Eat brisket, get tanked
Tyler and Melissa Williams
Sacramento is getting kind of fancy these days, what with its craft cocktails and Michelin-star-chasing chefs. But husband-and-wife team Tyler and Melissa Williams, co-owners of the new Midtown spot Tank House BBQ and Bar (1925 J Street), have set their sights on something else: down-home, old-fashioned barbecue—a type of food whose presence has been scant on the grid up to this point. Open as of last Wednesday, August 21, at the site of a historic Midtown water tank, the restaurant features a small, focused menu, a diverse beer selection and an outdoor patio with a backyard-hangout vibe. Tyler, formerly a bartender at The Golden Bear, Melissa and their 18-month-old son, Huck—barbecue aficionado in training—sat down with SN&R to talk about keeping it real, keeping it smoky and keeping it saucy.
There’s a peculiar shortage of barbecue spots in Sacramento. Why’d you choose this particular type of food?
Melissa Williams: We love barbecue. We always barbecue on the weekends, and we wanted a place with a big outdoor patio where people can basically do what they do at home on Sunday afternoons, but at a bar in Midtown.
Did you grow up eating it?
Tyler Williams: Both of our dads are out on the barbecue all the time. My dad is always smoking something.
Melissa: I grew up in Orangevale, and our neighbors raised cattle, so we would buy half a cow from the neighbors, and, basically, that's what we'd eat all summer.
What makes for good barbecue?
Tyler: Tank House will be more south Texas style. But honestly, I love just really, really smoky stuff. I like smoke. I like pepper.
Melissa: We don't want to do anything like crazy California “new cuisine.” We want old-school, down-home, classic barbecue. Of course, there's room for us to run a special and do something crazy, but we want to do basic, just really, really good smoked meat. We don't necessarily want to limit ourselves to one style of barbecue. We'll always have ribs, and we'll always have brisket.
Tyler: Our menu concept is along the lines of simple and small, but really good, as opposed to us giving you a bunch of different things that are all kind of mediocre.
So, word on the street is that you’re not going to focus on craft cocktails.
Tyler: Well, I just don't want it to be the complete focus of what we're doing. I love craft cocktails. I love making craft cocktails. You'll be able to get them from our bartenders, but it won't be the focus. We're not going above and beyond to out-cocktail the other cocktail bars in town. We want it to have more of a comfortable, neighborhood-bar feel.
OK, but what about moonshine?
Tyler: (Laughs.) Absolutely not. Not a fan of the clear whiskey in general.
Be honest: How sick are you of taste-testing barbecue, on a scale of one to 10?
Melissa: Not at all, yet! But we constantly reek of smoke and barbecue. So, we're sick of that, which is a little different.
Tyler: We constantly smell like we've been camping for three days.
Are you going to have one signature sauce? A bunch of different ones?
Melissa: We're starting with three.
Tyler: We're thinking about doing a seasonal sauce to go with a seasonal beer and using that beer in the sauce. That was our chef's idea.
Speaking of your chef, you guys really kept his name under wraps. Who is it?
Tyler: Ah, his name is [Brian “Chachi” Maydahl]. [He's previously] from the Shady Lady Saloon, from de Vere's [Irish Pub], from The Kitchen.
Melissa: He cooks a serious meat. Of course, we'd eaten his food a bunch before we even knew he was going to come in for a test run. We knew whatever he made was going to be amazing.
How’d your first week go?
Melissa: It went really well! It was pretty hectic, because we opened during [Midtown Cocktail Week], so we got a lot of spillover from that. We managed to sell out of ribs every day this week, too, which is great. So far, we have received nothing but great comments on our food. Also, people are loving the $2 cans of Hamm's [beer] that we are selling.
What about Huck? How does he like barbecue?
Melissa: He's really into the sauce.
Tyler: He just licks off the sauce and puts the meat aside. Hopefully, that's not what our customers are going to do. But if they are, hey, do whatever you want with it!