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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Sacramento Area Barbecue Joints

Growing up in Montana, the word "barbecue" meant to me backyard grilling over open flames, charcoal embers, or just electric heating elements. My father was an electrician, so I cut grass with an electric mower on an extension cord, and we ate burgers cooked outside on an electric grill.

There was nothing about that sort of barbecue that appealed to me, since it just seemed to be regular cooking with more carcinogens. And all I knew of what I now recognize as real barbecue was that barbecued ribs were common, and I didn't like ribs--too much fat and bone and mess from the barbecue sauce for so little meat.

But then I saw a lot of television shows on barbecue on Food Network, the History Channel, and the Travel Channel. They still didn't persuade me that barbecue was delicious, but I was intrigued by the tradition related to this form of cooking and the passion many people had for it.

I set out to visit, taste, and photograph the barbecue joints in the Sacramento area. I know there are a lot of people who are very knowledgeable about barbecue, and passionate about it. I, on the other hand, am just getting to know it. So I won't try and offer any comprehensive culinary critiques of the food. Instead, I'll just give my general impressions of the places.

Ludy's Main Street BBQ
667 Main St.

20070721 Pulled Pork Sandwich

This is a restaurant I visited frequently when I lived in Davis, although I usually got something other than the traditional barbecue options on the menu. The restaurant is housed in a historic stone building, and is wonderfully decorated in an Old West theme. Adding to the ambiance is a large patio area in back, with a fountain and small stream and a large fireplace.

I always enjoyed the French fries at Ludy's, which are served with a barbecue dry rub sprinkled on them. You can also fill up a little metal pot with your choice of barbecue sauce and dip the fries in that.

Texas West Bar-B-Que
1600 Fulton Ave.
1950 Douglas Blvd.
2776 E. Bidwell St.

20080527 Beef Brisket Platter

On their menu, Texas West claims to be continually voted "Best BBQ" in both Sacramento Magazine and the Sacramento News and Review. The first Texas West, and I'm not sure which of the three locations that would be, opened in 1991. I visited the one on Fulton Avenue, which has a tiny area in which to dine in, as well as an adjoining patio area that was closed off and was dark when I was there. I had the beef brisket platter for $10.99, which comes with two sides, Texas toast, and sauce on the side. The beans were the most notable element of this meal--served in a thin sauce with onions and tomatoes.

Mac-Que's Bar-B-Que
8101 Elder Creek Rd.

20080529 Pork Ribs Platter

Tucked into a small storefront in a large building on the northwest corner of Power Inn Rd. and Elder Creek Rd. (on the Power Inn side, despite the address), this restaurant is not just one you stumble upon--you have to be looking for it. But it's also worth looking for. It's not much for a dine-in place--just a few tables, and the food is served up on paper plates. They mainly seem to do a big take-out business. The food is excellent and quite reasonable in comparison to other barbecue restaurants. My pork ribs dinner with green beans, macaroni and cheese, and a roll came to $8.95.

They were all very friendly there. I got caught taking a picture of my food and was asked about it, so I came clean and told them, and they wanted the URL for my blog and looked over the list of restaurants I was planning to visit and commented on a few.

Sandra Dee's Bar-B-Que & Seafod
601 15th Street

20080530 Beef Hot Links

I've long intended to eat at Sandra Dee's, mainly because of their advertised all-you-can-eat catfish nuggets special. Finally this barbecue overview gave me the impetus to finally go.

The atmosphere wasn't what I was expecting inside--everything was a little newer and more modern than I was expecting. I had the $9.99 all beef links entree, choosing the hot links with hot barbecue sauce. The sides were a bit disappointing, especially the dry cornbread muffin served without any butter or honey. But the links didn't disappoint. They had a rich flavor and packed quite a bit of heat in conjunction with the sauce. I had to wipe away quite a bit of sweat.

J.R.'s Texas Bar-B-Que
180 Otto Circle

20080531 Pork Shoulder Plate

When I mentioned my intention to visit as many barbecue restaurants in the Sacramento area as possible to friends at work, this is the restaurant they asked me about first. It was a challenge to find--really tucked away in an obscure location. But I guess that isn't hurting business any.

They have received the "Best Bar-B-Que" award from the California Restaurant Association for three years running and took first place in the September of 2006 Rhythm and Ribs national competition.

They only have a couple of parking spaces, although there is plenty of parking on the street. I wasn't even sure they had dine-in facilities, so I was surprised to find a cavernous interior with rows of picnic tables, a pool table (free play), a stage coach, and a big screen television. You could certainly have a great time here with a load of friends.

The barbecue is pretty much exactly what I would expect from a quality barbecue place. My $11 pork shoulder plate came with way more meat than a person should eat at a single setting. It was tender and had a pronounced smokiness (they cook over mesquite). There were three options for sauce: original, sweet, and spicy. I chose spicy, and found it had a mild kick. The beans were pretty standard--I didn't enjoy them as much as those at Texas West. The small corn on the cob was fine too. There was no bread served with the meal.

Pit Stop Bar-B-Que
3515 McClellan Dr.
North Highlands

20080602 Hot Links Dinner

I'm not sure if this place was connected with the Pit Stop on Folsom Blvd. in Rancho Cordova, but apparently that restaurant is now closed.

This Pit Stop offers a moderately sized interior, with additional tables out front. I had the $11.95 hot links dinner, with potato salad, coleslaw, and apparently two toasted and buttered rolls. The potato salad was very good--better than what I had at Sandra Dee's.

Unlike other places, I was not given a choice as to the barbecue sauce. The combination of hot links and sauce packed nowhere near the heat as what I ate at Sandra Dee's, and didn't match them for flavor either, although I still enjoyed them.

Back Forty Texas BBQ
1201 Orlando Ave

20080604 Sliced Lean Beef

My grandmother has taken me to eat many times at the flagship restaurant of the regional Back Forty chain, in Pleasant Hill, although I think I got turkey most times, in an attempt to order something healthy. The location in Roseville, just off of Auburn Blvd, just south of where it crosses Interstate 80 and becomes Riverside ?? , is most notable for the exterior--it looks like an Old West town, and there's a stagecoach out front. There is rustic wood in the interior too, and an attentive staff.

20080604 Back Forty Texas BBQ

It's much classier than the kinds of restaurants I usually eat at, and that is reflected in the prices. It was $14.49 for my sliced lean beef dinner, which came with two sides and an enormous piece of moist cornbread. I wish I had had the room to finish that cornbread.

D'Miller's Famous BBQ
7305 Fair Oaks Blvd

20080610 Hot Links Plate

I had some trouble getting to eat at this place. First off, it's not that easy to find. It's a very small location tucked on the side of a strip mall, along the Sutter Avenue side (across the street from Big Lots), not the Fair Oaks side. When I found it, just after Memorial Day, I found a sign in the door saying "Happy holidays. See you June 3." I didn't know anyone took that long of a vacation for Memorial Day. I didn't check the hours, or else I wouldn't have returned there on a Monday, when they are closed.

But I finally found the place open one day. They have just enough room for a couple tables inside, in a mostly purple interior, and there are a couple of tables out front, but they are metal, and really heat up in the sun. I got the hot links dinner, which was a real bargain in comparison to other barbecue places, at only $6.79. It was okay. I think my favorite was the potato salad, which was reddish, probably from lots of paprika. At those prices, I'm sure I'll be back.

Armadillo Willy's Flying Pig BBQ on a Bun
3620 North Freeway Blvd

20080623 Chopped Brisket Sandwich

Usually I avoid areas like Natomas: contemporary sprawl centering daily life around driving and filled with big box stores and national chains. But I liked the name of this restaurant.

The area it is in is even worse than I imagined, where developers saw fields filled with wildflowers, mice, and rabbits, with hawks circling overhead, and envisioned Wal-Mart, Sam's Club, Target, Starbucks, TGI Friday's, and, of course, acres and acres of parking. But the restaurant itself is pleasant enough, and hopefully will take on some character when it is no longer so new. They have some outdoor seating near a fountain, and a nice neon sign.

I wasn't all that hungry, and since the name of the restaurant has "on a bun" in it, I went for the lunch special rather than a full dinner plate: chopped brisket sandwich, potato salad, and lemonade for $7.99. It was decent. I thought they skimped a bit on the meat, and there was no choice on the barbecue sauce, which was sweet and had no kick to it. But if I happened to be in the area, which is unlikely to be the case anytime soon, I wouldn't be averse to stopping in there again.

This is by no means a complete account, and I will keep adding on as I try more. Two that I found listed online I could not eat at, though. When I arrived at Rubs Ribs on Howe Avenue, I found a note indicating it had permanently closed two weeks earlier. And the address I had for Jeff's Mesquite Barbeque in Orangevale just took me to a house in a residential block.


Anonymous said...

the house in the residential area in Orangevale is the owner of Jeff's they closed down due to the Wal-Mart opening. They use to have very good food, the service was terrible due to lack of proper manners/etiquette that the staff should of had. Many times there would be customers in there and the owner Jeffery George Marx would be yelling such harsh obscenities at his employees. So to me it doesn't surprise me that all the equipment and money they took out to get the business back in business was wasted on pointless things and there stuff is still sitting in storage. Suck a pity too because that family sure did have a knack for BBQ done right.
But I'm sure the owner at 8920 Pershing Ave. will be more then happy to cater for you illegally, and cook his food in his front yard for you at cheap. He probably wouldn't mind to talk either, he is such a cheerful jolly ol' fellow.

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