Sandwiches and toffee
Fog Mountain Café1000 I St.
Sacramento, CA 95814
I never went to the old Fog Mountain Café, but I heard great things about the soups and sandwiches, and especially the candy. It closed down with a promise to reopen, and now, at last, chef-owner Eric Harnish has his place up and running, in a spacious if rather featureless room opposite Cesar Chavez Plaza.
The overall impression of the dining area is simple black and white—black tables, white walls—not a lot of fancying up besides a tempting, if hardly overstocked, set of shelves bearing housemade candy to the left of the registers. (You order at the counter and they bring your food by number.) The candy offerings are currently on the small side, but here’s the awesome news: They have free samples of all of them. I can vouch for the chocolate-peanut butter bars and especially for the super English toffee, which has that buttery, breakable texture and a gorgeously nutty, butterscotch flavor. I was less keen on the candied walnuts, which were unfortunately chewy and tasted a touch stale.
The generous sampling carries over to the ordering counter, where, when I went for lunch, tiny paper cups of crab chowder were available to taste. It was pretty good—a little overly thickened—with a fresh, sweet crab flavor, but I ordered spiced pumpkin soup instead, in honor of the season. That was a mistake; the pumpkin soup was oddly textured, at once thickly creamy and fibrous with little flecks of brighter orange in a pallid, sweetly spiced sea. It seemed strangely similar to what would happen if leftover pumpkin pie were turned into soup.
The soup options change often. They, along with big, creative sandwiches and equally big salads are the mainstays of the inexpensive but largely satisfying lunch menu. The sandwiches come with a side dish of the day (a very nice, creamy dollop of buttery elbow macaroni with white cheese sauce on the day we were there), and most of them are hot sandwiches, dolled up with chichi ingredients, like lemon-thyme aioli on the Black Forest ham and cheese, sun-dried tomatoes in the Not-Your-Mom’s Meatloaf (more on that in a minute) or caramelized onions and smoked fontina on the roast beef.
I ordered the meatloaf sandwich, and it was as hearty and non-momlike as promised. The meatloaf was stuffed with oozing jack cheese and a basil leaf as well as those sun-dried tomatoes; the cheese and herb were more successful than the tomatoes, though, which were too big and desiccated to be an easy proposition to chew in the middle of a hefty sandwich. The lightly seasoned, dense meatloaf was good, however, as was the toasted, thick-cut sourdough.
My husband sampled the Noble French Dip, which was a fairly simple French dip sandwich, with the addition of melted cheese and a seeded baguette, plus a nice straightforward jus for dipping (or covert sipping; it tasted like a very good bouillon). He also had a very good (huge) house salad, a real bargain at $2.95: It had fresh mixed greens, various vegetables and a tangy, peppery vinaigrette dressing.
In addition to lunches, Fog Mountain also offers big and distinctive breakfasts, like bread pudding, two types of benedicts (down-home, with sausage gravy and a biscuit, or more uptown and traditional, with ham, gruyere and hollandaise), smoked turkey and spinach frittata, and more, including a daily omelet special. I was drawn to the housemade corned beef hash, but I felt I needed something lighter to start off the day, so I went with the granola with citrus zest and dried cherries. The menu claimed it was housemade, too, but it had what seemed like a stale air of the bulk bin, and the citrus zest and dried cherries were not in evidence (dried-up raisins stood in for the latter). I did like the touch of bringing the milk in a separate glass, so you can add it at the last minute.
Housemade sausage, nubbly and coarse-textured, was a bigger hit—gusty and spicy, sage-scented, porky, and not too greasy, it was delicious with eggs and potatoes. The sliced potatoes were a little greasy and just a touch underdone, however, like campfire fried potatoes—not necessarily bad, but I suspect more parboiling before sautéing would have improved them. The sourdough toast was great, as was the clear, ruby-red, tangy-sweet pomegranate jelly (made in house, like much on the menu). The huge omelet of the day, with artichoke-garlic sausage folded into the eggs and a little too much rubbery cheese, was fine, but nothing special.
Fog Mountain is a friendly place—as the samples might suggest—with a casual, almost cheeky but welcoming staff. Their efforts to make much of the menu in house and to elevate typical workday-lunch sandwich fare, are laudable. Unfortunately, some missteps in the kitchen mean the food itself doesn’t always live up to the menu’s considerable promise, but there are enough hits to make it worth revisiting when you’re in a sandwich frame of mind—or if you want a bag of toffee.