Unrequited love

The Beach Hut Deli

2406 J St.
Sacramento, CA 95816

(916) 442-1400

When the True Love Coffeehouse closed last August, the lamentations were heard throughout Sacramento. The character-filled local institution shut down because of a big rent hike, so the question of what it’s rather dark and burrow-like space would become was an interesting one. The venue may have been just right for a funky place to fuel up on java and listen to live music, but it was hard to figure out who would pay a premium to do business there.

Oddly, the answer turns out to be a surf-themed sandwich shop, The Beach Hut Deli. It’s an outpost of a small local chain (most of its other outlets are in the outer suburbs from Rocklin to El Dorado Hills). Although it’s easy to imagine that a location smack in the heart of Midtown would be good for business, it’s correspondingly difficult to envision a less beach-hut-like spot than the converted True Love.

The Beach Hut Deli has, however, made a game effort to create a coastal mood. There are bamboo-constructed booths, surfboard tables and menu boards, sky-blue paint on the low ceiling, and surf videos playing nonstop on the three TVs. Still, it’s weirdly dark and non-beachy.

Maybe that’s OK, though. Sacramento isn’t exactly a surfing kind of town anyway, which begs the question of why this little chain has decided to pair up the notion of delis and beaches in the first place. All the sandwiches have beach-themed names as well. Some have a loose and moderately clever connection to the content of the sandwich (the Northshore has Canadian ham; the Skinny Dipper is roast beef that comes au jus for dipping). Others just seem forced or nonsensical. What is the connection between a Windsurfer and the fillings of Canadian ham, turkey breast and a choice of cheese? Why do turkey, cream cheese, sunflower seeds, cranberry sauce and sprouts on wheat garner the title Beach Bikini? And what, pray tell, are sunflower seeds doing on a sandwich?

Perhaps I’m just being cranky. The proof of the pudding (or sandwich, as the case may be) is in the eating, not the naming. My mom and I thus stopped in on a recent evening for an early dinner—the only kind you can get at the Beach Hut, since it closes at 8 p.m. The food is clearly more of a lunch kind of thing.

Mom was not a fan of the grinding guitar riffs that accompanied the surf videos, but after some confusion in confronting the long menu’s many sandwich options, we settled in at our surfboard table to tackle our sandwiches. And tackle was definitely the word; it was a good thing we didn’t get them to go, because the ones we tried were definitely best dealt with using a knife and a fork.

The unwieldiness was not a surprise with my sandwich, as I had a hot Beach Meat Ball sub covered in marinara sauce and melted cheese. My mother’s Surfin’ Cow—roast beef, avocado, bacon, cream cheese and the standard fixings of mayo, mustard, tomatoes, lettuce, onions, pickle slices and Greek peppers—also was too overstuffed to pick up effectively, somewhat obviating the point of getting a sandwich. As far as I’m concerned, a prime virtue of the sandwich lies in its portability, and this monster was about as portable as, well, a surfing cow, if such a thing were to exist.

Actually, I’m not really much of a sandwich person—or, rather, I’m quite fussy about them. I’m a picky eater in general, or, as I like to think of it, discriminating. (Now that I’m a restaurant critic, I can probably claim that pickiness as a virtue of sorts, rather than having it simply reveal my inherent princessy-ness.) I hate mayonnaise, I tolerate mustard, and I generally like only a small number of things on any given sandwich.

That’s why I picked a meatball sub. Not only did I want to see how well the Beach Hut’s hot sandwiches came together, but also I knew that by ordering it, I wouldn’t have to go through the long and embarrassing “no mayo, no mustard, no onions” ritual that makes my mom refer to me as “Sally” and comment on how hard it was to pack a lunch for me when I was a kid.

The meatball sub was OK but not great. The bread was a little soft, and the meatballs similarly mushy, but the marinara was zesty, and the cheese was pleasantly gooey. I also got a bag of chips, of which there is a wide selection. My mom’s sandwich, aside from the difficulties in eating it, was pretty good, especially the just-ripe-enough avocados. She also got a side of pasta salad, which had a tangy vinaigrette dressing but was otherwise undistinguished. You’ll also find plenty of beer on tap.

Nearly all the sandwiches on the menu come in small, medium and large sizes (the large big enough to feed that mythical surfing cow), making them a good deal. Perhaps that’s why we saw a veritable parade of paramedics and highway-patrol officers stopping in while we were there. The Beach Hut Deli is a decent place for a cheap lunch or a filling sub, but with its ersatz atmosphere and run-of-the-mill sandwich offerings, it’s hardly likely to become anyone’s true love.