill.