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East Sacramento’s month-old Juno’s Kitchen & Delicatessen focuses on serving sustainable food out of a small space with a name inspired by a unique dog.
“Juno is a very unusual dog,” owner Mark Helms said of the pit bull/bull terrier mix. “She likes to swim underwater; she likes to carry around sticks that are like twice her weight. She’s an extreme athlete.”
Helms and his wife, Susan Vasques, opened Juno’s, located at 3617 J St., at the end of October, mere months after selling their restaurant in The Pocket, Ravenous Cafe.
They sold the upscale American-style restaurant to be closer to home, Helms said.
“I always wanted to have a place where bread was kind of the focus,” Helms said, explaining that most of the bread products are made in-house in a pizza oven that was already installed in the 1,100-square-foot space. They are then sliced on one of his prized possessions: an electric bread slicer that dates back to the 1940s.
The shop offers a wide range of sandwiches for lunch and dinner, including Vietnamese-style banh mi pork sandwiches, steak sandwiches, salmon sandwiches and grilled burgers. Also on the menu are dishes such as couscous.
Ingredients are grown locally, and nitrate-free meats and cage-free eggs are used. All sauces are made fresh in-house as well.
“That’s really important to me,” Helms said. “We don’t want to have a bunch of processed food in here. We’re serving something that’s really higher-end, but at a more reasonable price.”
Sandwiches range from $8 - $12, and Helms said he expects to bring in some new dishes in the near future, including scallops with curry served on bread.
Helms said the pizza oven – a leftover from when the space was Pizza Guys – allows him to bake airy bread, since it can cook with steam.
The bread is one thing customers eating at the deli took notice of Tuesday afternoon.
Sarah Miles, a 38-year-old registered nurse from Curtis Park, said the baguette on her steak sandwich was perfect.
“Sometimes baguettes are too hard, but this one was perfectly crispy on the outside and soft on the inside,” she said. “The meat is really tender, and the mushrooms are like butter in your mouth.”
Miles was brought to the restaurant by her friend, 52-year-old Rose Varesio, an instructor at Sacramento State.
Varesio, however, praised the fact that there wasn’t any bread on her sandwich.
“I don’t eat gluten, and I don’t eat pork,” she said. “My banh mi doesn’t have bread or meat, and I really like it that way. They’ll work with you to make you exactly what you want, whether it’s vegan or gluten-free or whatever.”
Though without bread the sandwich was directly on the plate, Varesio said it was still very tasty.
She added that she lives nearby and has already picked it out as a favorite where she takes her friends.
“I love this place,” she said.
Helms, 44, said he has lived in the area for more than 20 years, and the response from customers has been better than he expected, with more than 200 people coming in one day – a surprise for a place that seats 12 people inside and 12 more on the patio.
“I wanted to set this up to be available for a lot of takeout,” he said, adding that the business is also available for catering.
Julie Holt, a 46-year-old Sacramento City College professor from the Arden area, came to Juno’s with her parents for her birthday Tuesday.
“It was amazing,” she said, adding that she had a burger with caramelized onions and Manchego cheese, a style from central Spain. “The bun was great, and it was the perfect size – not too much and not too little.”
The restaurant is currently open from 11:30 a.m. - 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday, though that might change as business demands, Helms said.
“I’ve been a chef all my life,” Helms said. “This is my life, and it’s what I want to do. I can’t imagine doing anything else.”
Editorial Note: Spelling corrections have been made to this story. Rose Varesio's name has been corrected.
Brandon Darnell is a staff reporter for The Sacramento Press. Follow him on Twitter @Brandon_Darnell.