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In the 50 or so years that I've walked this planet, I've never seen, or for that matter, even imagined a restaurant such as Uptown Caf.

 

Photo:  It's about 0730 on a beautiful spring morning, as I snap a photo of Uptown Caf from across the street.

Friday, April 16, 2010 it was Brad's turn to choose Uptown Caf as the location for today's breakfast meeting. We'd heard about the restaurant, but we'd just never held a meeting at the place; for the past week or so, Brad had been Googling the Internet for Sacramento breakfast restaurants, and much of his research had pointed in the direction of Uptown Caf.  Brad noticed that some of the reviewers were disappointed that they didn't receive a corporate dining experience at Uptown, and from some of the comments, Uptown Caf sounded exactly like the kind of restaurant the members of the Sacramento Breakfast Club prefer.

As you pull into the parking lot, the first thing that you notice is the colorful mural on the wall facing the parking lot.  The mural depicts the entrance 1950's era movie theater, complete with patrons dressed in period garb, and a ticket booth, where patrons purchased tickets before entering into the theater.  From the parking lot, the building looks quite small, but as I was to find out later, it's anything but small.  The outside of the building is pure 1950's-era diner, which is quite appropriate, as Del Paso Boulevard used to be the route of U.S. 50 before the interstate was built.  But wait until you walk into the restaurant...

Photo:  Tracy chats with a customer who seated at the breakfast counter - all three stools of it!  This photo is of the kitchen.  

Photo:  George is hard at work in the kitchen.  The window faces out to Del Paso Blvd, which makes it quite pleasant.

I've never seen a floorplan like Uptown's.  The restaurant is divided into four separate and distinct rooms, each very different, and it also features an enclosed courtyard and a covered patio for outdoor dining.  If you enter through what appears to be the main entrance, you enter the kitchen, where you'll get to meet the friendly owner of the business, George, as he works the spotless-clean stainless steel griddle.  The kitchen is also a dining room, well sort of, as it features a table for two, and a tiny counter with three stools!  The kitchen appears to be the original building, as its housed in a separate building from the rest of the restaurant.

Obviously, there isn't a whole lot of room in the kitchen for dining, so to enter the dining room, you go through a door and you enter a covered courtyard that offers outdoor dining and features a board that announces the daily specials.  If you turn to your left, you can enter a dining room with a few booths and tables, but the most interesting features of this room are an electric generator in a corner, and a wood-burning stove.  If you prefer patio dining, walk through this room, go out the back door, and you'll find yourself on the patio, which offers shady, outdoor dining, and is decorated with plants and a goldfish pond.  I almost neglected to mention that the entrance to this dining room is decorated by a shower curtain, of unknown vintage!  I've seen beads decorating the entrance to restaurants featuring Moroccan cuisine, but a shower curtain? That's kitschy decor at it's best! Actually, the shower curtain was one of the reasons that Brad chose Uptown Caf, as one of the reviewers who published their review on the Internet was turned-off by the shower curtain.  Well, what is one person's poison is Brad's passion...

Photo:  I'm in the courtyard looking into the dining room with the wood stove.  The board to the right of the photo has the daily specials posted.  Note the shower curtains hung at the entrance to the dining room, which add a unique touch to the decor.

Photo:  This is the dining room that features the wood burning stove.  Tracy is out on the patio - she gave me the grand tour of the restaurant.  Note the propane heater, the fan on the floor and the electrical meter on the wall, which adds to the ambience of the decor.

To enter the second dining room, you pass through the narrow courtyard and go through another door.  This is the main dining room, and is furnished with a mixture of tables and booths, and features a flat screen, hi-def TV monitor on the wall, and middle-of-the-road rock music, courtesy of a local radio station.  It is also in a separate building from the kitchen, an annex, if you will.  

The "auxiliary" dining room is reached by walking through the main dining room, and going through another door. This room is the most interesting, as it features two tables pushed together with a booth on one side, and chairs on the other side, and a high, barroom-style table for two.  The most interesting feature is the unused bar, piled high with bar stools, dishes, pots and pans, and other "stuff."  Behind the bar there are beer taps, a pizza oven, pizza pans, more dishes, more clutter, and more "stuff."  This room features private dining at the large table, and is quite a ways from the kitchen, and is more-or-less separated from the other rooms.  But if you want to use the restroom, or access the patio, all you have to do is go out the back door to your intended destination, and you care to go back to the kitchen, you can pass through the dining room with the wood stove, through the door, decorated by the shower curtains, then cross the courtyard and enter the kitchen through the side door, also decorated by shower curtains.  The Winchester Mystery House doesn't hold a candle compared to Uptown Caf!

As per the usual, I was the vanguard of our group, and since I'd never set foot in Uptown Caf before, I was quite amazed as I entered the building that houses the kitchen, cashier's station and small breakfast counter.  I said "hello" to George, as he worked behind the counter, walked out the door, crossed the courtyard, and entered the dining room with the wood burning stove.  I must have looked like I was lost and alone, as I was cheerfully greeted by a Tracy, who would turn out to be our cheerful server and hostess, and she let me know that I could sit anywhere that I chose.  I didn't see any tables big enough to handle our club members, so I told her that there would be about a dozen in our group, and she said, "We can handle you just fine," and led me through the main dining room into the "auxiliary" room, with the unused bar.  It appeared that the Sacramento Breakfast Club would enjoy private dining on this sunny April morning.

Photo:  This is the "main" dining room.  At Uptown Caf, each room is unique and different.

Photo:  Tracy poses on the patio, at the entrance to the dining room with the wood burning stove.  In the center of the photo, you get another view of the famous shower curtain.

I chose a seat at the head of the table, facing the window that looks out to the sidewalk, as I was sure that none of the other club members would be able to find me, as the interior of Uptown Caf sort of resembles a maze.  Tracy brought menus and coffee; a slogan that reads "Best Coffee in Town" is painted on the wall of the main dining. I'm not sure if it's the best coffee in town, but it's mighty good, and just keep on comin' ... Soon I was joined by David and later by Sharon.

Tracy had asked me the name of our group, and I replied, "AT&T," and she said, "That's easy to remember."  Due to the somewhat irregular floor plan, I was concerned that fellow club members would be unable to find is, as we were located in the far reaches of the restaurant.  Since we don't wear the letters "AT&T" on our backs, or they're not tattooed on our foreheads, I asked her how she'd be able to recognize our club members.  I had to chuckle when she replied "By the glazed look on their faces."  Yes, the maze that is the interior of the restaurant certainly could shock a person into a daze!

After the remainder of our club members arrived, seated and were enjoying their first cup of delicious coffee, I introduced myself to Tracy and detailed the mission of the Sacramento Breakfast Club to her.  It's interesting how different people react to our mission, as I experienced everything from near-hostility to sheer serendipity.  In Tracy's case, she reacted very enthusiastically to the news that I was going to take photos, do a write-up, and post the thing on our web site.  As she took our orders, I peppered her with questions, and I found out trivia, such as:

a)  She's worked at Uptown Caf for 13 years
b)  Her father owns the restaurant
c)  The majority of their customers are locals, and most regularly stop by.  Duh!
d)  They are open for breakfast and lunch only, which is good in our book.

It seems her dad, who is the cook, is a retired chef.  Imagine that, retiring from a career as a chef, only to open a restaurant.  A small, dad-and-daughter restaurant must be a very labor-intensive endeavour, performing the duties of chief-cook-and-bottlewasher at a restaurant is not my idea of retirement.  

The menu will make a breakfast connoisseur drool, as it has every thing a lover of breakfast could hope for, and then some.  Most breakfasts come with eggs, homefries or hashbrowns, but you can substitute tomatoes, grits, cottage cheese, or fruit for the potatoes for a small extra charge.  If you don't want toast, no problem, as you can substitute pancakes, or biscuit and gravy for a small additional fee.  A few of the "meat" choices include liver and onions, corned beef hash, linguica, link or patty sausage, bacon, chorizo, ham steak, hot links, Italian Sausage, New York Steak, chicken fried steak, even catfish, and many more; you get the idea.  Of course there are omeletes, combinations, "Uptown Slams" and too much to mention, but the bottom line is, if you love breakfast, you'll love the vast array of choices the menu of Uptown Caf offers.  When Tracy recited that one of today's daily specials was bratwurst, I jumped at it, even though I had my heart set on liver and onions, as I'd never had bratwurst for breakfast in a restaurant before.

Photo:  Tracy hands Matt his plate of food.  Note the uneven vertical blinds, which help to define the character of the restaurant.

Photo:  My breakfast of eggs over easy, country potatoes, bratwurst with biscuits and gravy on the side.  David's plane of corn beef hash can be seen to the right of the photo, and Sharon's breakfast of pancakes, bacon and eggs is in the upper left of the photo.  Tracy was kind enough to bring a bottle of spicy brown mustard, which really added a great touch to my delicious breakfast.

As we were waiting for our orders to arrive, I got out my camera and began taking photos.  I'm at a loss of how to describe the decor.  Words like funky or kitschy come to my mind, but each section of the restaurant is different, and if you were going to use a catch-all phrase, "early 1950's diner" might come to mind, but that really doesn't do the place justice.  There is absolutely NOTHING modern or high-tech about the restaurant, with the exception of an early 1990's vintage computerized cash register.  Highlights of the decor include the shower curtains that grace the entrance to the kitchen and the rear dining room, the unused wood burning stove, the generator on the floor, not to mention surface mount electrical wiring, and an electric meter mounted on the wall inside one of the dining rooms!  Each wall is painted different, each floor is different, many light fixtures have burnt-out bulbs, and it all adds up to the most interesting restaurant that we've ever had the pleasure to visit.  We love this place!

Oh yes, the food.  Tracy was the only waitress on duty, and she made multiple trips between our table and the distant kitchen, but she carried our food to the table extremely efficiently, with multiple smiles.  I'll only describe my meal, but the comments from the other club members were similar to mine - breakfast at Uptown Caf rocks the world!  George has spent a lifetime as a chef, and his plating abilities reflect his skill, as the presentation of the meal is one of the best that I've seen during our breakfast adventures.  For starters, my breakfast included TWO perfectly grilled, juicy bratwurst sausages.  Now that's a lot of sausage!  I love potatoes, so I ordered homefries, and they were sliced thin, perfectly cooked to a golden brown, and included diced bell peppers and red onions.  My two eggs over easy were cooked just right - no easy feat - which is the trademark of an expert breakfast cook.  The plate was arranged perfectly, and the presentation - and the experience - was enhanced by a huge strawberry, and a slice of orange, nestled into a fancy slice of lettuce. Truly a beautiful breakfast, almost too good to eat... well, almost.

Photo:  Our table is in the center background of the photo, framed by the unused bar, pizza oven, and more.

Painted on the outside of the building is the lofty title, "Uptown Caf and Pizzeria" yet no pizza was to be found.  I must digress a bit, as I had failed to aptly describe the bar in our private dining room.  David pointed out the various sizes of pizza dishes hung on the wall, next to the bar, and looked beyond the beer taps and bar stools, stacked on top of the bar, and commented that there was a pizza oven behind the bar.  By golly, upon closer inspection, David was absolutely correct in his observation.  So I quizzed Tracy about the lack of pizza on the menu, the closed bar, the cold pizza oven, and why the word "pizzeria" was painted on the outside of the building. Not to mention, if they have beer taps, why does the menu only offer juice, soft drinks, coffee and tea?  Good questions?  

According to Tracy, the pizzeria operation has been shuttered for a couple of years, as the demand is lacking, as the restaurant is open for breakfast and lunch, and most pizza lovers don't crave their daily fix of pizza until many hours after the sun has risen.  Yes, the pizza used to be baked in the now dormant pizza oven behind the bar, and, yes the beer taps used to dispense beer.  Yes, although it's not on the menu, you can purchase beer if you ask for it, but we didn't, as our visit was in the neighborhood of 0830, which would be a highly inappropriate time to be drinking beer, not to mention that on an early Friday morning, designated drivers are difficult to come by.

Plate presentation aside, the rubber meets the road in the taste of the breakfast.  The burning questions:  Was it good?  Was it worth the price of admission?  Sealed envelope, please.  Open it.  Answer:  YES!!  Good food!  Great presentation!  Awesome quantity!  Fast, friendly, personable service by a charming hostess who is not only a nice person, a beautiful woman, (hey, I can say that, as I'm older than 50!!!) but can make you feel at home, and deliver the food to the table in a fast, friendly, yet not intrusive manner.  A couple of the club members had minor complaints, such as their eggs were runny, and the potatoes were overcooked, but in my case, I would have rated my food, the presentation, the service, the decor, the value of the meal, and the overall experience as a 9.5, on a scale of 1 to 10.  Oh yes, in life, the world, and the Sacramento Breakfast Club, there is no such thing as a perfect score of 10.

Photo:  Today's Sacramento Breakfast Club members, from left to right:  Eric Rench, your webmaster, editor and photographer, Sharon Angelo, Matt Donnelly, Brad Holther Sergio Gaona, Mark McIntire and David DeMario.

I'm not sure how the subject came about, but Tracy pointed out a photo on the wall that was of her and her father that was taken at a recent Halloween.  It seems that the custom at Uptown Caf it's the custom to dress up quirky for Halloween, so on this particular Halloween, Tracy chose to dress up like her dad, George.  To complicate the matters, they chose to have a photographer take their photo together, George just, well... normal George, and his darling daughter, dressed just like him, and sporting a moustache.  Fine, but... in keeping the spirit alive, Tracy chose to work on that Halloween day, dressed in reverse-drag, to resemble her father.  In the spirit of things, a photo was taken, and a framed photo of the event was hung on the wall of our "auxiliary" dining room.  On the way out, Matt mentioned to me that it would be "cool" to take a photo of father and daughter together, on that Halloween day, with George looking quite normal, and Tracy, sporting a faux moustache, attempting to mimic the good looks of her father, while pulling it off quite well.  The bottom line:  Looking at the photo, unless you had "inside information," NOBODY could guess that the photo wasn't taken of twin brothers.  The deception is that skilful!

Summing it all up, yes, we, the members of the Sacramento Breakfast Club highly recommend Uptown Caf.  Hey, you should have surmised it by now, considering my over-the-top write up.  The club members loved this place, but since I didn't get the opportunity to take individual pollings, I will take the next paragraph to state my personal opinion of Uptown Caf.

In four little words:  We love the place!  The food?  A few adjectives, nouns, and pronouns that come to mind are delicious, beautiful, plenty of, fresh, perfect... what about good value?  Well, you won't leave hungry, as the portions are gigantic, but it's not a quantity vs quality thing, as the food exhibits total quality.  What you WON'T find is any hint of corporate America.

Service:  Friendly.  Efficient.  Bottomless coffee mug of delicious coffee.  Did I say the service is friendly?  Or is it efficient?  Tracy has worked at Uptown Caf for her father for, as of this writing, for 13 years.  She know what she's doing, as she waits on a "mean" table, with a friendly smile, enthusiasm, and a knack for knowing what to do, at the proper time, and at the right moment.  I love a hostess such as Tracy, who is not only pleasing to my eye - I can say that, heck, I'm old enough to be her father - but a gal who not only brings the food to the table in an efficient manner, and keeps the coffee cups full, but just makes you feel at home, and treats you like she's your kid sister.

Photo:  Father George and daughter Tracy pose in front of the photo taken at Halloween where Tracy, in the right of the photo, is dressed in "reverse drag" to resemble her dad.  Wow!  If she hadn't pointed it out to me, I would have never guessed it was her!

Add it all up:  Service.  Food.  Value.  Decor.  Funk.  Whatever.  Add it up and it makes Uptown Caf a total winner, in the eyes of the Sacramento Breakfast Club.  Highly Recommended!

Uptown Caf
1121 Del Paso Blvd.
Sacramento, CA 95815
916 649-2233


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