Best of Sacramento 2013: Food & Drink

Best hot, new (but not-so-new) chef: Brian Mizner of Hook & Ladder Manufacturing Co.

Photo by ryan donahue

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“Miznero.” That’s what old-school Sacramento bartender extraordinaire Chris Tucker calls chef Brian Mizner’s secret hot sauce, a habanero-based concoction hidden behind Hook & Ladder Manufacturing Co.’s bar. Tucker can mix a cocktail with the chef’s heat (just ask), but the reason to bring it up is twofold: Mizner has a predeliction for fire, and he’s also the hottest new (but not-so-new) chef in town.

On a recent weeknight, Mizner’s in the back of Hook’s Midtown kitchen, loading some veal bones, roasted off with tomato paste, into a big pot with veggies, cold water and herbs. This is the beginning of a different sauce, the base for many of Hook’s expansive, intrepid menu items, of which Sacramentans seem unable to stop talking about since the restaurant opened last fall.

Who is this new chef? Well, it turns out Mizner, 35, has been at it for years.

Rewind 20: A pizzeria in Cameron Park, Papa Gianni’s Ristorante, where an “old, grumpy Italian guy,” Mizner said, taught the chef how to make pizza. “The dough, the care in making the dough—how you let it rest, how you let it rise, how you store it” is what matters, he shares.

Eventually, Mizner traveled down the hill for a stint at City Treasure in Midtown, followed by stops at Masque Ristorante in El Dorado Hills, L Wine Lounge and Urban Kitchen, Hot Italian. And now, Hook.

Tucker, who oversees Hook’s bar, worked with Mizner at L Wine and praises the chef’s “unabashadly Californian cuisine.” Which is maybe an ’80s way of saying local, natural, healthful, inventive “farm-to-fork” eats, such as rotund heirloom tomatoes, sliced thick and served with lemon cucumbers, burrata, frisee and dressing. Or pepper-jack cheese curds with cut-up pluots, Thai chilies and basil, rice-wine vinegar and cilantro. Plus, game and fish and steaks are in the mix. The chef certainly embraces the NorCal breadbasket.

But Mizner and his team—which includes chefs Greg Pilapil and Vinny Lazzaretto—truly excel with Hook’s pasta dishes: beet linguine, carmelized onion and potato ravioli, even vegan and (soon) gluten-free pastas. It’s an ever-changing Italian influence.

“You should see our freezer. We have 20 different types of pasta at any time,” Mizner said, proudly.

When he’s not in the kitchen, you might bump into the grid-dwelling chef around town, cruising for happy-hour deals, or maybe clamoring for “tacos and Thai food,” he said. And, perhaps in the near future, hawking his hot sauce. “The habanero sauce, we’re going to try to start marketing it soon.”

And why not? The name certainly sticks. 1630 S Street, (916) 442-4885, http://hookand