Foodies in the greater Sacramento area rarely go home hungry, culinary dictates notwithstanding. Whether fast food or slow, casual or formal, dirt-cheap or dizzyingly pricy, chances are it’s available in any given cuisine from Afghan to Ukrainian. It can sometimes take a bit of driving, but given the gamut of eateries within the city limits, the trip is usually manageable. The closer to the central city, the better, of course; in the Grid restaurants are so densely packed that some blocks consist of nothing but
The food scene has been experiencing vibrant, even explosive, growth for some time now; it bears little resemblance to that found in most parts of town 20 years ago. And yet through it all some corners have remained relatively unaffected; possibly foremost among them is the Pocket/Greenhaven. It’s not exactly a culinary desert; along with the obligatory fast food chains, burger joints and pizza parlors, there are American, Chinese, Japanese, Mexican, Thai, Vietnamese and seafood venues and a wee smattering of other styles. But anything outside of that limited gamut requires a road trip—which is often fine for many people, but it’s not always convenient, and for some it’s not even possible. Besides, one Mickey D’s is much like any other. So there’s variety, yes—but not by much.
Several recent arrivals have helped push that envelope a bit, such as the year-old Cacio, an Italian cafe nestled in Riverlake Village Shopping Center’s little “restaurant row” that has consistently garnered rave reviews.
Another dearth the area has long suffered is that of brewpubs/taprooms, which are distinct from bars that happen to have a decent beer selection in that brewpubs emphasize the beer experience. Three months before Cacio’s arrival, just a few doors down one such pub arrived on the scene called Hop Junction. This taproom offered a welcome assortment of microbrews and typical pub-type food choices. Then last March publican Jasdeep Purewal upped his restaurateuring game, unveiling a new, expansive menu featuring Indian cuisine.
The transformation was driven in part by Purewal’s love for the foods of his homeland. “I always wanted to open a gastropub, known for some kind of food—not just for beer and burgers,” he said. “In this neighborhood there’s no Indian restaurant. I always wanted to come up with different cuisine, especially where I could represent my culture. I think I know Indian food because I’m from there, and I want to bring the authenticity to the neighborhood.”
Customer demand also played a role. “They loved our old menu too—burgers and stuff—but they always asked me, why can’t you [add a certain item]…. So we started with appetizers like samosas and aloo tikki, and they loved it. There was all this support—you should do more and more.”
Purewal began rolling out the appetizers in late 2018; several months later he found an Indian chef and the two collaborated on the menu conversion, which replaced all but a few of the most popular items such as the Pocket Burger. The task was to determine where his own preferences overlapped with the chef’s specialties, with an eye toward providing a reasonable breadth of styles that competes with what is available at other Indian restaurants in the region. Purewal contributed some of the recipes but most were accumulated by Chef Baldev Singh during a 32-year career at Boston’s Bombay Bistro and Punjabi Grill. A teenage Singh started as a dishwasher, eventually rising through the ranks. Singh uses no recipe book, relying instead on memory.
A typical spread of tandoori dishes, naan and Pocket Burger accompanied by crisp lagers.
Most menu items feature the cooking styles most often found outside of India—e.g. tandoori—but other regional styles are also represented. “It’s mostly northern, since I’m Punjabi—we do a lot of barbecues and marinated stuff,” Purewal said. “I [offer] tandoori items—that’s why we [mention] the clay oven on the menu. Tandoori [dishes are] pre-marinated and cooked in the clay oven at 635 degrees. And we have southern dishes like vindaloo.”
To impart a distinctive flair, some of the Tandoori items—e.g. Haryali Tikka, Malai Tikka, Tandoori Shrimp—employ unique marinades that are formulated with precise amounts of up to a dozen spices and other ingredients. While foods of the subcontinent can be eye-wateringly spicy, here all orders are prepared mildly spiced by default. All ingredients are fresh and each dish is made to order from scratch. An organic larder stocked with locally-sourced products can be implemented once the revamped menu has a sufficient footing. The new lineup has been slow to gain traction primarily because news of the change has been spread mostly by word of mouth. It’s certainly not due to a lack of quality, as evidenced by a loyal core of about a dozen customers who return frequently (up to three times each week) to partake of the new offerings. Especially popular are the chicken tikka masala, tandoori chicken tikka, lamb curry and lamb seekh kabab; the tandoori items and chicken tikka masala are Purewal’s favorites.
The reviews have been glowingly positive to the point of being gushing. Among the regulars are longtime Pocket residents Anita and Jim Kassel, whose table was loaded with colorful platters of appealing victuals one recent afternoon. The Kassels, who have patronized the pub from the beginning and visit at least once each week, gave the previous menu high marks with regard to freshness and flavor but rave about the new one across the board. “It’s incredibly flavorful and I can order items as spicy as I like,” Anita said. “The chicken is always so tender and the lamb is also very delicious. One of my favorite dishes is the tandoori shrimp. I also love the tandoori chicken malai tikka. The garlic naan is also one of my favorites and you can’t go wrong with any of the wraps.”
While the Kassels were hooked by the beer selection and original menu from the start, the location was the clincher. “We were excited that there was something new in this neighborhood. Hop Junction definitely fills a void here in the Pocket,” Anita said. “[I]t’s family friendly and just a wonderful place to be able to pop into. Jas will always greet you with a smile on his face. Even the chef has quickly stepped out of the kitchen to say hello.”
Anita touched upon Hop Junction’s unusual intersection of food and drink options. “This place is different because they have that extensive beer [selection] with an Indian menu. No other Indian restaurants I’ve been to have that combination. I also like that they have vegetarian options.”
Chef Singh readies a shrimp kebab for the tandoor oven.
The Kassels’ dinner companions, Boston transplants Darian and Ronald Giusti, who are well familiar with Indian cuisine, were similarly impressed. Darian deemed it “spectacular” while Ronald thought it merely “great.” Darian had the chicken korma and found it to be excellent. “I think it’s tops. We had curry all over the place [in Boston], and this is as good as that.” She described her lassi (a yogurt/fruit-based drink) similarly, proclaiming it to be “the best drink I ever had.”
The full 50-item menu includes 11 appetizers (six vegetarian) such as pakora and samosa; 12 curries (five veggie) such as chicken tikka masala, fish curry and lamb vindaloo; eight tandooris (one veggie) such as chicken malai tikka, chicken seekh kabab and shrimp; four wraps such as chili chicken and lamb seekh kebab; a fusion salad, a burger, two desserts and six varieties of naan. The lunch menu offers all the curry dishes and half the appetizers but no tandoori. A kids’ menu lists just fries and either chicken strips or drumsticks. Diners seeking soup and/or chutney won’t find them here. Expect standard market pricing or slightly lower.
While Anita Kassel favors the tandoori shrimp and garlic naan, based on her positive experiences she’s not afraid to experiment. “I’m trying to order something different each time I go in,” she said. “So far, every single menu item I’ve tried, I have loved.”
Although Hop Junction is shining the spotlight on its culinary side, it must be noted that the beer selection is every bit as much an attraction as ever. About 20 taps feature a rotating lineup of microbrews (some of them from local producers) across a range of styles. Lagers, which pair well with Indian dishes, are always available on draft, and several bottled Indian labels are kept on hand. The wine list also includes selections to accompany just about anything that leaves the kitchen. The bar seating is suitable for single patrons or couples to grab a bite and a brew, and offers a pleasant atmosphere in which to imbibe and visit with Purewal and fellow tipplers or simply veg out in front of several of the flat panel TVs. The place becomes a karaoke bar on many Sat. nights for those who like that sort of thing; perhaps with enough encouragement Purewal and Chef Singh will sing a duet, as happens at venues such as Carmel’s outstanding Dametra Cafe (although there it’s not karaoke, but live music from Greek instruments that provides the melody).
Hop Junction does have its busy periods, but there are still many opportunities to stop in for a pint and some pakora with a side of elbow room. This may in fact be a good time to make it a go-to venue before word gets around and it becomes one of those places Yogi Berra referenced when he said, “Nobody goes there anymore—it’s too crowded.” Purewal would of course love to see capacity crowds from open to close, but as important as a healthy customer base is to him, it’s also in the neighborhood’s best interest, as Anita Kessel pointed out. “I hope everyone will give Hop Junction a try and experience their menu. We need to support this new establishment so that it will stay in our neighborhood. Our restaurant choices here in the Pocket wouldn’t be the same without Hop Junction and Jas.” In fact, customers don’t even have to set foot in the place, as home delivery is now available.
The tandoori kebab shrimp are tender and juicy.
Located at 7600 Greenhaven Dr. #20, the pub sits between Viento’s and 24 Hour Fitness at the north end of the parking area. Purewal can be contacted at 916.382.9211 and via HopJunction@yahoo.com. The Website, hop-junction.com, offers information that is often outdated so a phone call is advised. On Tue.-Sat. lunch runs 11AM-2PM and dinner 5PM-10PM, on Sun. the doors open at noon and close at 10 and on Mon. the doors don’t open at all.
There is an old Hindi saying, “Boond-boond se ghara bharta hai,” which roughly translates to “A pitcher is filled drop by drop.” As Hop Junction’s pitcher still has plenty of room to spare, Purewal and his loyal patrons are praying for rain, a drop at a time. A warm welcome surely awaits anyone who “drops in.”