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The Shack

5201 Folsom Blvd.
Sacramento, CA 95819

(916) 457-5997

I used to drive past the Sub Shack often, uncertain about what lay within but in some way discouraged by the “Kings eat free!” sign outside. (Do NBA players really need a free meal?) Now the sign is gone, and the restaurant has undergone some other alterations as well: a name change (it’s now just The Shack); a colorful sprucing up on the outside; and the addition of a very likeable wine list full of well-priced and interesting by-the-glass selections, many from up-and-coming European regions. (You can also order inexpensive tastes.) But the biggest and best of these changes is breakfast, served every day starting at 8 a.m.

Traditionalists, take heart. The new owner, Gary Sleppy, hasn’t changed everything. The interior is still old-school, the faded plastic sign outside remains, and there are historic photos hanging within; indeed, he’s adding to the collection. As I sat at the bar waiting (but not long) for my sandwich the other day, he was there too, enjoying a beer and pointing out a photo he’d just picked up, of K Street in the ’60s, to another customer. (Is it just my imagination, or are Sacramento restaurants unusually rich in historic photos? I always enjoy looking at them, because I’m that kind of a geek.)

The lunch subs, too, remain old-school: a little too much so in the case of my meatball sub, which had some microwave-puckered cheese and savory but generic-tasting meatballs. The tomato sauce was a little salty but quite tasty otherwise. The restaurant is still using what look like much-Xeroxed paper menus, with outdated specials or no-longer-available items crossed out. Standbys like turkey and roast beef come with the usual condiments, on a 6-inch or 8-inch roll.

The turkey sub was set apart from the crowd by featuring thick chunks of actual roasted turkey, including some of the more flavorful, moister dark meat. That’s a turkey sandwich I’d order again; I don’t especially like white meat, and I get tired of seeing it on every sandwich.

The sandwiches are perfectly pleasant, and the Shack seems to be doing a brisk lunch business in both the sit-down and takeout trade, but what I really like there is the breakfast. It’s somewhere between diner breakfast and upscale brunch, and it incorporates the best elements of both: on the one hand, big portions and low prices; on the other hand, excellent food quality, inventive items and a lack of gut-busting greasiness.

We arrived for breakfast in the first wave, right at 8 a.m., along with all the other parents. (When your child awakens you at 6 a.m., breakfast at 8 a.m. qualifies as a late Sunday brunch.) The Shack has a high chair with a tray. That’s the kind of thing I never noticed before, but now it seems like a touch of luxury. There’s only one of them, so if you’re going with a baby, you’d best arrive early. In any case, getting there early guarantees booth seating and fairly quick service.

I loved the Guinness corned-beef hash, which was ultra-crunchy on the outside and perfectly cooked to a deep mahogany brown, served with eggs. Its saltiness, combined with the super crunch, threatened to shred the inside of the mouth a bit, but any moderate pain was worth it for the savory flavor and the tender, slightly fatty meat within. The flavor had a rounded depth I assume is attributable to the Guinness.

It was plenty of food, but I still kept poaching from my daughter’s pancake. We asked for a short stack of two, but the server looked at the baby and asked if we’d like just one pancake. It was a good suggestion, because it was plate-sized and as thick as my thumb, fluffy and nicely browned and yummy. She ate plenty, but my husband and I both helped. I couldn’t quite wrap my head around the notion of a full stack, which would be an astounding carb fest.

My husband got a version of eggs Benedict, which the menu called a Jenny Bene, that came with spinach and tomatoes (our breakfast predated the great spinach recall). The hollandaise was mild rather than sharply lemony, and very smooth, and the vegetables lightened the dish somewhat. That was more of a hit with me than with him; he said he missed the Canadian bacon just a little. I would have thought the delicious home fries, with strands of peppers and onions, might have made up for it.

The usual breakfast beverages are available. The coffee is strong and pretty tasty, but the orange juice comes from Tropicana rather than being freshly squeezed. Nevertheless, I think you could get a mighty good mimosa made from one of the several sparkling wines on the list. The Shack is also doing dinners with wine pairings on Thursday nights, and there are plans to add dinner. The breakfasts, though, are plenty good enough for me—a reason to visit this casual neighborhood favorite that has been slightly elevated without losing its essential character.