The Sacramento Bee, 02/18/2000
When the waitress delivered the smoked prime rib lunch special, I thought, "I haven't seen such weight on a plate since the time Mike "The Goodyear Blimp' Gatti passed out at the table and fell into my lasagna."
This was some piece of meat -- a huge, thick cut of beef sliced off a prime rib that had been cooked for six hours that morning in a smoker fueled with almond and walnut woods. It was pink and luscious and fragrant with smoke. The au jus and the horseradish-sour cream sauce made it even better, if that was possible.
There are a lot of solid choices for lunch at Jamie's Broadway Grille. The prime rib ($13) was only one of several recent specials; others were salmon with an herb-butter sauce ($13), Chinese chicken salad ($10), a massive Reuben ($9; the classic corned beef, Swiss cheese and sauerkraut on rye) and a chili burger ($7.75; with homemade chili, of course).
To the uninitiated, Jamie's is an eye-opening discovery. To the regulars -- and there are many -- it's a sanctuary. The place invariably shows up on the media's annual lists of restaurants doing drink and dinner specials on St. Patrick's Day. It has the dark good looks of a classic bar-and-grill you might accidentally walk into while exploring the older neighborhoods of San Francisco: a well-used bar on one side, a plain dining room on the other; aged wood, ceiling fans, a lot of mirrors engraved with beer company logos; a wall-mounted deer head and its companion, a shaggy bison head; a rising din as the crowd bellys-up.
I was having lunch with Ed Hull, who for 27 years was the chef-owner of the once-legendary Fireside restaurant on H Street in East Sacramento. Hull was rightfully famous for the incredible steaks that came out of his kitchen.
I asked him why some restaurants, like Jamie's, have staying power and others vanish after a year or two, even though the food they serve is generally good. "The most important thing is consistency," he said. "If you like a place the first time, you'll like it every time after that because the food will always be the same."
We moved from the prime rib to the juicy, perfectly cooked "Broadway burger" ($6.25), a half-pound of ground chuck topped with grilled sweet onions, lettuce, tomato and -- get this -- house-made mayonnaise. The mayo isn't the only thing made from scratch here. Actually, everything else is, too, except for the Thousand Island dressing (many of the regulars have a taste for the Kraft version, a holdover from the days when this was Shanley's Bar & Grill).
Next up was " Jamie's clubhouse" ($6.50), which turned out to be one of the best sandwiches in town. Grilled slices of French bread are loaded with fresh turkey cut from a whole roasted bird, strips of quality bacon, creamy avocado, crisp lettuce and juicy tomato. This is one you definitely want to cut into quarters, just to handle it.
The menu has other tempting sandwiches, such as garlic steak ($7.50), hot turkey ($6.50) and a grilled New York steak ($8.50). Many of the meals come with a choice of outrageously good french fries (they're cut from whole potatoes, dipped in beer batter and then fried), excellent potato salad and killer onion rings.
We inhaled the extraordinary clam chowder, made from tender chunks of clams, clam broth, white wine, sherry, cream, butter, bacon, potato, celery, onion, carrot and coarsely ground black pepper. Wow! The flavor was intense and multilayered, the texture alternately chunky and smooth.
Owner-cook Jamie Bunnell and his wife, Vicki, bought the space in 1986 from late restaurateur Bill Shanley (the original "Shanley's Bar & Grill" sign is stashed in an auto-detailing shop next door). Bunnell used to run a seafood restaurant in Carmel, he mentioned on the phone a few days after our visit (that explains the clam chowder).
There is much lore surrounding Jamie's Grille, and many great stories are told about it. One involves the death of Bunnell's good friend Dave Wasserman, a successful attorney, larger-than-life character and regular at Jamie's.
"I was with him at the end, on September 13, 1993," Bunnell recalled. "He knew he was going and he said to me, "One of the things I want you guys to do is have a party (at Jamie's).' "
So Bunnell and his buddies arranged for a traditional Irish wake at the restaurant, bringing in the casket and surrounding it with photos and memorabilia of a life lived fully. Friends and family ate, drank and reminisced while the Kingston Trio played on.
The Kingston Trio? "Dave went to college in Berkeley and grew up on those guys," Bunnell explained. "He really liked their songs."
Long story short: Jamie's father, Jim Bunnell, was key in tracking the group to Macon, Ga. Telephone negotiations followed; $15,000 was deposited in a special bank account; the Kingston Trio grabbed a red-eye flight to Sacramento and played at the wake.
"That's what Dave wanted," Bunnell said, pausing a moment to remember his pal.
"So we did it for him."
JAMIE'S BROADWAY GRILLE
Where: 427 Broadway; (916) 442-4044.
Hours: Lunch is 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Mondays-Fridays.
Food: ****(out of four stars)