Playful menu, nerdy delights
Sacramento, CA 95814
Playfulness is definitely the emphasis at Culinerdy Kitchen, which means sometimes tasty takes second place to fun.
At least that’s what I thought after ordering the Cowboy Mac & Cheese ($13). The bowl of oversized fusilli noodles mixed with sticky cheddar and Parmesan sauce lacked flavor, and the mound of juicy pulled pork, barbecue sauce, crispy onions and Goldfish crackers didn’t help. With the addition of roasted tomatoes from the “Nerdy Slaw,” it reminded me of the tomato mac my mom used to make, corrupted by my younger brother’s gleeful alterations. Playful, yes. Yummy? No.
Culinerdy Kitchen started out as the Culinerdy Cruzer food truck, but now it’s parked and the modest-sized downtown restaurant has been serving its American staples since June. Board games, sci-fi books and pop culture nerd memorabilia, such as comic books, decorate the tabletops. It’s clear that celebrity chef Keith Breedlove, who has made appearances on Food Network cooking shows, including Cutthroat Kitchen and Guy’s Grocery Games, wants the vibe to be welcoming and family friendly.
The staff are personable yet professional, patiently helping people like me, who managed to read the menu wrong. I thought Culinerdy offered three main dishes: Mac & Cheese ($13), Burger ($14) and Grilled Cheese ($13)—which it does—with each entrée having three options to “style it up.” Turns out, all three entrées can be styled with any of the 10 different choices. It’s a choose-your-own adventure menu. “Things just got interesting,” I joked with the waitress.
Mac & Cheese mishaps were quickly forgotten when out came the Dammit Jim burger with a side of roasted Brussels sprouts drizzled with a balsamic glaze ($2 extra). The juicy burger oozed bourbon blue cheese and zesty comeback sauce. Giant strips of perfectly fried bacon stuck out haphazardly from every side and the crunchy Nerdy Slaw (red and green cabbage, kale and roasted tomatoes) dripped onto my hands with every delicious bite. The sprouts were cooked a little uneven, but the combination of char and balsamic was lip-smacking goodness.
Friends ordered the Thai-Peanut & Bacon burger (peanut butter, Sriracha and comeback sauce), which surprised with its sweet, slow heat, though I wasn’t totally sure why bacon was invited to the party. Not one to ever leave a grilled cheese uneaten, I hogged all of the Cubano with pulled pork, sliced pastrami, swiss, mustard, pickles and mojo—a bright, citrusy garlic sauce. The tang of mustard and gooey cheese was too appetizing to share.
Culinerdy Kitchen also offers four plant-based burgers ($14 each) and if the others are as fantastic as the Dirty Hippy, then future visits are a must. The patty consists of chunks of mushrooms, farro, roasted onions, oats, tomato and black beans, topped with sheaths of green chile, onion, garlic hummus and arugula. Super messy and in need of extra hands, the sharp clash of savory mushroom with garlicky, vinegary vegetables electrifies taste buds. I also highly recommend the binge-worthy Dirty Fries (garlic, onion, green chile, cotija and slaw) to go with the Dirty Hippy.
The burgers and sandwiches at Culinerdy Kitchen hit that sweet spot of playful without forgetting that fun food should also taste good. But leave the Mac & Cheese for your kid brother.