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Bring Your Appetite
Small burger stand opens new outlet in Sacramento
By Greg Sabin
Jose Silva has a thing for burgers. “If we can put it on a bun, we’ll serve it,” says Silva, owner of Flaming Grill Café. Whether it’s sirloin, chuck, bison, ostrich, elk, alligator, carnitas or ahi tuna, you’ll find it on the menu at one of Silva’s three locations.
Chef and owner, Silva has spent the majority of his life, almost 35 years, in the kitchen. Starting out washing dishes at age 13, he steadily worked his way through a variety of Sacramento restaurants, finally giving up the game a dozen years ago. But like a professional athlete who just can’t hang up the cleats, Silva found himself back on the field when he stumbled upon an opportunity to buy up an awkward little food stand on El Camino Avenue. Less than one year into his sabbatical and he was back at the grill, the only difference this time was that it was his grill.
The menu has more options than just burgers, but who are we kidding, burgers are what we’re here for. And those burgers come in more shapes, sizes and species than just about any place you’ve seen. Flaming Grill Cafe serves buffalo, ostrich, sirloin, Wagyu, elk, venison, calamari and more. Top it with pastrami, top it with onion rings, top it with avocado, top it with all of the above until your toppings have gone over the top.
Now sure, you hear a litany of ingredients and different animals, and think this must be some gimmicky food. But that’s where you’re wrong. Despite the exotic meats, you only need to take one bite to realize that Silva and his team have thoughtfully and expertly put together everything on the plate. They’ve chosen every piece of the meal with care and haven’t skimped on the little things.
Many of the burgers are ground in-house, and absolutely nailed on the grill to the preferred doneness. On a recent trip I sampled a wild boar burger with swiss cheese and mushrooms, and found the flavors exceptional. My mother, traditionally not a burger consumer, couldn’t stop gushing about her perfectly done bacon cheeseburger with house-ground sirloin. Heck, she was even impressed by the dressing on the side salad.
That was 12 years ago. Today he has three area restaurants in West Sacramento, Elk Grove and his most recent at County Club Plaza in Sacramento. This new outlet takes the place of that original funky food stand that was a neighborhood favorite. There comes a time when you inevitably outgrow a small and rather impractical space, and look for an opportunity to expand.
The Country Club Plaza location is ideally situated next to the mall’s new movie theaters. It provides three times the seating as the old El Camino location and has a comfy bar at which to enjoy one of Flaming Grill’s many beers.
When it comes to the “beer boom,” Flaming Grill was well ahead of the curve. Back when you could count the number of local breweries on one hand, Flaming Grill shipped in specialty beers from all over America, introducing its clientele to beers they could get almost nowhere else locally.
These days, Flaming Grill has a girthy selection of mostly local beers rotating frequently at all three locations. A quick peek at the beer list and you’ll see offerings from Mraz, Moksa, Alaro, Crooked Lane, Jackrabbit and too many more to name. Silva and crew do an impressive job to stand out in a now crowded field of beer bars, breweries and beer-focused outlets of one sort or another. Of course, standing out is easier when you serve burgers that are recognized as some of the best in Northern California.
Move on to the rest of the menu and find yourself torn between the ahi tuna burger—a beautifully seared and heavily seasoned piece of fresh fish on a light, flaky, volleyball-size bun, topped with shredded red cabbage and marinated cucumbers—and carne asada fries, a must-have for anyone who loves Mexican-American cooking and has a football-size hole in their stomach.Seriously, the portions are generous. Very generous. Bring your appetite.
And, I almost hesitate to write this for fear of sounding too sappy, be ready to have a wonderful time on top of the fine food. Silva and family run a fine group of restaurants where everyone from server to dishwasher seems to be genuinely happy. Which makes me happy. Which makes the food taste that much better. Which makes me even happier.
Flaming Grill Café is at 2380 Watt Ave. (inside Country Club Plaza) with additional locations in Elk Grove and West Sacramento; flaminggrillcafe.com.
Greg Sabin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.