After more than a decade, Evan’s Kitchen still satisfies
By Greg Sabin
The term “family restaurant” does not come with many positive connotations. When I hear the term, I think of national chains that do more reheating than cooking. I think of places that serve conspicuously inexpensive steaks, consider chopped iceberg lettuce a salad and have a signature sauce that is invariably one ingredient away from Thousand Island dressing.
I don’t disparage these places, mind you. They have their place on the dining scene. They’re cheap, accessible and nearly always open. They’re safe bets for the pickiest eater in your family, and they’ll usually serve you more food than you can eat at one sitting.
But when I hear a restaurant with a long and considerable reputation referred to as a family restaurant, it gives me pause. Am I being too judgmental? Should I widen my expectations of what a family restaurant can be? Or is the description just not applicable?
When it comes to Evan’s Kitchen and Catering, the answer might be “yes” to all three questions.
The restaurant, opened in 2004 by local chef Evan Elsberry, sets new standards for what a family restaurant can be. Located in a nondescript storefront in East Sacramento’s 57th Street Antique Mall, it looks simple from the outside, but the food is delivered with skill, care and a touch of panache.
The most popular items on the menu are familiar American dishes without pretension. They’re served on plain white dishes alongside sturdy, simple flatware. The napkins are cloth.
Let’s start with breakfast. If you like anything smothered in gravy, get it. The gravy is made from scratch and undeniably bad for your health.
Unlike most short-order places that “craft” their gravy from a powdered mix, Evan’s Kitchen serves layered, fennel-rich sausage gravy that you’ll remember.
Or grab a stack of pancakes with real maple syrup. No fake stuff here. Want something a little different? Try Lauren’s Southwestern Benny, a pumped-up eggs Benedict featuring corncakes, roasted pasilla chile and chipotle hollandaise. Each house-made component is a spot-on execution. There’s no doubt that the folks in the kitchen know what they’re doing and care enough to do it.
For lunch, there are no surprises. Sandwiches, burgers and salads dominate the menu. But each offering is, again, much better than you expect.
A grilled seafood salad with prawns, scallops and salmon for $14.75 is not only a good value but a lovely lunch. A burger topped with a bucket-load of fried onion strings is probably big enough for two.
The steak sandwich and prime rib sandwich both belong in the pantheon of local steak sandos. Evan’s offerings stand toe to toe with those of local favorites Jamie’s Broadway Grille and Club Pheasant. In fact, these restaurants share more than just a good sandwich; they feel like they’re cut from the same cloth.
The dinner menu spans three pages and includes more choices than you can comfortably get your head around. But the midweek prime rib special has to be the best dining bargain in town. For $19.99, you get soup or salad to start, a petite slice of prime rib with sides of indulgent sour cream mashed potatoes and vegetables, and dessert. Each element of the meal is skillfully handled and satisfyingly old-fashioned.
If prime rib isn’t your style, then a host of pasta dishes, including impressive seafood pasta, might work for you. Or if you skipped breakfast and don’t plan on eating again this year, the chicken-fried steak smothered in gravy might be right up your alley.
Rare finds like Italian pot roast and prosciutto-wrapped scallops also hit the mark. As with all the entrees, portions are hearty and won’t leave you wanting. If you somehow have room, desserts are also simple and excellent. Evan’s Kitchen puts out some of the best apple pie this side of Apple Hill. And lastly, if you happen to be at Evan’s on Friday, the weekly clam chowder is one of the best in town and shouldn’t be missed.
Whether you call it a family restaurant or not, whether you’re looking for something upscale or down-home, Evan’s will hit you in the right spot: the stomach.
Greg Sabin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.