Very few topics get people going in Bakersfield than where to eat. Combine that with a downtown restaurant property that's been closely watched for signs of opening and you have quite the opening week buzz.
With some previews under its belt, The 18hundred opened for business with lunch on Tuesday, bringing an end to the lively "when will it be open to the public" discussion.
Talk around town hasn't just been about the menu, which we'll get to, but about the property itself. The Security Trust Bank building has led many lives in its 109 years before settling into this hip American joint with a modern vibe.
Owners Foti and Maya Tsiboukas, whose family started the Fabulous Burgers restaurant chain, and still operate the one on Airport Drive, have put in plenty of TLC renovating the "little Beaux-Arts temple" they purchased in 2017.
A highly visible property at the corner of Chester Avenue and 18th Street, it has garnered many lookie-loos and at least one newsman seemingly dedicated to bringing its story to the community.
Now the wait is over and many are wondering what's being served on the menu, which the Tsiboukases were mum on before the big opening.
The dinner menu is divided into five categories: small plates, market salads, sandwiches, burgers and house specialties. For those who head downtown pre-show or post-work, the small plates will be of high interest. Options include a skillet cornbread with maple butter ($6), which was unfortunately not available opening night; herb Parmesan-crusted mac 'n' cheese ($8), which may not seem like a shareable appetizer but it definitely is. Those not averse to carbs can share the charred thick-cut bread ($6), which is accompanied by "amazing" butter and olive oil and black truffle salt. The server mentioned this dish a few times as a good choice and, other than wishing there was a little more char on the bread, I would have to agree.
The small plates also come into play when ordering a sandwich or burger, both of which are served with a simple side salad. If your preferred side is fried, such as french fries ($6) or hand-battered onion rings ($8) or zucchini ($8), you'll be adding to the order. Thankfully, the portions are easily split two or more ways, depending on the appetites.
In a breath of fresh air for the local dining scene, the burgers consist of two grass-fed Angus beef patties. While some might decry that as a fast-food style, I was relieved that I didn't have to make a case for the doneness of the meat (steaks rare = good, hamburgers rare = bad).
The mushroom Swiss ($11) is decadent with a roasted garlic aioli, sauteed onions and mushrooms. In this case, the salad dressed with a light vinaigrette was a nice contrast before tucking into the thinly cut, crisp zucchini.
Salads seem entree-worthy, with a promise to use "local and or organic produce when available." The other burgers and sandwiches appear filling, easy to split or take home leftovers. With options like pastrami melt ($12), Philly cheese steak ($11.50) and baco burger ($11), with bacon and avocado, big eaters won't be disappointed.
I didn't have the chance to try any specialties but those seem suited for a nice dinner: citrus herb wild-caught mahi mahi ($22), porcini-crusted rib-eye ($24), house-brined herb-roasted half chicken ($18) and spiced apple-glazed pork chops ($20).
Along with desserts like rainbow cake and creme brulee, The 18hundred serves some gussied up, Black Tap-style milkshakes ($8) like the birthday party, a vanilla shake with rainbow sprinkle rim, whipped cream and mini slice of rainbow cake; and salty sailor, a salted caramel shake with chocolate-dipped pretzels, Twix and salted peanut rim.
On the bar side, 18hundred has plenty of craft cocktails. Its menu is divided into classics, sours, margaritas and a few others that defy a category. One is the rainbow ($13), a lovely concoction of Fair quinoa vodka, Giffard grapefruit liqueur, muddled berries and a lemon soda float. Very smooth, not too sweet and likely to be a nice summer sipper. The gin sour ($13) is a bolder choice, pairing The Spirit Guild's Astral Pacific gin — made with clementines from Rio Bravo Ranch — with that Giffard liqueur, simple syrup, lemon and egg white. This is a full-bodied drink that would stand up as a post-work pick-me-up.
Service was friendly and all employees were hustling on opening night.
The 18hundred is at 1800 Chester Ave. Weekday hours are 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. for breakfast and lunch, 5 to 10 p.m. for dinner. On the weekends, hours are 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
For more information, visit www.the18hundred.com.