Brewing coffee at home is a crapshoot of ratios, freshness, and equipment. Instead of waking up to smell the home-brewed coffee, start leaping out of bed in a streaking sprint to the Coffee Garden to expose your nostrils and fuzzy slippers to the flowerful fragrance of roasted bean juice. Perk up in the midmorning sun amid a potted jungle of greenery on the back patio with a signature cup of coffee ($1.50 for 12 oz.) or an indulgent mocha ($3.25 for 12 oz.). When high noon hangs above, halt sweat beads in their browed beginnings with an iceberg's worth of iced tea ($2.25 for 24 oz.) or a cold café au lait $3.50 for 24 oz.).
“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.
Cuisine Type: Coffee, smoothies, and Vietnamese dessert tea
Most popular offering: Boba, pearls, tapioca
Reservations: Not offered
Delivery / Take-out Available: Yes
Number of Tables: 1–5
Outdoor Seating: Yes
Parking: Parking lot
Handicap Accessible: Yes
BAMBU Desserts and Drinks showcases an eclectic menu of beverages and sweets from across Asia, featuring everything from milk teas with tapioca bubbles to cups of chilled pandan and grass jelly. Baristas complement the cool treats with hot teas, espresso drinks, and coffees blended with chocolate and chilled, chai-flavored beverages. The store's manager says that every item on the menu is customizable to a person's tastes, and invites guests to "Talk to us. We will ... modify and master your order each time you come back."
Espresso Metro's homey lounge space has something of a do-it-yourself feel, meaning you won't find the predictably replicated furniture of coffee chains. The owners have honed their aesthetic sense since 1988, and their eclectic collection of mismatched chairs that circle each table grants a good view of a hand-painted mural that runs the length of the counter. The mural depicts abstract figures with elongated arms folded over their heads, because they haven't had their morning coffee yet. But the baristas are as serious about their coffee as they are playful about their decor, evidenced by a sleek La San Marco espresso machine and its neighboring burr grinders, each filled to the top with beans. On any given day, the bakery counter might showcase freshly baked cookies, lemon cake, or croissants. These pair well with lattes with such foam art as hearts, bunnies, and lips.
Rivers Edge Cafe aims to put a spin on the traditional, Americana-steeped diner by creating a casual neighborhood eatery that serves slightly more imaginative versions of otherwise familiar comfort foods. Tempting diners with the opportunity to enjoy three meals a day, the chefs begin each morning by cooking a number of breakfast staples. Buttermilk pancakes and country fried steak are classics, but they also cook omelets using three farm-fresh eggs and everything from artichoke hearts and kalamata olives to smoked salmon and capers. They even update the traditional side of hash browns by creating a version stuffed with bacon, sour cream, and cheddar cheese. As the sun begins to set, the cafe serves its selection of hearty, home-style dinner entrees, including housemade meatloaf flavored with garlic, onions, and green bell peppers, and penne pasta tossed with crisp vegetables, shrimp, and a balsamic glaze.
Much like its menu, Rivers Edge Cafe's dining room exudes a decidedly casual vibe that is more reminiscent of a bistro than a diner. Gleaming wooden tables and low-backed booths fill the dark floors, which still manage to catch the light streaming through the walls of floor-to-ceiling windows. Tulip-shaped pendant lamps hang above a few of the tables, but, as night falls, the ceiling fans' lights help keep the space illuminated as they lazily spin above patrons' heads and keep guests cool as they sip on one of the available craft beers or wines imported from the future.
At multiple locations throughout the Sacramento area—including the newest one downtown—the chefs at Perko's Cafe are busy cracking fresh ranch eggs into omelets, skillets, and scrambles featuring ingredients such as portuguese linguiça or hickory-smoked ham. They turn hand-cut, marinated steaks into tri-tip sandwiches au jus, and they build towering double-decker burgers whose half-pound ground-beef patties teeter with cheese, lettuce, tomato, and thousand-island dressing. To match the beef- and barbecue-filled menu, many of the welcoming dining rooms have a decidedly Southwestern feel, with corrugated-tin accents, old-timey tools, and booth dividers that resemble a black-and-white cow or an incredibly complex inkblot test.