Eat, drank and be meaty

SN&R’s food reviewers dish on the year’s foodie fixations, trends and tastemakers

What a year. With SN&R’s expanded food section, we dished out more reviews and tasty-related news than ever before. Per usual, many restaurants opened and several others closed. Chefs changed jobs and new small-scale food businesses emerged. Even still, there was plenty that didn’t make it in print—or simply merits repeating. Here’s to hoping our reflections on 2015 help inspire your next meal.

All about that drank

It was the year of restaurant empires, sweets and drank.

Randy Paragary, the Wong brothers, Michael Thiemann and the Broderick and Shady Lady teams all opened hotly anticipated concepts this year. I’d argue that only one—Localis—truly exceeded expectations. Regardless, dining in Sacramento keeps getting more fun.

And thanks to Broderick’s expansion into Midtown as well as Eatuscany Caffe’s opening, I am inhaling more sugar than ever in the Handle District. Broderick’s custard shakes, Eatuscany’s gelato, Divine Gelataria’s cakes, Ginger Elizabeth’s everything—I feel quite cozy with my extra fat layer this winter. We finally got our first legit ice cream shop downtown in Cornflower Creamery. And, a SusieCakes opened in Pavilions Shopping Center, serving my favorite cheesecake in town.

As far as drank goes, I’m talkin’ new breweries, new cafes, more juice and Bottle & Barlow, the fantastic cocktail bar from Sacramento-native-turned-San Francisco-bar-star Jayson Wilde. I’ve never had a drink there that didn’t surprise and delight me.

More Sacramento coffee roasters got rated by the Coffee Review: Insight Coffee Roasters, Pachamama Coffee Cooperative and Seasons Coffee Roasters joined the previous lineup of Temple Coffee and Tea, Old Soul Co. and Chocolate Fish Coffee Roasters. Pachamama also opened its first cafe in East Sacramento, and I became a serious regular at the Mill. While it opened last fall, it wasn’t until this year that the Mill really unleashed its delicious creativity: shrub sodas, velvety almond-macadamia-date milk and affogato collaborations with Maiden Ice Cream, from Mother’s Matt Masera.

Sad to say I never got around to trying most of Sacto’s new breweries: Twelve Rounds, Dragas, Blue Note and Fair Oaks Brew Pub among them. Also sad to say I stopped drinking Knee Deep beers once its co-owner and brewmaster Jeremy Warren left.

Sacramento’s cold-pressed juice scene got crowded, with Liquidology and Whole Hearted Juice Co. opening up. Plus, Sun & Soil added a minilocation inside a new Insight. And there’s way more in the burbs. Surprisingly, no fancy juice downtown yet. DoCo, perhaps?


Eggplants and apps

The city’s restaurant scene saw the rise of its newest power couple, who likely don’t know or care that they’re a power couple: Shannin Stein and Shannon McElroy. Stein is the general manager of the popular Empress Tavern, not to mention the event coordinator for Empress, Mother and Crest Theatre. McElroy is the ingenious head chef at Federalist Public House (and a Masullo alumnus) who is rocking the pizza world. Between the two of them, they’ve helped elevate the local dining world to new heights.

The food literati welcomed Dan Barber at a fundraiser for the Food Literacy Center, inspiring a huge audience to completely rethink farm-to-fork production in order to create a more sustainable agricultural system that places the farm and the soil first.

It also seems that we’re rather obsessed with eggplants now as the farmers markets carried an unending variety: striated Sicilian eggplants, Japanese eggplants, pumpkin-shaped Hmong eggplants, melon-colored Thai eggplants and slender pink tung longs. I even saw hard-to-find red eggplants bubbling away in a home cook’s curry!

Lastly, dining apps really hit the scene. Requested (created by Sacramento’s Sonny Mayugba) has made dining out even easier for some, while Postmates delivers your favorite restaurant dishes right to your door.


Just meaty

The 2015 food scene here was dominated by scads more pizza, coffee and local beer additions. Are we at saturation yet? You can even legally drink beer while cycling with friends on the Sac Brew Bike and Off the Chain Bike Bus.

The R Street Corridor exploded with food choices, including Iron Horse Tavern, Roxie Deli, Nido Cafe and Fish Face Poke Bar. We’re ahead of the trend with poke, which is just entering other city food scenes.

We lost longtime local producer Sacramento Tofu Co., but saw the reopening of the venerable Joe Marty’s, which was closed for a decade before being resurrected by local baseball fans.

Sacramento Food Bank and Family Services broke a Guinness World Record by collecting 170,924 pounds of fresh produce in one day. The event kicked off the third annual Farm-to-Fork Festival, which was also marked by the fastest-ever sellout of the Bridge Dinner tickets in mere seconds.

The additions of V. Miller Meats butcher shop and Empress Tavern may signal an increased local craving for meat, despite the World Health Organization’s dire warnings about red meat and local emphasis on farm-to-fork produce.

Burgers were wildly popular, too, with an insanely rich $26 option offered at Ella Dining Room and even richer $50 one at Grange Restaurant & Bar. Our No. 1 burger in town from Pangaea Bier Cafe not only won the 2015 Sacramento Burger Battle, but it was ranked in the top 20 at the World Burger Championship in Florida.