Piggy pop-up

Illustration by Mark Stivers

Surprise: You wouldn’t expect excellent food in trippy dive bar Back Door Lounge in Old Sacramento.

But now the kitchen belongs to Aaron Anderson, a former fine dining chef with stints at the Ritz Carlton in Arizona and the Hyatt Regency in San Diego. He came to Back Door in October, revamping the dive bar’s usual breakfast and lunch fare with farm-to-fork sensibilities.

Now, he’s getting ready to bring his catering project Purple Pig Eats to the masses. In late March, it’ll reside as a permanent pop-up inside Back Door Lounge on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. Watch out for some previews in February.

“Fine dining is great, and it gives you to the tools to do cool stuff,” he says. “But this reaches more people.”

Purple Pig Eats specializes in what Anderson calls “California-style barbecue,” with Asian and Mexican influences. For example, pork butt is cooked carnitas-style for 10 hours, then smoked; lamb ribs come with a yuzu mint glaze; and tacos are filled with char siu-style pork. A note for true ’cue nerds: Anderson primarily uses cherry and almond wood.

In season: Between restaurants in Davis and Winters—plus catering and farmers markets—Tony and Rhonda Gruska have spent several years exhibiting the farm-to-fork lifestyle. Their restaurants have been co-owned by Jim Eldon of Fiddlers Green Farm in Brooks, which in turn supplies the Gruska’s restaurants.

The latest? EastSMF (3260 J Street, Suite B), which softly opened two weeks ago. That’s the original Formoli’s Bistro, which the Gruskas have brightened up with fresh paint and modern accents.

Last summer, Tony and Rhonda were forced to close their Davis restaurant Monticello Seasonal Cuisine amid problems with the landlord. Those problems escalated to a legal battle—and a threat to take Fiddlers—that the Gruskas are still fighting. They have a court date in November.

“Right now, our goal is to leave Monticello behind emotionally and financially, and protect the farm,” Rhonda says. Like Monticello, EastSMF’s menu will change regularly—often daily—but there will always be one vegan entree and at least one vegetarian entree. Tony, who cooked at Monticello, is joined by Rachel Kelley (Brasserie Capitale, South, Revolution Wines) and Stan Moore (Tuli Bistro, Capital Dime) in the kitchen. They’ll likely host a grand opening in spring and add on lunch and brunch.