Crocker Cafe, Sacramento

The Crocker Café was recently named one of The Sacramento Bee’s 10 Brightest Lunch Stars for 2010. And it’s no wonder. The eatery, run by restaurateurs Bobbin and Patrick Mulvaney (of the farm-to-table fresh, Zagat-rated Mulvaney’s B&L), boasts an expansive dining space across the light-flooded Friedman Court in the Crocker Art Museum’s recent $100 million expansion.

When it comes to art, everyone’s a critic. And when it comes to food, we’re certainly no different.  And so, surrounded by soaring, floor-to-ceiling windows and towering Oceanic art that resembled intricately carved totem poles, our intrepid team of SacFoodie power-lunchers tucked in for a taste of the café’s array of elevated offerings.

Brooke on the kabocha squash ravioli with figs
I love this time of year for a multitude of reasons. The air is crisp, there’s snow in the mountains and Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale is on tap again. It is also happens to be the peak season for squash. So naturally, my inner Italian was delighted to find that the Crocker Café offered Pasta Dave’s kabocha squash ravioli with figs, sage and brown butter as part of its lunch menu  (kabocha is a Japanese variety of winter squash that tends to be sweeter than butternut squash). Though the entrée was served slightly colder than I would have liked (it was a busy day at the café), I thought the tastes, colors and textures were fabulous. The figs were perfectly sweet, the sage crunchy yet not overwhelming, and the pasta was al dente. The kabocha squash provided a burst of subtle flavor inside each raviolo. While pasta can be a heavy dish for lunch, I found this to be a delectable winter treat.

Jon on the beef sandwich, spinach salad and Cheerwine
It usually comes down to me and a cheeseburger. Usually. Unless of course I’m in the midst of a post-holiday battle of the bulge. And so on this rain-soaked Tuesday, a healthier option caught my eye (sorry, Niman Ranch). Still sticking to my bovine craving, I opted for the café’s pre-made, chili-rubbed Wagyu beef sandwich on wheat with New York white cheddar, Del Rio arugula and horseradish cream mayo. I paired this with a spinach salad dotted with spiced pecans (hello!), Shaft’s blue cheese crumbles, dried cranberries and  roasted shallot vinaigrette. The sando was wholesome and indeed creamy; the wheat bread had that great, nutty, whole-grain flavor I love. I usually eat like there’s no tomorrow, so I’m glad I also opted for the spinach salad whose spiced pecans were little treasures hidden throughout the leafy bed of greens. I would eat those babies by the handful if I could.

And let’s not forget about the Cheerwine. The gleeful lady at the cash register was so excited for me to try the sugar-cane sweetened soda in a retro-cool glass bottle. I had never heard of it. But that’s because the cherry-flavored beverage (bottled since 1917) is indigenous to the South—Virginia and the Carolinas to be exact, with small distribution throughout the U.S. (also: Norway?). Check out this intense little fan site that tracks where enthusiasts can find Cheerwine across the country. Thanks to this SacFoodie—and Cheerwine convert—Crocker Café is on the map now, too!

Liz on the curried crimson lentil soup with bread
It was a chilly and rainy day when we visited the Crocker Café, so the soup special, curried crimson lentil soup with pumpkin seeds and mint pesto, immediately called my name. This soup did not disappoint—what I really liked about it was it had just enough spice and texture that I didn’t get bored eating it (which sometimes happens with soup!). We also ordered a side of fresh bread from Grateful Bread which was perfect for dipping and rounded out my meal.

Cristina on the white bean and ham soup with bread
As you may know, Mulvaney’s is one of my favorite restaurants in Sacramento, so when I heard they opened a café in the new Crocker Art Museum, I couldn’t wait to try their carte du jour. It was a cold and rainy day so I decided to snuggle up with a good ole fashioned cup of soup and bread. They offer a quarter-loaf of bread from Grateful Bread with balsamic vinegar and California extra virgin olive oil, so I split it with Liz and ordered a cup of their white bean and ham soup. The soup was great—nice big chunks of ham and a hint of cracked black pepper. I will definitely go back!

Vanessa on the chicken breast salad
With New Year’s resolutions kicking in and forcing me to make healthier eating choices, I figured I would forgo the burger and fries for the Petaluma chicken breast salad. Sometimes choosing lighter fare can be a disappointment, but taste-wise this salad was right on par with any carb-cramming menu item. The lettuce was crisp and buttery, lightly tossed in a tangy, Shaft’s blue cheese dressing, adorned with apple slices, a few sugar-covered cranberries, and paired with a breast of chicken. This was the perfect guilt-free choice that tasted great and left me feeling satisfied.

Crocker Café dining tips
It was exhilarating to step in from the rain and find the dining court—and museum—bustling with patrons. We’re told it was the café’s busiest day yet, most likely because many people had taken time off over the holidays to visit the Crocker. The location is indeed picture-perfect, especially for downtowners looking for a nice change of venue from their usual lunch haunts. If you’re grabbing a pre-made item to go (like the Wagyu beef sandwich), you should be in and out with ease. But for busy days when you want to eat in, it’s best to come with a buddy who can serve as lookout for table openings while you order at the counter. Reward your partner (or yourself) with a tasty treat from the café’s small, Thiebaud-like dessert counter and soak in the people-watching in the Friedman Court’s vast, light-flooded expanse.

Crocker Café
216 O Street
Sacramento, CA 95814
(916) 808-1865

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2 Comments so far ↓

  • derek @ Sac-Town Health | Jan 3, 2011 at 7:21 pm

    I’m going to try the cheerwine for sure.

  • Kris | Jan 4, 2011 at 6:21 am

    If you can’t find Cheerwine, Wal Mart has a soda w/ very similar flavor, Dr. Thunder. I was introduced to Cheerwine (and Sundrop) years ago when I met my BF’s family from North Carolina. Good stuff!