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Pocket restaurant serves Caribbean feast with Bronx accent
By Greg Sabin
When restaurant partners Chris Sinclair, Raphael Jimenez Rivera and Matt Brown created Bodega, they wanted an East Coast feel with Caribbean flair. It’s a taste of home they can share with their West Coast neighborhood.
“In New York and New Jersey you can get Puerto Rican food, Caribbean food almost everywhere,” Sinclair tells me. “It’s as common as tacos are out here on the West Coast.”
The neighborhood approves. The reception has been stellar since Bodega’s August opening. Diners come from around the corner and across the region to visit the Pocket shopping center where the restaurant sits.
Despite rave reviews, Sinclair thinks of Bodega as a humble neighborhood bar and family restaurant. “Two of the three owners live in the neighborhood, and all of us have kids,” he says. “We want neighbors to come out for a lively dinner, families to come over after the soccer game, and everything in between.”
The menu runs from upscale to family friendly. The burger is perfect for kids, with two slider patties, shredded lettuce and American cheese. It’s done with expertise but without pretense.
At the other end of the spectrum, the pan-fried prawns, served head-on in spicy butter sauce, sit elegantly atop a pillow of sweet potato and plantain puree. It’s worth ordering twice.
“The Cubano sandwich is one of our most popular dishes,” Sinclair says. “But, the jerk wings and mussels in coconut milk have a lot of fans as well.”
The menu is tight and focused. Sinclair tells me specials stay seasonal and keep the kitchen entertained. Empanadas are always available, especially in the morning, when one can sit at the bar and have a fresh Cuban coffee or cappuccino.
Hours are 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., Wednesday through Sunday, with happy hour and dinner on Mondays. Sinclair says they open earlier or stay open later if the vibe is right. Flexibility is in the cards.
Sinclair owns a bottle shop in town, and his extensive knowledge of spirits and cocktails informs Bodega’s bar. Ingredients such as house-blended bitters, charred cinnamon and smoked ice highlight a tight lineup of creative cocktails.
The West Indies Sour combines cognac, red wine and allspice liqueur to create a Caribbean sip. The rum and cola brings together aged dry rum, cola syrup, champagne, bitters and lime in a way that goes beyond the two-ingredient mix we’ve had too many of at some point.
Beyond the bar list, Bodega is ideal for pop-ups and special events. In December, the team plans to host a Coquito contest. Coquito is Puerto Rican coconut eggnog and sounds like a perfect addition to the holiday beverage list.
In November, Bodega hosted a bartending flair competition with the local J.J. Pfister Distilling Company. The event mixed juggling and cocktail experts with juggling beginners and cocktail amateurs to haphazard but joyful results.
It feels like much of what the Bodega team is up to qualifies as tongue-in-cheek. The vibe is fun, silly and welcoming. But the skill in the kitchen is serious, producing some of the most vibrant dishes in town.
With the loss of longtime favorite Celestin’s, Bodega fills the void for those who seek homey Caribbean flavors and the emotional warmth they provide. I’ll be thrilled to hang out at Bodega for years to come.
Bodega is at 6401 Riverside Blvd.; (916) 898-2231; bodegasac.com.
Greg Sabin can be reached at email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.