I’m writing this piece during the heartrending events of late May/early June that have seen a tragic death in Minnesota ignite a storm of outrage that led to peaceful protests nationwide, that led to violent actions blocks from where I write these words. The circling helicopters I can hear are a constant reminder of the fractures of our society, our unmet duties to our neighbors and the love we fail to hold in our hearts for our brothers and sisters.
All that is to say, if this piece seems more fatalistic than normal, you’ll know why. And fatalistic it will be, for this piece is about those restaurants, those community gathering places we have lost. But, not to be too dour, this is also a reminder to treasure those eateries, those centers of community that are still here and make Sacramento one of the most vibrant eating cities in the country.
First thing you should know, I’m writing this in early May. Restaurants have not reopened for on-site dining. Life has not returned to anything resembling normal. And, from this point of view, a few weeks behind your current perspective, it doesn’t look like we’ll be gathering in large crowds anywhere anytime soon.
My friends in the restaurant industry have been hit harder than almost any other group during the pandemic. The well-loved institutions that have stayed open by offering take-out and delivery have done so with skeleton crews and shoestring budgets.
In the early 2000s, local breweries began popping up where no food or drink establishments dared to open before. Light industrial areas, warehouse districts and other commercial spots where rent was cheap and square footage plentiful became destinations for a new generation of brewer.
One of Sacramento’s first such breweries was Track 7 Brewing Company, which opened in 2011. The award-winning beer-maker set up shop in a “roll-up door” strip of industrial shops near the train tracks adjacent to Sacramento City College.
I’ve lived in Sacramento for almost 40 years, so I’ve been to Celestin’s Restaurant. It seems like a fact of life for any long-term diner in this town—if you’ve been around for more than two decades, you’ve eaten at Celestin’s.
You might have dined at the J Street location, where Patrick Celestin and his wife Phoebe held court starting in 1983. That same space became the first home of Kru Contemporary Japanese Cuisine, by the way. If my spatial geography is on point, I believe that same space is now the tiki bar extraordinaire, The Jungle Bird.
Think back to 2006. What do you think Sacramento saw itself as nearly a decade and a half ago? Where did you see Sacramento’s dining scene? Was farm-to-fork even on your radar?
In 2006, Heather Fargo sat as mayor, Kevin Martin led the kings in scoring and Patrick Mulvaney had a clear-eyed vision of what made the dining scene in Sacramento special. He recognized our rich agricultural legacy and year-round seasonal bounty, things we locals took for granted, as unique and something to be celebrated.