The new bar in the old TownHouse Lounge dishes up deep-fried retro cool
Sacramento, CA 95814
Sacramento residents don’t always embrace change in their businesses—especially those that have been around for a while. So when someone bought the TownHouse Lounge in Midtown recently, it caused all kinds of online kerfuffle.
Now, the fuss seems to have died down—a good thing, because the new iteration, the Starlite Lounge, exudes some perfect Sacramento vibes.
While I never actually frequented the TownHouse, word is that it was dark and a possible health hazard. The Starlite is newly painted and kitsched up with midcentury modern details, like chrome barstools and a giant metal starburst sculpture that dominates one wall. There’s also a cool blue pool table and, appropriately, an extremely diverse mix of tunes—from Sinatra to Gaga—make up the jukebox soundtrack.
The food, meanwhile, is made by chefs Keith Breedlove and Janine Bills of Papa Dale’s Drivin’ Diner food truck. They’ve partnered with Starlite owner and manager Shannon Cannon to form a permanent pop-up restaurant comprising selections from the diner’s mobile menu (check www.facebook.com/papadalesdiner/notes for weekly menus).
Listed as “Old school comfort food with love, care and a modernist touch” on its website, Papa Dale’s food is classic pub grub with 21st-century updates. As an alumnus of Tex Wasabi’s and Johnny Garlic’s, chef Breedlove likes his fryer and sauces.
Almost everything on the menu is either fried or accompanied by a creamy sauce, which makes for a heavy meal, but also makes for perfect bar food. The What a Pickle appetizer, for example, comprises cornmeal-dusted pickle chips served with a garlic-dill dip. The chips are perfectly fried and great with drinks, with or without the dip. The Tara-Dactyl Wings are three chicken drumsticks that have been slow-cooked and brick-seared. This translates to moist, flavorful meat, with not a hint of grease. The cherry-chipotle sauce that accompanies it is a bit thick, but makes for an interesting combo of spicy and sweet.
Diners can also order fried onion rings, two kinds of french fries (the ones with blue cheese and barbecue sauce are tasty), fried mac-and-cheese balls, and crispy “chokey” hearts.
Under a menu list titled “Oh Face Bowls,” diners can order a sizable macaroni-and-cheese dish that comes cleverly topped with Goldfish crackers. The menu describes it as a “silky 5 cheese sauce,” but it seems to be primarily Velveeta-based. Nothing wrong with that: It’s classic ’50s style and goes well with the twisty cavatappi pasta.
The smoked-chicken gumbo is a flour-based version that runs a bit thick and lacks the smokiness of a New Orleans-styled stew, but a splash of vinegar and hot sauce liven up the flavor.
The chefs also have devised a (fried) egg roll named for the band, Reverend Horton Heat, filled with pastrami, pickles and Swiss cheese, with whiskey sauce. The Reverend would surely approve of all the beef on the menu, too. There are three burgers and a tri-tip listed, and often, there are other meaty munchies on special.
The Oh! That’s a Burger is half-pound of juicy beef, served with cheddar cheese, thick-cut bacon, barbecue sauce and an onion ring. It’s a Dagwood-style sandwich that’s hard to get your mouth around—but do your best. The bun holds up well to squashing it all down, and the flavors come together deliciously. The Famous Big Papa with tri-tip, drunken onions, Swiss cheese and Zing! sauce is even better, with tender meat and high-flavor garnishes.
The food truck occasionally parks in front of the Starlite for a mobile lunch, so check the Papa Dale’s website (www.thedinertruck.com) for daily offerings, but don’t skip the offerings inside. They’re just right with a side of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer.