The chill of fall is slowly moving in, close enough to warrant a big bowl of red at the fourth annual Firefighter Chili Cook-Off.

The Best In the West Nugget Rib Cook-Off in Sparks, Nev., was a big-time throwdown at which 23 professional cookers competed for cash, trophies and braggin’ rights. Over the five-day Labor Day “weekend,” they sold 250,000 pounds of St. Louis-style bones (and a whole lot of funnel cakes, onion rings and roasted corn) to a Rib Nation a half-million strong.

If you’re among the 740 guests who paid $175 a head to break bread at the second Tower Bridge Gala Dinner on Sept. 28, you’re probably eager to see the menu.

A taste of Sacramento beer will now be easier to find around California and beyond. Rubicon Brewing Company, a stalwart of Sacramento’s microbrewery movement, has partnered with DBI Beverage Sacramento. DBI is a major distributor of beers, with a portfolio that includes Heineken USA and major brands under the MillerCoors umbrella. DBI also distributes such craft beer favorites as Russian River Brewing, Dogfish Head, Bear Republic and Lost Coast.

A Rib Nation of 500,000 ‘cue lovers converged on the Nugget Casino Resort in Sparks, Nev., last Wednesday through Monday for the 26th annual Best in the West Nugget Rib Cook-Off, the biggest such throw-down in the country. Along the way, the hungry crowds took on 240,000 pounds of St. Louis-style pork ribs, rubbed, smoked and sauced by 23 professional cooking teams that travel a national circuit.

The end of the trail is coming up for Trails restaurant after a multi-decade run. Owner Gin Wong is retiring from running this signature Land Park eatery, which will shut down in the coming weeks.

Specialty items such as pastrami and pumpernickel tend to sell out fast.

If you want a smokin’ good time over Labor Day weekend, get your hunger on for the 26th annual Best in the West Nugget Rib Cook-Off.

Chef feeds 300 guests from “the bounty of the Sacramento Valley” today at Stanford Mansion.

Sacramento has a new country music club and eatery.

Closed two years, iconic restaurant will stay at same Fulton Avenue location.

Given that chef Julia Child was born in an August (1912) and passed away in an August (2004), it seems fitting that August should be the unofficial Julia Child Month.

For millennia, ginseng has been used as an herbal “remedy” believed to rejuvenate the body and mind, alleviate fatigue and stimulate cognition.

Are you looking for a lobster roll, the New England specialty of Maine lobster heaped on a bun? Aren’t we all?

Chris Dooley of Ella Dining Room & Bar (pictured above) emerged from Midtown Cocktail Week’s cocktail competition $1,000 richer on Tuesday night at Harlow’s. His drink, an elaborately presented “Bloomsbury Bramble” which was surrounded by orchids and looked like a scene from “Fantasy Island,” topped all contendors.

Eight of Sacramento’s best bartenders brought their A-game to Harlow’s Tuesday night for the Midtown Cocktail Week cocktail competition.

C&H introduces pourable sugars with a difference.

More than 40 varieties, mostly heirlooms, will be part of Saturday’s Melon Mania at Maple Rock Gardens.

Billy Ngo, the owner/chef of Kru, has hired a highly regarded chef from San Francisco as he readies for a major expansion in the coming months.

Celebrations of Sacramento as America’s “Farm-to-Fork Capital” will run from Sept. 13 to Sept. 28, and a preview event will feature a parade of tractors. This procession of tractors showcasing farm machinery from the past and present will take place along the Capitol Mall at 11:30 a.m. on Sept. 12.

Husband and wife Dominick and Raquel Bellizzi came to town from New Jersey nearly 10 years ago, bringing their delicatessen and pizza-making expertise with them. Since then, their four-star trattoria and two delis have been reviewed in my column, “Counter Culture,” which appears in the Friday Ticket section.

Legendary rocker Sammy Hagar will re-open his namesake Roseville restaurant with a concert in September.

The film that likely launched a thousand hunts for Cuban sandwiches around the country when it was released in May will return to theaters Aug. 29.

In the spirit of spontaneity, we cruised the menu of events for Midtown Cocktail Week, which kicks off today and wraps up Sunday, keeping an eye on those pop-ups. Try this sampling, both shaken and stirred.

It wouldn't be the Labor Day weekend without the annual Greek Festival (the 51st), and it wouldn’t be the festival without the food. The dishes are handmade from scratch by volunteers who are experienced home cooks and members of the sponsoring Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation.

Get a big helping of Polish food and culture at the 25th annual Polish Festival, a celebration from noon to 6 p.m. Sept. 6 on the grounds of the Polish American Club, 327 Main St., Roseville (916-781-8035,

Most sodas are notoriously full of processed sugar and artificial ingredients. Their contents lists can resemble the handbook that comes with a chemistry set.

Maple Rock Gardens ready to host its first celebration Aug. 23, saluting all sorts of flavorful melons.

Two dozen cheeses representing the ‘Real California’ cheese program win awards at American Cheese Society competition in Sacramento. Among the sheep’s milk cheesemakers, Bleating Heart wins two blue ribbons.

Donations will provide breakfast for needy children.

Annual celebration of Yolo County tomato crop will be held Saturday on historic Main Street.

We happened to be cruising around the Fountains shopping center in Roseville the other day when lunchtime hunger struck.

Statistician-journalist Nate Silver and his colleagues are having some fun at their “polling aggregation” webite and blog,, where Silver is editor-in-chief.

Event organizers are planning on 3,000 foodies to bring their appetites to the 29th annual Lake Tahoe Autumn Food and Wine Festival, Sept. 5-7. Maybe now’s the time to get in line. The crowd will converge on the Village at Northstar California Resort and the neighboring Ritz Carlton Hotel, in the high country near Truckee, and at other venues around the lake. Some events are free, others are ticketed ($12 to $95).

Unusual gala includes invited guests from the charities it serves.

Few pastimes are more entertaining to chefs, home cooks and other foodies than reading vintage cookbooks, marveling at classic recipes, ingredients and techniques. Actually, we can think of one that’s better: Tasting the dishes made from those retro recipes.

Julia Stanley-Metz fell in love with the flavor of her husband's mango salsa. She hopes the rest of the nation will agree -- especially if that fruity salsa taste is packed into a potato chip. If they do, the Sacramento mom could win $1 million.

An aged Tarentaise won Best of Show at the American Cheese Society’s 31st annual Cheese Conference and Competition.

Rodney Ray, the pitmaster and entrepreneur behind T&R Taste of Texas Barbeque in Oak Park, is bringing his Southern cooking to midtown Sacramento.

Remember Sealtest ice cream? The jingle went, “Get the best....get Sealtest!” What about Lady Borden and Meadow Gold?

National conference of cheesemakers gets together in Sacramento.

Walking by the display case full of jars and bags of Roy’s Seasonings, three words on the signage stopped us in our tracks: “Strong and bold.” Hey, no one has time to waste on wimpy seasonings when you can climb higher on the flavor ladder, right?

Bulls rides into the sunset, closing its doors after four-year ride.

Let’s raise a glass and think pink. The sweltering days of summer have arrived, but it’s the opportune time to sample rosé. While these colorful wines may have once been sniffed at by certain circles of wine snobs, rosé has enjoyed a renaissance due to their food friendliness and refreshing character, especially when sipping on a warm day.

Sure, there’s plenty of good pizza in restaurants around town, but lovers of Italian cuisine can go beyond that staple and into more interesting fare at Festa Italiana. Heap your plates with Italian sausage and meatballs, pasta, chicken Parmesan, calamari, cannoli, gelato and much more.

Last April, Thomas’ bakery introduced limited-edition offerings of maple french toast-flavored bagels and cinnamon-vanilla English muffins, which were available until earlier this month. They were especially tasty when toasted, of course, filling the kitchen with the scents of maple and vanilla.

Courtland’s favorite fruit takes center stage Sunday.

Check your recipes and your timer; more pointers from master food preservers.

Jason Poole received the go-ahead to open Preservation & Co.’s retail shop starting Thursday.

Anyone who procrastinated more than a few minutes to buy tickets for the Sept. 28 gala dinner on the Tower Bridge is out of luck. All tickets for the $175-per-head dinner were gobbled up once they went on sale at 10 a.m. today.

The Tower Bridge will once again serve as the setting for a $175 dinner to cap Sacramento’s 2014 farm-to-fork celebration, an event designed to showcase the region’s restaurants and agricultural heritage.

The tomato – much-loved but often relegated to bit parts like sauce or garnish – is finally about to take center stage.

Local foodies take note: in September, the Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science at UC Davis will open its doors to the public for the first time ever as it launches its Great Chefs Program.

Which Mexican restaurants serve the best burritos in the land? According to the foodies in the field who report to the editors at the Daily Meal — the website that covers all things food and drink — 35 places go beyond the so-so and into the wow!

Famed creamery celebrates milestone with party in Vacaville.

One of the San Francisco Bay Area’s most buzzed about coffee roasters and cafes is set for a midtown Sacramento presence.

Here are excerpts from a live chat hosted by Mike Dunne focusing on the state of wine and this year’s State Fair wine competition, along with other food- and beverage-related issues.

It’s no secret that Sacramento has experienced a major craft-beer boom the past couple of years. With every new brewery that opens or expands, the question seems to come up: Which of them will survive and which will fade away?

A burger chain with outposts in Sacramento, Davis, Elk Grove and Granite Bay was just named best in America by Consumer Reports, beating out better-known burger vendors In-N-Out and Five Guys.

Track 7 is expanding.

As the saying goes, the latest food festival to debut in Sacramento ain’t no thing but a chicken wing.

Enotria’s recent hosting of (yet another) “grand opening” left many wondering about the status of the restaurant’s former chef Pajo Bruich, that maestro of molecular gastronomy with Michelin-star ambitions who’s culinary brio and poise made the Del Paso Heights eatery one of Sacramento’s best-reviewed spots.

Old Soul, the popular coffee roaster with cafes in midtown, Oak Park and the Sacramento International Airport, announced expansion plans Thursday that will see the company spend close to $500,000 renovating two properties and hiring 32 full-time employees.

Returning in what has become a n yummy tradition, the folks at Nestle Crunch have partnered with the Girl Scouts of America in their joint “reinvention” of the classic Girl Scout cookie (manufactured in Chicago).

GQ magazine’s motto is, “Look sharp, live smart.”

The good times roll on with the return of the annual Napa Valley Festival del Sole, featuring more than 60 events at various venues around wine country, July 11-20. It’s described as “a celebration of the art of life,” which means that fancy foods and precious wines will meet world-class music, dance and theater.

The Travel Channel has long been a faithful companion, accompanying viewers around the globe and introducing them to vicarious adventures they wouldn’t ordinarily experience.

Three-pronged device safely holds vegetables and fruit for peeling.

Traveling craft beer festival kicks off with 108 breweries for gigantic tasting event in Chico.

If you’re the least bit into coffee, you already know that Sacramento has emerged as a well-respected coffee town. We have plenty of great coffee houses and roasters, and the scene is flourishing.

If you’ve checked the weather app on your phone or heard the local forecast in recent days, you knew this was coming: a major assault of heat is descending upon Sacramento. It’s supposed to get up to 108 degrees Fahrenheit today.

Many local restaurants have scored big business with the World Cup, especially in matches featuring the United States. The crowds have been so mighty in some cases that fire prevention officers made the rounds at Sacramento restaurants during Thursday morning’s match between the United States and Germany.

Sacramento chef Evan Elsberry is planning another of his popular themed dinners, this time in celebration of his daughter Stephanie’s 30th birthday. He’s calling it, “Dad, What Are You Smoking Now?” Cute, no?

Most of us would agree: There can’t be too much chocolate. We all know it’s made from cocoa beans, the dried seeds of the cacao tree, and tastes darn good. Science has determined it’s good for us, too, which means we can lose the guilt.

Whether you grill marinated tri-tip or spice-rubbed ribs over a charcoal-fired kettle or gas-fueled range, the California backyard is the summertime site for some of the best ‘cue going.

Owners return to the restaurant business with new Carmichael eatery, the Taj Indian restaurant.

Sacramento’s craft cocktail community is buzzing with good cheer with the national spotlight once again on the city. Just a month following Shady Lady being named by Esquire as one of the top 25 bars in America, Sacramento is the subject of a lengthy feature in the latest issue of Imbibe, one of the leading magazines for cocktail culture.

The judges at the California State Fair Commercial Wine Competition considered a whopping 2,829 wine entries from June 4 through June 6. And now, we know who earned “best of show” honors.

Co-owners of Broderick Roadhouse in West Sacramento are taking over two midtown restaurants, Capital Dime and Trick Pony.

The full-page ad in People magazine made the new product look irresistible.

Here’s an example of how cross-marketing works:

New twist on a familiar favorite puts almonds and Grand Marnier into shortcake.

The California State Fair Commercial Wine Competition was held from June 4 through June 6, and now we know who earned medals in what’s billed as the country’s oldest wine competition. The gold medalists include a brand that’s often used as a punchline in the world of wine: Sutter Home White Zinfandel, an off-dry pink wine that costs $6.

No Sacramento Republic FC game is complete without a march into the stadium by the Tower Bridge Battalion, the most ardent supporters of Sacramento’s new soccer team. They show up waving flags and decked in Sacramento Republic FC gear, and perhaps fueled by a pint or two, before marching into the stadium and chanting, “Glory, glory, Sacramento!”

Doughbot, Sacramento’s cutting-edge artisanal doughnut shop, will close its doors at the end of the business day Aug. 3, husband-wife co-owners Bryan Widener and Dana O’Donnell announced on Facebook on Saturday morning.

Known for such sheep’s milk cheeses as Fat Bottom Girl, Marin County cheesemaker also wins for new Moolicious Blue.

Enotria has celebrated three grand re-openings by our count. The Del Paso Boulevard restaurant with a vaunted wine cellar closed in 2009 to undergo a $1.5 million remodel, and underwent a number of chef changes following the renovation. Enotria closed once again in January following a stint with Pajo Bruich leading the kitchen and aiming for Michelin recognition. But the restaurant was resurrected in March, with a re-tooled concept that focuses on hosting events and a limited hours for the general public.

Sampino’s Comida del Pueblo, the Mexican restaurant that adjoins Sampino’s Towne Foods, has been closed since late April. The good news is it’s expected to reopen in early August, said Michael Sampino. He’s the co-ower of Sampino’s deli, with his wife, Gabriela Fabbri, and his father, Bill Sampino.

Coffee-loving Sacramentans have one more place to enjoy their java. An Insight coffee store recently opened in the Pavilions center, joining two other Insights in our area.

Whoa, back up. there, Pilgrim. Is that an image of John Wayne on those bags of hardwood charcoal stacked in front of the Bel Air supermarket? Yep, it’s the Duke, sure enough, and wearing his trademark kerchief and hat, and toting a rifle.

Midtown will get some extra twang with Goldfield Trading Post, a country-themed restaurant and bar that’s slated for a late-July opening. Goldfield will operate at 17th and J streets, in the building that longtime Sacramentans remember as a Sam’s Hof Brau, which later housed Hamburger Mary’s and then Hamburger Patties for a two decade run.

New juice bar specializes in all-organic cold-pressed combinations packed with healthy fruit and vegetables.

Area residents may have a hard time filling their deep-fried asparagus fix after the organizers of the longtime festival announced Tuesday they were ending nearly three decades of honoring the healthy green stock.

Corti Bros. Market meat department manager Mike Carroll is always on the lookout for something new. So are his customers.

Looking for another reason to attend Saturday’s Grape Escape food-and-wine tasting festival at Cesar Chavez Park?

How do you toast California Chrome?

The summer bounty of fruits has arrived and will get only better as the coming months segue one into the next.

A certain amount of training will be required for this upcoming contest, which most folks will be more than happy to do.

Ah yes, the negroni, one of the most classic of cocktails. Its ingredients are but a few - gin, vermouth, Campari and garnished with a bit of orange peel - yet the drink can take on all kinds of twists. Perhaps it’s been barrel aged, like a version poured at Hook & Ladder (pictured above). Or, perhaps it comes bottled with a touch of spritz like the one featured at The Golden Bear.

Adamo’s will serve American-Italian cuisine where Cafe Au Lait once struggled.

About Appetizers

Chris Macias has served as The Sacramento Bee's Food & Wine writer since 2008. His writing adventures have ranged from the kitchen at French Laundry to helping pick 10 tons of zinfandel grapes with migrant farm workers in Lodi. Chris also judges regularly at food, wine and cocktail competitions around Northern California. His profile of a former gangbanger-turned-pastry-chef was included in Da Capo's "Best Food Writing 2012."

Read his Wine Buzz columns here
(916) 321-1253
Twitter: @chris_macias

Allen Pierleoni writes about casual lunchtime restaurants in The Sacramento Bee's weekly "Counter Culture" column. He covers a broad range of topics, including food, travel, books and authors. In addition to writing the weekly column "Between the Lines," he oversees the Sacramento Bee Book Club, in which well-known authors give free presentations to the public.

Read his Counter Culture reviews here
(916) 321-1128
Twitter: @apierleonisacbe

Blair Anthony Robertson is The Sacramento Bee's food critic.

Read his restaurant reviews here
(916) 321-1099
Twitter: @Blarob

Appetizers Archives

Note: The Appetizers blog switched blog platforms in August 2013. All posts after the switch are found here. Older posts are available using the list below.

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