Take your ‘cue

Capitol Dawg

1226 20th St.
Sacramento, CA 95814

(916) 444-1226

One of the admittedly few difficulties of being a restaurant reviewer is the question of what to order. At most places, I can’t possibly taste everything, even if I boss around my dining companion unmercifully about what to get and then eat a lot off of his plate. There’s just too much on most menus, and I worry sometimes that I’ve missed the one standout dish to recommend—or, worse, that I’ve ordered the one standout dish and that everything else is awful, leading to over-inflated praise.

I realize that, as job dilemmas go, it’s not exactly up there with weighing the question of whether to lead the troops into battle (though sometimes, I vaguely suspect that I’ve pondered my question a bit longer than certain commanders in chief have spent thinking about the rights and wrongs of war). But I was nonetheless delighted to find a new menu where I could taste just about everything on the menu with a single order.

At Barbary Coast Savannah BBQ, the combination plate incorporates some of everything: ribs, chicken, Carolina-style pulled pork, a hot link, coleslaw, baked beans and cornbread (actually muffins). Two items—pulled pork and hot links—also are available in sandwich form, but the real deal is the meat, and that you get on the combo plate. The only other things on the menu are drinks and pecan pralines for dessert.

Because the restaurant had run out of the pralines on my first visit (and my second, unhappily), I really did try it all. I was happy. My husband was happy, because there was no whispered negotiation along the lines of “If you get the duck, I can get the pork tenderloin, but you have to have soup so I can have salad.” And, because the heaping combination plate cost a mere $17.95, my expense account was also happy.

Meanwhile, I had briefly forgotten that barbecue is perhaps the most contentious cuisine the hapless reviewer can take on. Writing about it is like wading into shark-infested waters wearing a steak bikini. Somebody is going to get riled up, and somebody, most likely me, is going to get hurt. I’m not much of a partisan; I like nearly all styles. The exception is Texas-style ’cue, especially brisket. (I know. Spare me your letters and your howls of protest.)

As its name implies, Barbary Coast Savannah BBQ doesn’t do Texas-style anyway. The friendly lady behind the counter told us that the restaurant’s rib recipe is from Georgia (so is the sauce, flown in from Savannah) and its pulled-pork recipe is from North Carolina. Carolina-style barbecue is distinctive and usually surprising to anyone who hasn’t had it before: shredded meat in a tangy, thin sauce that’s nothing like familiar tomato-based sweet or hot sauces.

The counter lady asked everyone who walked in if they’d had the style before, sometimes offering a taste, and explicating it carefully: “It has a little vinegary taste to it and a little zap to it.” Indeed it does, plus plenty of succulent pork flavor and some hard-to-place, dusky spices. Barbary Coast’s menu claims, with the braggadocio typical of barbecue joints, that its is “the best Carolina pulled pork BBQ west of Chapel Hill, North Carolina.”

Although I can’t vouch for the whole country, this also happens to be the only Carolina-style pulled pork I’ve seen west of Chapel Hill. It’s also quite delicious, as good as some that I had in Chapel Hill not long ago. Purists probably will be upset that there’s no genuine smoking pit, but it’s damned tasty without the smoke. Who needs the environmental guilt of eating meat and causing air pollution at the same time?

The ribs would benefit, however, from a little more smoke flavor. Their texture is great, though, and the shreds of rich meat were perfect with the more familiar Georgia-style sauce, as was the tender chicken. The hot link—fat and brick-red, with a hot-dog-like texture—was indeed hot and flavorful.

Don’t skip the sides, either. Lightly dressed coleslaw adds crunch (and fiber) to the meal. The corn muffins were a little sweet and pale for my taste, but the beans had a deep, molasses flavor and an earthiness from the untraditional inclusion of some black beans.

The black beans were one of the subtle touches that makes Barbary Coast a distinctly Californian hybrid, not just a Southern transplant. Another is that the brewed iced tea is—thank goodness—not sweet. And, as I found out when I went back for a pulled-pork sandwich, they’ve ditched the super-soft white rolls that traditionally hold (or rather fail to hold) pulled pork, in favor of big, sturdy sourdough or wheat-walnut rolls. I loved mine on the wheat-walnut, which added a nutty flavor and a toothsome texture to the whole affair. I know it’s not traditional in barbecue land, but dang, it works.

Purists also might find the décor here a little chichi. With terracotta-and-purple walls and sparkling vinyl chairs, this isn’t a barbecue dive. But the prices are right, there’s a paper-towel dispenser placed smack over the trash can for wiping off that sticky sauce, and the pork tastes good. My suggestion to all of you crazed barbecue partisans: Lay down your weapons, grab a friend and try a little of everything with a combination plate.