Put Your “Backbone” Into It: New Lunch Spot on J and 8th Brings Fresh Life to the Area

by Laurel Harrison

If you work or live in Downtown Sac (like the SacFoodies), you know that the neighborhood has been growing by leaps and bounds since the Golden 1 Center opened its doors in late 2016. Construction is everywhere, food trucks abound and new restaurants are popping up as fast as we can try them.

One newcomer is Backbone Café, located near the corner of J St. and 8th St. You might’ve noticed the striking mural on the face of the restaurant. A previously nondescript wall, the storefront is a now an arresting shade of burgundy, decorated with a spine that meets an abstract pineapple at the top. If you haven’t seen it yet, you’ll know it when you do. The SacFoodies started hearing about Backbone a few months ago and were excited to see that this hip, seemingly Midtown-esque eatery was putting down roots in the heart of Downtown. We’re always looking for an easy and delicious workday lunch spot, and it seems like Backbone fits the bill.

Backbone is run by brothers Joey and Tomas Woolston, who decided to open the restaurant after a spinal injury derailed Joey’s focus on martial arts. If you were wondering where the name came from, Chef Joey freely tells the story of how he fell off a giant pineapple (yes, you read that correctly) at Burning Man and broke his back. Months of rehabilitation turned into a focus on wellness and healthy cooking, which subsequently turned into a restaurant featuring all wellness foods. Backbone Cafe’s menu doesn’t ascribe to a specific diet or health fad, but every dish on the menu could be something out of an athlete’s book – lean proteins, tons of veggies and made-from-scratch sauces.

We took a stroll to Backbone for lunch and were blown away by the simple yet inventive lunch options. Chef Joey prides himself on a locally-focused, whole food philosophy, using only organic ingredients and humanely raised (or wild!) meat options. From vegan to Paleo to gluten-free, Backbone has you covered. Are you a staunch meat-lover with a vegan pal? At Backbone, they can have the Vegan Mushroom Carnitas, you can have the Bone Marrow with Bacon Jam. It’s a win-win!

For lunch we tried the Mahogany Chicken Tacos, Free Range Fries and Chicken Power Bowl. The Chicken Power Bowl also had Mahogany Sauce (a tangy, spicy citrus sauce made in-house) on it, and it managed to be flavorful without feeling overpowering. The servings were generous, the chicken was tender and the roasted veggies still held a slight crunch. All in all, it felt a lot like a healthy home-cooked meal with a little extra pizzazz. The Mahogany Sauce was our preferred star of the show and we highly recommend giving it a try on whatever dish you order.

As someone who gets veeeerrrrryyyyyyyy sleepy after a big lunch, I was so pleased to find a dish that was satisfying without being over-filling. If I have a busy afternoon at work, the last thing I need is an after-lunch food coma but Backbone’s dishes are light enough to ward off the afternoon snooze. The portions on the Power Bowls are pretty generous, so it would even be possible to package up some leftovers for a 3pm snack (if you, like me, need to eat almost constantly).

At the moment, Backbone Cafe is only open for lunch, but we look forward to seeing expanded hours in the future! To miss the main rush at Backbone, which is already a lunch hub in the area, we’d recommend heading over on the early side. The overall atmosphere of the restaurant is ultra-welcoming and relaxing, and it feels like a great spot to read, hang out and enjoy a cup of Keto Coffee. If Golden Milk is more your thing, don’t worry – they have that too.

To check out Backbone Cafe and learn more about their menu, visit their site here.

Guess what? Backbone was also just reviewed by the Sac Bee and Sac News & Review! You can check out their takes here and here, respectively. (We absolutely have to try the Bone Marrow after reading Kate Washington’s review.)

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