Summer Guide 2014 Food & Drink: What Sacramento chefs eat when they want to pig out

Gluttony, but no punishment.

photo by wes davis

Chefs live in a world of constant culinary temptation. They can pretty much eat whatever they want whenever they want. You might call this “hella sweet.” But, if you think about it, it also poses a unique conundrum: What does a chef eat when they really want to get their shameless, grubbing-out gluttonous self on?

Here in Sacramento, burgers—no surprise—are a popular go-to with chefs. But, again, they’re chefs. Are they picky? Where do local culinary-scene leaders gravitate for hard-core burger gourmandizing?

Scott Ostrander, who runs the kitchen at Esquire Grill on K Street, wasn’t alone in putting Nationwide Freezer Meats in the crosshairs. People forget about Nationwide, tucked away in Midtown on H and 20th streets, but its ground-steak burgers are the stuff of quintessential Sacto gorging.

He says that a Double French with bacon and cheese is the way to go. “With steak-cut fries,” of course. For those of you not in the know, that’s two-thirds of a pound of ground steak.

And you can go deeper down that rabbit hole. Order the Quadruple: 1-and-a-third pounds of burger, freshly ground that day, plus cheese, for $16.59.

Is that just too much? Should we blame Paul Newman and the 50 cooked eggs he sucked down in Cool Hand Luke? Or John Candy in The Great Outdoors, when he annihilated the “Old 96er” so his family could dine for free? There’s no denying that Kobayashi’s hot-dog chomping razors and reality TV shows like Man v. Food are guilty of fetishizing hard-core food porn.

But, thankfully, Sacramento chefs aren’t much for food challenges. They’re into the classics.

Bud’s Buffet, on Tenth Street between J and K, is one of those vintage spots. Chef Michael Thiemann says he’ll escape his world of veggies and legumes at Mother, located around the corner, to slay a Big Bud during lunch every so often.

The Big Bud is straightforward, but don’t underestimate its brand of satiety: two choices of your own meat, stacked high on a roll with nuts-and-bolts condiments for eight bucks.

photo by wes davis

As K Street history expert and Bud’s enthusiast William Burg put it, “Food coma guaranteed.”

Chef cravings fascinate. At the drop of a spatula, they could whip up any dish in their repertoire, yet each weekend you’ll find chefs in drive-thrus.

But not all of them are downing Jimboy’s Tacos. Robb Venditti, who recently took over the new kitchen at Pangaea Two Brews Cafe in Curtis Park, says his favorite go-to is a beef taco, chicken enchilada with mole, chips, guacamole, four Bohemias and three shots of tequila at Tres Hermanas in Midtown.

Revolution Wines’ chef Rachel Kelley gets a Willie’s Burger, extra pickles, grilled onions, add bacon, less lettuce, and no tomato (it’s “usually gritty and out of season,” she says). Oh, and a bag of fries with seasoning salt.

Patrick Mulvaney zeroes in on the No. 4 pho at Pho Bac Hoa Viet on Broadway. That is, unless his wife is out of town. In that case, he’ll just microwave some White Castle burgers—complete with a dose or seven of Sacramento’s famous Ass Fire sauce (Google it).

Mother executive chef Matt Masera says he follows his cravings all the way out to Orangevale’s La Placita. “No shame involved, and bit of guilt and honor,” he says of his order: the Patrick burrito (“It’s the size of my face”) with carne asada, peppers and smothered with something called “Christmas sauce.” “It’s a meal in itself, but the chips and salsa here are my favorite,” he says. “It’s easy to crush two baskets of chips while gorging.”

Grange Restaurant & Bar chef Oliver Ridgeway confesses that he’s yet to discover his perfect grub-out spot, so instead, he likes to cook breakfast for dinner. English style, he says, with Heinz baked beans, toast and sausages. “It really satisfies every food group: runny eggs, greasy meat,” he says.

Chef Michael Tuohy, of newly opened Block Butcher Bar on 20th Street, also says cooking for himself is a go-to fave. He shared his addiction to “late-night duck-egg carbonara” with guanciale (cured pork cheeks), Parmigiano and “a healthy dose of freshly ground black pepper.”

There’s a trend here: None of this is vegetarian. Conveniently, SN&R’s editorial staff—what with it’s 42-percent veg-eating population—has no shortage of recommendations. Such as: Tower Cafe’s East African Veggie Burger, El Papagayo Restaurant’s tostada salad (or any of its enchiladas), Pushkin’s Bakery’s cupcakes, Magpie Cafe’s risotto, the three small-plate combo at Chaatney, and all-veg buffets at Peacock Indian Restaurants in Folsom and the Queen Sheba on Broadway.

While we’re professing gut-busters: Large Spinoccoli from Zelda’s. All for me.

And then a very long nap.