What’s fascinating to me is how a quality restaurant attracts more quality to the neighborhood, which itself becomes an attractive destination because of the sheer number of solid dining options.
Downtown Bakersfield is a good example. It was once almost limited to open-for-decades, old-guard restaurants. No innovation. Then Uricchio’s opened. Eventually the Padre Hotel was refurbished and became a beacon of contemporary food and drink. Chef’s Choice, Locale — we could keep doing this for a while.
Now the eastern edge of downtown, called “Eastchester,” is going through the same thing, after early pioneers like a relocated Goose Loonies and Nuestro Mexico had success followed by one of our favorites from last year, Cafe Smitten.
The latest to open is Narducci’s Burgers & Italian Ice in a building that has been home to at least a half-dozen restaurants in the years since I’ve been writing about Bakersfield restaurants. Entrepreneur Trevor Crowder has a sense of history —when he waited on us he mentioned that the father of the well-known restaurateur Jimmy Narducci owned and operated the place as The Habit for a long time. Hence the name, even though no one in the Narducci family is involved in the business, though a couple years ago Jimmy did reopen the place for a brief time as Narducci’s North Beach Cafe.
Crowder’s off to a good start. We were told about the place by former KBAK anchor Jim Huntington, now working as assignment manager at KGO-TV Channel 7 up in San Francisco. He was visiting Bakersfield on a recent weekend, stopped in for a burger and raved about the place. And he was on the mark. Crowder is creating something worthy of being compared to the amazing Cafe Smitten. I know it’s early, things are evolving, and he made comments about working on a dinner menu that was more extensive when we visited but the early returns are so, so promising, mostly because the emphasis on quality coming out of the kitchen, the attention to detail, is comparable to the other impressive Eastchester restaurants.
If you haven’t been to this O Street location, it’s refreshingly dated, with a bar near the door that faces the kitchen, a couple hidden private booths near the back and natural old wood that thankfully has not been modernized. It has a genuine mystique that should be cultivated, like something from a Raymond Chandler novel. Like T.L. Maxwell’s, I imagine it has a rich history spanning decades of Bakersfield’s past. And props for the music choices playing while we visited: Dave Matthews and Ed Sheeran.
Hours are mostly limited to lunch right now, with dinner available on Friday and Saturday nights, and we visited before a high school basketball game on a Friday when the crowd was light. The menu is limited to a few choices for burgers, pastas, sandwiches and salads. My companion selected the barbecue chicken salad ($11) though initially tempted by pecan-crusted chicken salad ($12). I considered the Noah’s chicken pasta (garlic-brushed chicken, sun-dried tomatoes, goat cheese, basil and lemon butter sauce with fettuccine, $13), but instead went for one of the five burgers, the Cheyenne ($12).
The salad was amazing in a number of ways. The greens, a mix of spinach, iceberg lettuce and mesclun greens, were stunningly fresh, like what we’ve found at Locale and Cafe Smitten. The grilled chicken breast was warm, and it was joined by strips of jack and cheddar cheese, black beans, red onion, avocado, tomato, corn and some of the house-made onion strings. The dressing was a cayenne ranch. Almost too much salad unless you’re really hungry.
The exceptional attention to detail was visible on my burger plate, too, which came with house-made potato chips. The meat, according to the menu, was fresh/never frozen ground beef from Martin’s Meats. (Narducci’s follows that exciting trend of local sourcing identified on the menu). The brioche bun was lightly toasted and bakery fresh, the thick slice of cheddar expertly melted on the patty and the barbecue sauce and bacon rounded out the picture perfectly. The patty was presented medium, as ordered, and it was a very juicy burger that could match the excellent product at Moo Creamery.
We will be back for the Italian ices (six flavors) on a day when we’re not trying to miss the tipoff, and will also return for the ‘Ducci burger, made with two four-ounce patties that are half ground chuck, half bacon, with Swiss cheese, avocado and roasted jalapeno lime aioli ($12).
Crowder himself was our waiter, and he’s a humble, personable guy, trying to build his business one customer at a time. I could be wrong, but I think he’s got the formula for a long, prosperous run in this space, bringing The Habit back to its former glory.
Narducci’s Burgers & Italian Ice can be recommended for a fine dining experience.
Pete Tittl’s Dining Out column appears here on Sundays. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.