Taste of Sacramento: Freeport Boulevard features classic tastes from around world

Mitch Barber

Freeport Boulevard spans just over seven miles, from Sacramento’s Broadway in the north to the town of Freeport in the south, where goods were once unloaded from the Sacramento River for free, without being taxed.

There is a lot to the stretch of road.

At the southern edge of the downtown grid, 19th Street becomes Freeport Boulevard, winding through a well-treed, purely residential part of the historic Land Park subdivision before revealing in turn Taylor’s Market, C.K. McClatchy High School, Sacramento City College, William Land Park, a flurry of Chinese restaurants neighbored by a Japanese supermarket, Sacramento Executive Airport, Bing Maloney Golf Course, and finally Freeport, a place where the Old West meets the river.

So let’s address the street’s culinary scene. What better way to experience the street’s essence?

Troy Durfee is a grocery manager at Taylor’s Market, a specialty market situated where Freeport Boulevard bends into 21st Street at the railroad and light-rail tracks. He says the store’s 57-year run is about connecting with the community.

“It really comes down to being personable with the community, and getting to know the people who live in the neighborhood,” Durfee said. “And also helping provide what they need, which is … great wine, great beer, great meats, great pastries … These kinds of things are huge for me, and they are definitely huge for this place.”

The market is perhaps best known for its meat department, which draws folks from all around the area.

“They drive two hours just to get our meats,” says Durfee.

The dry-aged rib eyes are a tender, beefy treat for $22.99 per pound, and a generously-portioned sandwich featuring housemade roasted pork loin and a sweet-spicy-savory ancho chile jam is just $8.99.

To drink there is a variety of French, Italian, and California wines from estates wine buyer Dick Ebert has personally visited, and a long fridge of beers that include local favorites like Auburn Alehouse’s Gold Digger IPA, and Belching Beaver’s Peanut Butter Stout from farther south in Oceanside.

And past the high school and college, going south on Freeport Boulevard on the right-hand side, is a charming, isolated octagonal building that looks like a brick-and-mortar circus tent.

It is the Mahoraba Japanese Bakery.

Owner and baker Narusuke Monguchi is a bubbly, joyful presence who dons a black Mahoraba ball cap; he indicated in Japanese that he is a Yomiuri Giants fan, a Tokyo-based baseball team, despite being from Kobe.

He spent 14 years in Nepal before coming to Sacramento and opening the bakery on his father’s recommendation. There are indeed three Mahoraba locations: one each in Sacramento, Nepal and Kobe.

Monguchi is a stickler for tradition, the Sacramento bakery has already been operating for 10 years, and he makes it clear that good bread shouldn’t be rushed. He starts his shifts at midnight and doesn’t leave the bakery until 3 or 4 p.m. He said in Japanese, “I don’t sleep much. Many Americans want it fast, like in an hour, but it takes time to make good bread. You divide the dough into small pieces, let it rise, and repeat the process. It takes five hours.”

The shoku pan is uber-fluffy white bread that emits an aroma reminiscent of the old Wonder Bread bakery on Arden Way. It is chewy on its browned edges, and the pillowy middle melts in your mouth. The loaves come thin or thick-cut, comprised of six or 10 slices respectively, and they are $3.30 each.

Monguchi’s top seller is the Kobe cream bread, an egg custard-filled bun offered for just $1.30. It is pleasantly sweet and typical of his hometown. The filling is kept relatively light by an extended stirring period that is part of its preparation.

Savory options include the bacon and egg bread: simple, straight-forward carbs and protein, and the “fish dog,” which is battered fish in a hot dog-style bun.

But wait, the Sacramento area was a part of the Old West, and farther south down Freeport Boulevard in the town of Freeport is a special building built in the 1860s. The spot, at 8550 Freeport Blvd., was purchased by restaurateurs Thomas MacMillan and Terry Osmonson in 1972, and they made A.J. Bump’s the place to go for nearly 20 years, until its closure in 1991.

Jerry Franco was a part of their restaurant and saloon from the beginning, giving it its paint job. He worked his way up from cleaning crew to floor manager. One of Franco’s surnames is Zapata, and his long mustache made him look somewhat like the revolutionary Emiliano Zapata in an old photograph of himself at the restaurant that he shared with this writer.

In a telephone interview Franco said, “A.J. Bump’s was a real saloon. It was the West. We all wore cowboy boots to work. The bar was shoulder to shoulder, and we had three-hour waits to dine. No restaurant was busier. It was the star of Sacramento at the time.

“The salad bar was a place to be seen, and it was right in front of the broiler. And A.J. Bump’s was so popular because of the steaks. The steaks were hand cut.”

Just like those ribeyes back at Taylor’s Market, which is just one of the places that are still fostering food and beverage memories on Freeport Boulevard, a diverse span of road that takes you from Sacramento’s urban core out to the country.

About this series

Taste of Sacramento features restaurants and shops that have been open for a while and give an area its charm. If you have a suggestion, email it to beefeatures@gmail.com.