The “Johnny Cash” burger has a sting of black pepper and barbecue-sauce sweetness. Carla Meyer cmeyer@sacbee.com
The “Johnny Cash” burger has a sting of black pepper and barbecue-sauce sweetness. Carla Meyer cmeyer@sacbee.com

Carla Meyer

The Sacramento Bee’s dining critic knows good taste

Carla Meyer

Dining review: Broderick Midtown loaded with fun

By Carla Meyer

cmeyer@sacbee.com

February 19, 2016 04:01 PM

UPDATED February 21, 2016 08:07 AM

Broderick Midtown, like its West Sacramento predecessor, serves those who seek burger over-indulgence but fear fast-food fine print. People who greeted the introduction of one chain’s “natural” burger line not with appreciation, but rather skepticism about the chemicals and hormones remaining in the chain’s other offerings.

Broderick’s beef comes from Niman Ranch, forerunner in humane treatment, and its buns from Davis’ estimable Village Bakery. Broderick’s kitchen makes all sauces from scratch and pickles cucumbers and other vegetables in-house.

Such careful sourcing does not diminish the calorie count of Broderick’s delicious Gold Rush burger, which comes with bacon mac ’n’ cheese and applewood-smoked bacon strips and requires breathers between bites. But it can ease a diner’s mind – at least until one of the restaurant’s “boozy” shakes fuzzes it up.

Mac ’n’ cheese burgers and alcohol-laden milkshakes are not subtle. But Broderick impresario/menu deviser Chris Jarosz’s hand, though heavy, is also deft. Broderick is like the NFL lineman who enrolls in ballet class to increase flexibility and discovers he’s a real twinkle-toes. Delicacy was not the point, yet it’s present anyway.

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There’s finesse in how the sting of black pepper penetrates the barbecue-sauce sweetness of Broderick’s “Johnny Cash” burger. And in how pickled vegetables atop the “banh-mi” french fries brighten the side dish’s fatty pulled-pork and salty potato contents so fully that everything tastes light, when it’s far from it. Thought also clearly went into the distribution of Old Bay seasoning, Worcestershire and bread crumbs in the Maryland blue crab cake within Broderick’s “Ocean City” sandwich, the cake ultimately most notable for containing more crab than anything else.

Broderick Midtown opened last July in the former Wahoo’s Fish Taco space on L Street near 19th, making it the youngest entry in the loose Broderick empire whose linchpin is Jarosz, the Wicked ’Wich food truck operator who, in 2012, turned a low-slung West Sacramento dive bar into the go-to burger spot Broderick Roadhouse.

Jarosz also co-owns fine-dining restaurant Localis, which also opened last summer. Still in gestation are Saddle Rock, in the former Capital Dime space across L from Broderick Midtown, and the Patriot, which will be part of Carmichael’s forthcoming Milagro Centre.

Saddle Rock, named for a storied Sacramento restaurant that opened during the Gold Rush, will fall somewhere between Broderick and Localis on the casual-to-fine-dining scale, and should open within the next month, Jarosz said. The Patriot will “chronicle my life in food,” Jarosz said. He is from Pittsburgh and lived in New York City and in Key West, and the Patriot’s menu will reflect the influences of all three, he said.

Broderick Midtown, with its concrete floors and lack of design flourishes beyond Edison light bulbs and multiple TVs on mute, lacks Broderick Roadhouse’s character. But it holds its own straightforward appeal, as a burger and beer (Track 7, Jackrabbit and Yolo Brewing Co. get handles) spot where the soundtrack is always ’80s and ’90s rock anthems but the atmosphere less bro-y than expected.

On our visits, we saw pairs of women and groups of middle-aged business people of both genders, gathered for drinks after work, all speaking at a near-shout to be heard by companions. Broderick’s noise level, like its burgers, comes in layers, with a foundation of generalized raucousness and a tinny top coat of piped-in Axl Rose and Chris Cornell.

Music and noise levels come up a lot in my reviews, because they influence the dining experience and because I am intrigued by why some loud places annoy me, and others, like Broderick Midtown, do not. Part of it is price level – I’d rather withstand a racket while eating a $13 burger at Broderick than a $28 petrale sole entree at the (also-loud) Hawks Public House. The rest is harder to determine. The volume at Broderick suits its status as what is basically an extended barroom. Yet that’s not precisely it. Noise tolerance also is tied to the place’s generally friendly atmosphere – a quality advanced by the convivial crowd and even more so by a whiz-bang-efficient staff.

The menu is nearly identical to the other Broderick’s, which means Sacramentans no longer must cross the river to try monster wings. The menu calls them “jumbo,” but that’s downplaying things. Consisting of whole wings rather than drumettes, these wings are shockingly big. And once one gets past the pterodactyl visuals, they’re also scrumptious – juicy throughout and not as greasy as most restaurant wings.

We ordered them with Buffalo sauce, a snappy house mix that incorporates Frank’s RedHot, wings’ historical accompaniment. A cup of the sauce also comes on the side, along with a choice of ranch or bleu cheese, also the only acceptable dressings, among the several on offer, for Broderick’s salads.

Tip: The very buttermilk-forward bleu cheese dressing will satisfy ranch fiends as well, thus eliminating a hard choice. Tip No. 2: Don’t go to Broderick to order a salad. That’s like hitting Baskin-Robbins for frozen yogurt. Plus, the flank-steak salad was the most disappointing menu item we sampled. The meat’s seasoning was barely detectable and the limp, oily fried onions a poor substitute for their crispy counterparts across the street at Buckhorn Grill.

Burgers come with fries unless salad or soup is specified. Stick with fries, hand-cut and golden-brown crisp on their own but also good under “upgrade” toppings such as Buffalo bleu ($2.50) and banh-mi ($6). We liked the banh mi and the garlic ($2) best. Adding brown gravy ($4) sogged the fries without enhancing their flavor.

Broderick Midtown, unlike its predecessor, offers shakes made from frozen custard, which contains more milk fat than most dairy products used in shakes, Jarosz said. They’re an East Coast thing, he said. The two we tried – one “boozy,” one teetotaler-appropriate – were exceptional.

The tastelessly named yet tasty “Car Bomb” is a takeoff on the drink with Guinness, Jameson whiskey and Baileys. Broderick substitutes chocolate and custard for the liqueur. The alcohol deepens the chocolate flavor and diminishes the drink’s sweetness, creating something that tastes soothingly familiar yet original.

The excellent “Nutty Buddy” non-alcoholic shake is a textural wonderland, with chunks of peanut butter as well as bits of wafer from the snack from which the shake takes its title.

But good food and shakes do not necessarily make Broderick Midtown any great shakes. The region is full of moderately priced restaurants known for thoughtful sourcing and homey appeal. What puts Broderick over the top is exceptional service.

The place was packed, or near it, on every visit, Yet our servers, each of whom seemed to be covering a lot of tables, still took time to give us personalized attention – patiently and enthusiastically fielding ingredient questions and checking back in with us often. Our server during one dinner seemed to be the designated hostess that evening as well. Yet she never missed a beat, with us or the tables around us.

We marveled, on all three visits, at the speed with which the servers moved through the room. Again, there was unexpected finesse involved, because that quickness suggested graceful efficiency rather than rushing. While watching them, a phrase that for years had lain dormant in my memory came to the fore. It was the highest compliment my high school basketball coach ever paid our team:

Nice hustle.

Broderick Midtown

1820 L St., Sacramento. www.broderick1893.com, 916-469-9720

Hours: 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Sundays; 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Mondays-Wednesdays; 11 a.m.-2 a.m. Thursdays-Fridays; 10 a.m.-2 a.m. Saturdays

Beverage options: Craft cocktails. Non-alcoholic and “boozy” custard shakes. Limited wine selection. Draft beers include Track 7, Yolo Brewing and Jackrabbit offerings.

Vegetarian friendly: Burgers can be ordered with vegetarian patties.

Gluten-free options: Gluten-free buns are available.

Noise level: High

Ambiance: Straightforward and bar-centric, with the sound system fixed on 1980s and ’90s anthemic rock. The noise level is high, but fits with the convivial atmosphere.

Overall

The food here is reliably good and comforting. High-quality ingredients, careful sourcing and (especially) staff friendliness and efficiency take the place over the top, into three-star status.

Food

Broderick Midtown, like its West Sacramento forebear, is a monument to heavy-handedness, with burgers stuffed with mac ’n’ cheese, fries covered in gravy or Buffalo sauce and bleu cheese. Yet there is subtlety within flavor combinations.

Service

The servers are very busy, yet they never seem hurried when they stop at tables. Our servers enthusiastically answered questions about ingredients and checked back often during the meal.

Value

The $10-$16 burgers are on par, price-wise, with other midtown restaurant burgers. But one could argue the Gold Rush ($15), loaded with mac ’n’ cheese and bacon, can and should be shared. Other bargains: banh-mi fries and fish tacos, servings of which are meal-size and costs $9.