Set sail for your new favorite restaurant and bar in the Sacramento area.
Another home run for the trio behind Shady Lady Saloon, Sail Inn Grotto has opened to rave reviews in West Sacramento. Its nautical charm is palpable from the curb, with a patio lined with boat dock posts and a rad monochromatic mural by Shaun Burner of a kraken and stormy seascape spanning the facade.
Enter the dimly lit enclave and you’ll see flickering candles in red victorian glass, an arching marlin behind the dark wooden bar, shark gray walls showcasing maritime art—and you’ll be transported into another time, when cursing sailors marauded in divey port haunts.
Yet Sail Inn Grotto is not a dingy dive, but a perfectly executed concept with curated finishes and attention to every detail. Ropes and glass ball lights hang over the bar and a ship’s steering wheel adorns an adjacent wall. A portion of a compass is expertly inlaid across the concrete floor, while old sailing maps, paintings of ships and maritime scenes, antique harpoons, ship windows and sailor’s knots support the seafaring vibe. Even the door handles are cleats to which one would tie their boat. Garrett Van Vleck (managing partner along with Alex Origoni and Jason Boggs) explains, “All of the art and fixtures were sourced from a variety of places. Some pieces came from antique shops, some pieces were salvaged and some things I found online.”
The rum-centric bar program is a perfect complement to the atmosphere, and the menu is well thought out, further reinforcing the fish grotto feel. Chef Kevin Ritchie, the man behind the stellar fare at Shady Lady Saloon, Brewsters and Fieldhouse American Sports Pub also takes the helm in the kitchen at Sail Inn Grotto.
Recently having opened B-Side in the old Monte Carlo space, and with Amaro Italian Bistro on the horizon in partnership with Abe Cunningham of Deftones, I asked Ritchie how they juggle it all and always pull off amazing hospitality industry experiences. “It is a testament to our amazing staff that we have in place that allows us to open and run so many different restaurant/bars,” he replied humbly.
Ritchie doesn’t play favorites: “I like all of them for different reasons. It’s kind of like asking a parent who’s their favorite kid.” But the Sail Inn Grotto, in my opinion, is by far the coolest place they’ve opened yet.
My buds and I ordered a cross-section of drinks and sipped from each others’ glasses. The Hemingway Daquiri was slightly sour and citrusy and not too sweet, made with rum, grapefruit and lime, and served chilled in a martini glass with a lime peel garnish. The Old Cuban, topped with champagne and fresh mint, contained dark rum, lime juice, simple syrup and Angostura bitters, and was served over ice in a lowball glass. The ridiculous Lava Flow makes you feel like you’re on vacation—a frozen Pina Colada and Strawberry Daquiri is mixed together and served in a tall daquiri glass with a fresh tropical fruit and umbrella garnish. Grog options include many local microbrews, and the Bloody Mary mix is sourced from Sacramento’s Preservation and Co.
On that note, Ritchie’s ingredients are thoughtfully selected from local vendors. All the meat served at Sail Inn Grotto is from Dixon’s Lucky Dog Ranch, and all the fish is bought from Sunh Fish in Sacramento.
The clam chowder is better than any that I’ve had in New England coastal restaurants. Full of texture, the skin still on the potatoes, the chowder is slightly gritty, intensely savory and creamy while not being too rich or sweet. Served in Bella Bru bread bowls, fresh clams, rosemary, thyme, bay leaves, leek, onion, carrots, potatoes, cream and butter comprise this bowl full of awesomeness.
I don’t even like shrimp cocktails usually, but holy smokes, their shrimp cocktail puts all the rest to shame. Diced shrimp, celery, cucumber, pickled red onion, avocado, radish, basil and horseradish are mixed with the Bloody Mary mix and the dish has a wonderful crunchy texture and freshness.
We also tried the steamed little neck clams, bathed in tomato, garlic, parsley, butter and white wine and served with Bella Bru toast. The broth was not overpoweringly garlicky—the flavors were perfectly balanced. Sail Inn’s chicken sandwich is to die for, with battered, tender, juicy chicken topped with mixed greens and pineapple and served on Bella Bru ciabatta with Ritchie’s killer fries. Lastly we sampled the shrimp po’ boy which was tangy, spicy, citrusy and crunchy with a house-pickled slaw.
A nautical proverb wisely reflects that smooth sea never made a skilled mariner. It wasn’t easy getting this ship sea-ready—in fact, it took almost three years to get the doors open. Financing, property line issues and construction delays were among the challenges faced by Wayne and Ellie Morse, the owners of Sail Inn Grotto, and their managing partners Origoni, Boggs and Van Vleck. Says Ritchie, “The City of West Sac was a huge help, though.”
Wayne Morse, a member of the band Will Haven for many years, does concrete flooring for a living and is responsible for the beautiful build out of the restaurant and bar. The property has been in Ellie Morse’s family since the ‘60s and the couple approached the men behind Shady Lady Saloon with the idea of renovating it and partnering up to operate the business.
I plan to return to the Sail Inn Grotto again and again. An outdoor crawfish bake being planned for this summer promises to be a can’t-miss event in anticipation of which I’ll keep my ear firmly pressed to the ground. From the romantic atmosphere that echoes a life at sea, to the inspired cocktails and cuisine, the Sail Inn Grotto will put wind in your sails.
Sail Inn Grotto and Bar is located at 1522 Jefferson Avenue in West Sacramento. For more info, go to Facebook.com/sailinngrotto.