There's always going to be demand in the Bakersfield restaurant market for a place that offers decent food at a good value, with an entertaining atmosphere thrown in as a bonus.
That pretty much describes the Village Sports Bar & Grill, which opened four months ago in a space that was once home to an Indian restaurant on Panama Lane near Costco. Tucked into a corner across from Jacalito Grill and with many other restaurants in the same shopping center, it's easy to overlook it. But when we visited on a Thursday night, nearly every table was full, many with families, some doing karaoke or watching pre-season NFL action.
Miguel Barajas, co-owner with his wife, Patti, had previously worked at El Torito and Que Pasa, so perhaps he's just bringing over his loyal customers. The menu has a bit of everything you find in California restaurants: entree salads, burgers, sandwiches, appetizers and five entrees that span a variety of cuisines.
We went with our neighbors Lawrence and Penny and had a chance to sample the New Mexico chicken ($11.95), the stuffed burger ($8.95), the Wild Santa Fe Salad ($10.75) and the Tuscany Meets Anchorage ($12.95), which was a grilled salmon entree. Though no one will be confusing the food here with what they serve at Cafe Med, it was uniformly decent.
Let's start with the New Mexico chicken, which was a boneless breast with a winning tomatillo corn sauce. My life has been incomplete having never sampled a sauce like this, the corn adding substance to the tart bite of the tomatillos. The rice served with it was a nice touch.
There are nine burgers on the list, the stuffed burger the most intriguing by far. Many kitchens are now mixing various ingredients into the ground beef before cooking -- we've written about them -- but the Village has an interesting concept here with bacon, roasted jalapenos and cheese melded into the patty.
The result is a burger with an oddly crispy exterior, and a taste that is so startling, so charming that you just know you'll have to try this technique at home. The peppers and bacon are finely chopped; in fact, you can barely see them but you can taste them. Well done, sir, well done. I cannot, however, say anything good about the fresh-cut shoestring French fries, which were wimpy, soft and mostly left on my plate.
My companion's salad was an inspired mix of ingredients, with chunks of chile-rubbed chicken on a bed or Romaine lettuce with black beans, pico de gallo, corn, avocado and crispy tortilla strips. Perfect for a hot Bakersfield summer evening.
Penny's salmon dinner had potential but brought out the kind of sloppy service that, if common, can doom a restaurant.
She has a serious allergy to lemon and asked our waitress politely but firmly to make sure the lemon mushroom sauce was on the side, not on the salmon and not used in the cooking process. She was not rude, just stressing to this woman that we didn't want to have to get out an EpiPen.
Granted, food allergies are so prevalent nowadays that restaurants are probably weary of dealing with them. But it's serious business.
Wouldn't you know the plate was delivered as if the kitchen didn't get the message?
So it had to be redone and didn't arrive until the rest of us had finished. Liked the salmon, though it wasn't as fresh as what many other restaurants serve, and the mushrooms really worked with the seafood.
But Penny could only imagine that, leery as she was of any lemon being mixed in with the butter and mushrooms.
To their credit, the restaurant did not just try to scrape off the lemon sauce, which Lawrence says has happened and is extremely dangerous.
Let's be kind and say it's just one of those issues a new restaurant will straighten out along the way.