Founded in 1934 by Jim Van Nort, Jim-Denny's serves up diner classics throughout the morning and afternoon. In the morning, cooks flip loaded omelets and griddle-fry 13-inch "hubcap" pancakes, which Man v. Food host Adam Richman appreciatively described as "UFO-sized" in an episode spotlighting the eatery.
As morning turns to afternoon, the menu shifts to jumbo chili-cheese dogs, tuna melts, and burgers so heavy they can be traded for salt to 18th-century Atlantic traders. Patrons can customize their burgers with toppings such as bacon, avocado, or peanut butter, but they're sumptuous on their own. According to Jim-Denny's owners, 70 years of sizzling meats on their grill has left it with a mellow flavor that infuses the patties with extra oomph.
For the most part, Gatsby's Diner looks nothing like the Japanese restaurant it replaced. Jazz Age art now covers the walls, and tunes by Cab Calloway and Tommy Dorsey complete a laid-back mood. But founders Chuck Caplener and Jared Nuttall kept one detail from the building's past: the teppanyaki grills in the middle of the dining room. That's where Gatsby's cooks sear the burgers that Sactown Magazine praised as "perfect." What draws out such admiration? Seasoned beef and seasonal fixings such as fire-roasted jalapenos and house-made barbecue sauce.
Back in the kitchen, the culinary team crafts more complex dishes—dishes that hooked the attention of Guy Fieri on the Food Network's Diners, Drive-ins and Dives. The bone-in pork chops, for instance, take flavor from a vanilla-bean brine before soaking up coffee-bean smoke. And this complexity runs throughout the diner's signature dishes: house-made meatloaf smothered in red-wine mushroom gravy, par-boiled beets sandwiched into sliders. To accompany these riffs on American comfort food, cooks hand-spin three milkshake flavors one at a time in order to keep their embarrassing third arms hidden.
“My plan is to own a bakery,” LaThomas Holmes says to a videographer, breaking into a smile as she recounts the compliments her pies and cakes have earned. Before LaThomas got to Plates Café and Catering, that dream was far from her reality. Like the other women at Plates, LaThomas is part of a 90-day program that teaches food-service skills to mothers experiencing homelessness, bringing them closer to self-sufficiency. The restaurant is run by St. John’s Shelter Program for Women and Children, which realized that its clients don’t just need housing—they need employable skills that will help them keep that housing. The shelter’s innovative response to this need, a training-oriented restaurant, has become a media-buzz magnet, earning televised praise from Good Day Sacramento and KVIE’s Rob on the Road and glowing printed words from the State Hornet and Sacramento Business Journal.
These profiles of Plates don’t just express admiration for the eatery’s mission; they also extol the deliciousness of its food. Though it prioritizes its social mission, Plates hasn’t neglected the art of crafting breakfasts and lunches from ingredients such as honey-roasted bacon, basil aioli, and pineapple chutney. Those desserts that bakery-destined LaThomas has perfected? They range from maple-pecan bread pudding to bittersweet chocolate Kahlua cake. The feasts arrive in a dining room that used to be a commissary for the US Army Depot, now redecorated in cheery shades of magenta and yellow. Plates doesn’t yet serve dinner in the dining room, but it does cater evening feasts, as well as earlier breakfasts, salad bars, and buffet lunches. Catered entrees rely on ingredients from local growers who engage in organic and sustainable practices, reflecting a commitment to the environment also seen in Plates’ biocompostable flatware, plates, and cups, which save diners the hassle of bringing their own pitchforks.
The fact that The Porch Restaurant and Bar uses cast-iron skillets and mason-jar drinking glasses doesn't mean that it's limited to Southern traditions. Sure, shrimp po'boys and buttermilk-fried chicken might share plate space with a stuffed sweet potato overflowing with sweet corn, but the restaurant sources most of its ingredients—including cage-free organic eggs and rice—from local California producers. What results is a gourmet mix that ranges from Tuscaloosa-style fried-green tomatoes to grilled brie with a balsamic-honey reduction.
The restaurant itself also refuses to conform to expectations. Occupying a building that once housed a Cajun restaurant, the eatery, according to Sacramento Magazine's Kira O'Donnell, has made a "stunning transformation of the former space." The airy dining room's wood floors and floral arrangements give way to views of an open kitchen. And, keeping true to its name and guiding theme, a porch surrounded by white columns gives diners an open-air space where they can savor their Southern dishes and banjo-duel over the last piece of cornbread.
Sandra Dee has been a chef since she was 9, when she first helped her mother and grandmother—both accomplished home cooks—create zesty creole recipes for their Sunday get-togethers. Today, she continues that familial spirit, running the kitchen of her own barbecue restaurant with help from her husband, Jeffrey, their sons and daughters, and one nephew. Within her brick walls, covered on the outside with murals of jazz legends such as Etta James, Sandra Dee slow cooks barbecued beef tri-tips, pork loin, chicken, beef links, and other meats, flips barbecued veggie burgers, deep-fries catfish, and serves up sides of potato salad and hush puppies. To wash down savory bites, tenders pour beer, wine, and specialty cocktails, such as the mojito and Old Fashion Manhattan—a mix of bourbon and sweet vermouth that still occasionally wears pantaloons.