Tower’s a Power
Broadway landmark keeps getting younger
By Greg Sabin
Twenty years ago, I wrote, “Tower Café is the kind of place you take your out-of-town friends to show them Sacramento is cool.” Today the restaurant scene shines much brighter, with culinary gems in every neighborhood.
But there’s still something magical about dining at Tower Café, one of the city’s great outdoor spaces, sheltered by palm fronds and lit by neon from The Tower Theatre’s majestic marquee.
When Tower Café opened in 1990, the “world cuisine” concept was novel. Going to a single restaurant and choosing among curries, tacos and jerk chicken made one feel like Carmen San Diego with a fork and knife.
Now, restaurants are more likely to focus on regional or national cuisines—Nashville hot chicken, Thai street food, Sinaloan home cooking—instead of spanning the globe from the kitchen. Has this forced Tower Café to change? Not a bit.
Emerging from a 16-month COVID shutdown, Tower Café reopened in July without even changing the font on its menus. The dizzying array of globally inspired dishes, the six-continent cocktail list and fully stocked dessert case are all back.
Nearly three-quarters of the employees returned as well, which says everything about the quality of Tower’s management, especially during this time of labor shortages.
Oh, and brunch hasn’t changed one crumb. It’s still the jewel in Tower’s crown.
Head down Broadway on a weekend morning and you’ll probably find a line waiting for Tower’s fabled mid-morning extravaganza. The French toast holds its place as one of the best—somehow fluffy and dense at the same time, sweet without being cloying.
According to good friend and brunch expert Chris Emery, the “Madame Cristo,” a piece of French toast stuffed with bacon and topped with two fried eggs and béchamel sauce, is the $19.50 culinary upgrade for serious brunchers only. You’ve been warned.
Regarding the dinner menu, I’ve spoken to several Tower veterans who rarely order anything but green curry. Food wizard Mike Sampino, from Tower’s neighbor Sampino’s Kitchen at Joe Marty’s, agrees. He’s a fan. And why not? The dish is zingy with spicy heat, luscious with coconut milk and generous in a bowl the size of your head.
Don’t overlook the spinach and ricotta raviolis. For a kitchen that creates food inspired by Thailand, Mexico, Brazil and Jamaica, Tower’s touch with classic Italian cooking is not too shabby. The jumbo raviolis swim in a pesto cream that’s dangerously good. The sautéed spinach and mushrooms holding the dish together might be the only thing your doctor won’t warn you about.
And dessert—oh, dessert. Tower’s “Yin and Yang” is a quirky, clever and ultimately scrumptious sweet treat. A combo of chocolate cheesecake and vanilla mousse, decorated to emulate the symbol of yin and yang, says everything about Tower’s throwback pan-cultural, neo-hippie vibe. Share a slice and a glass of single-malt Scotch from the Isle of Slay or Oaxaca mezcal and the evening is bound to go swimmingly.
For some diners, Tower Café, a solid pillar in the local culinary landscape, is about memories, about consistency in a time of change, about a connection with Sacramento’s past.
The corner of Broadway and Land Park Drive is where Russ Solomon convinced his father to sell records out of his drugstore, planting the seed that would become Tower Records.
It’s where The Tower Theatre, the 90-year-old grand dame of Sacramento’s cinematic past, stands tall after various brushes with demolition. It’s where my wife and I grabbed dessert on our first date. It’s a civic and personal treasure and I’m glad it’s back.
Tower Café is 1518 Broadway; towercafe.com; (916) 441-0222.
Greg Sabin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.