The dining scene in downtown Pleasanton continually evolves with restauranteurs with different ideas bringing their best to the market.
That includes former Wente Executive Chef Matt Greco with his innovative approach to breakfast, lunch and dinner with all outdoor seating at Salt Craft.
For Todd Utikal, it meant enlisting long-time Pleasanton restauranteur Skip Hinsley (he owned Girasole and Pampered Pallet catering for years) to bring SideTrack to Angela Street for lunch and dinner. They opened in November with an all-day menu and are working to carve out their niche downtown.
Todd loves the hospitality business—unusual for a business major, but no surprise for the youngest assistant cruise director on a major line. He set out to create a family-friendly restaurant downtown that allows dad to have a shot of good bourbon and keep an eye on the football game (four big screens allow viewing from any seat), mom to enjoy a selection of fine wine and the family to dine on great hamburgers, a variety of other sandwiches, entrée salads and plenty of small plates.
After the first couple of months, with crowded prime days and times, his team is hitting the mark. They’ve already built a loyal clientele.
The name is taken from the former transcontinental rail line that ran a few yards east of the restaurant and is reflected in some of the décor. The rail line now provides plenty of convenient parking if the lot dedicated to the restaurant is full.
With January typically the slowest month of the year, we dined on a Monday evening that was slow until people kept popping in after 8 p.m. when most of the other kitchens downtown were closing. Utikal said that they are still working to fine tune operating hours and staffing, but he wants to stay open later, particularly early in the work week.
The full bar with quality top shelf pours (I enjoyed Woodford’s Reserve bourbon as well as a specialty cocktail featuring Eagle Rare bourbon, Allspice Dram, Pamplemousse Liqueur, grapefruit and agave, a tasty mix). There are five signature cocktails plus sparkling, white and red wines by the glass, plus bottles. The Livermore Valley is well represented in both wines and beers as are the Napa and Sonoma areas plus other California areas and a few international choices.
The menu centers on burgers, made with American certified Wagyu beef. They are served on Le Boulanger Bakery fresh buns with a choice of French fires or Romaine lettuce side salad. Substitutes of garlic or sweet potato fries are available for $1 more, while onion rings or tater “todds” at $2 more. On a long weekend trip to Portland, Todd was taken by the tater tots available in restaurants he enjoyed so he insisted they be on the menu at SideTrack. The onion rings were excellent and the tater “todds” lived up to my memories.
The SideTrack team worked hard to develop the burger patty, literally grilling samples outside in the Utikal’s backyard. My bride enjoyed the Pancho Villa ($15) that featured seeded and roasted jalapeno and poblano peppers, avocado and pepper jack cheese. She loved it, as did I when I ordered the Almondwood Bacon Burger ($16) with sharp cheddar, grilled mushrooms and onions with Dijon mustard. It was excellent. Six Wagyu burgers are offered as well as the plant-based “The Impossible Burger.”
On this evening I went for the Cubano with braised pork, smoked ham, pickles and Swiss cheese covered with Mojito sauce on a wonderful panini roll ($15.75). On my earlier visit, my lunch partner raved about the Cubano. In Skip’s tradition, they had fun with the menu: Maui Waui BBQ Pulled Pork, Aussie BBQ Pulled Jackfruit (vegetarian), the Reuben and the Manhattan with corned beef and a hot pastrami sandwich.
Picked up from the Girasole menu was Spinach for Veronica, a wilted spinach salad with bacon, gorgonzola, rigatoni and red peppers with shrimp or chicken available to add on ($16). Three other entrée salads are offered: Caesar, jumbo shrimp and crab Louie, and sesame encrusted Ahi tuna.
SideTrack’s small plates stand out. Another carryover from Girasole, Scoozzi features gorgonzola in a green-onion pocket bread with a tomato basil salsa that complimented it perfectly ($9). At Todd’s recommendation, we tried the fried goat cheese and beet stack. Don’t miss it, if you like beets paired with the breaded and fried goat cheese.
Another surprise was the Thai sweet chili cauliflower wings ($9.75) that we ordered at Todd’s suggestion. Confession: I do fine with some cruciferous vegetables, notably broccoli and kale and can tolerate cabbage in salads. When it comes to Brussel sprouts and cauliflower—Ugh. The roasted cauliflower, to my palate, was better than simply edible and my bride, a fan of cauliflower, loved them.
The small plates range from Absolute Prawn Stack to fried calamari, crab cakes, an avocado eggroll and fresh chicken wings with either a Cajun dry rub or Maui Waui BBQ. There’s also an Ahi avocado poke that Todd says has been very well received as well as a Baja shellfish ceviche with scallops, crab and shrimp with a spicy clamato.
It’s an easy place to share either the small plates or cut up the burgers or sandwiches. They’re not inexpensive, but the portions are large and ideal to share.
One other SideTrack spin: rich milk shakes—vanilla, chocolate, caramel, strawberry and Oreo.
Open seven days a week, SideTrack will add weekend brunch in February from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. with several egg offerings, including benedicts, plus corned beef hash and eggs that picks up off the Reuben sandwich on the lunch/dinner menu. With the Saturday Farmer’s Market next to their patio, here’s suspecting it will become a favorite stop for shoppers. Eventually, they plan to expand the dinner menu with traditional entrees such as ribs, prime rib and steaks.
Happy Hour is Monday through Friday from 3-5:30 p.m. with special cocktails and small plates.
By Tim Hunt