Centrale Kitchen and Bar
San Francisco meets Stockton at this Miracle Mile eatery
by JAMIE MENAKER
Tucked into a barely visible corner of Stockton’s Miracle Mile is Centrale Kitchen and Bar. Significantly overshadowed in size by the neighboring Empire Theatre, the only hint of a restaurant visible from the street is a small sign proclaiming ‘Bar and Grill’. It is only when diners stand directly in front of the restaurant, where ‘Centrale’ is printed on floor to ceiling windows in gold gilded type, that they are able to see the official announcement of what to expect within.
A first restaurant venture for both Scott Thompson and brother-in-law Tony Sbragia, Centrale is a step forward for Stockton. Both owners are Stockton born and raised, and saw a niche that needed to be filled in the city, for casual American cuisine in an upscale atmosphere—the restaurant is “homegrown,” as Thompson likes to say. This translates to an eatery that has the chic of San Francisco, with dishes not so out of left field that they aren’t accessible to anyone who loves just really good food.
“There are a lot of different cuisines in Stockton right now,” says Thompson. “We wanted to offer mainstream American comfort food with a few tweaks here and there to keep it contemporary.”
The resulting menu, while not extensive (there are only eight entrée choices on the summer dinner menu), is filled with dishes like baby Bay scallop and shrimp scampi over buttery risotto, double cut bone-in pork chop with baby red mashed potatoes and a stone fruit chutney that’s simply divine if you have any inclination toward mangos, and a Kobe hanger steak with sweet corn and fava bean succotash.
Starters are impressive here as well, with selections like Lakewood Meats grilled apple brats with a trio of mustard, and a Frog Hollow Farms organic peach salad with walnuts, cherry tomatoes, and goat cheese. A lunch menu is also offered, with homemade soups, salads, and sandwiches (roasted turkey is made fresh daily), all appropriately priced for lunchtime. Centrale benefits from their abbreviated, bistro-style menu, as each dish from the kitchen is executed almost flawlessly. On most nights, executive chef Bernardo Martinez or sous chef Ryan Wager will stop by tables to greet diners and be sure that the selected dishes are to patrons’ liking.
“Early on, the first thing that many people were expecting was a larger menu,” says Thompson. “We stuck with the bistro idea on this one. We aren’t a huge establishment, so we chose the things that we know we can do and do well.”
Centrale offers a more intimate atmosphere than the standard for most Stockton restaurants. Clean, simplistic lines and earth tones are complimented by white tablecloths and tea lights in basic, clear jars in the middle of each table. Chairs, tables, and walls are subdued shades of brown, with the exception of an entire wall behind the bar covered in bricks, hand-laid by Thompson and Sbragia themselves. A newly opened patio beside the restaurant is neat and unfussy.
The cocktail list is another standout here, where quality ingredients take a front seat. All fruit-based cocktails are made from fresh juices, including freshly-squeezed orange juice screwdrivers, and margaritas made to order. Tonic is also made from scratch here, nicely complemented by your choice of gin. As with the menu and wine list that changes seasonally, so do the draft beers on tap.
“We try to offer selections that you might not see everyday,” says Thompson. “We keep it different and fresh, and keep our customers coming back to see what’s new. One of our biggest challenges so far has been making sure that everyone knows we’re open seven days a week, since most of the [Miracle] Mile is closed on Sunday and Monday.” The Centrale bar also stays open until midnight on weekdays, and 2 a.m. on weekends.
The icing on the cake? Housemade desserts the likes of oreo cheesecake, wild blueberry crème brulee, and rich cocoa tiramisu.