On a recent drizzly Thursday, colleague and Bee dining critic Carla Meyer was my lunch pal at the cavernous (9,100 square feet) Sauced BBQ & Spirits, which opened Jan. 4 in the space once filled by the Hard Rock Cafe. Its site in the newly dubbed Downtown Commons is a rib bone’s throw away from that temple of sports and commerce, the Golden 1 Center (1028 7th St., 916-400-4341).
The Sacramento outlet is the fourth to open in Northern California, a mini-chain founded by ’cue-lovin’ cousins Brenden Scanlon – who once competed on the BBQ circuit around Atlanta – and Barrett Gomesto, who grew up in the Tri-Valley area (Livermore, Pleasanton, et al). They conspired to bring “Southern-inspired” BBQ to California, with a menu that offers an aggregation of specialties from some of America’s cookout capitals – Kansas City, St. Louis, Texas and the Carolinas. Sauced debuted in 2012 in Livermore, followed by stores in Petaluma (2015), Walnut Creek (2006) and now River City.
Inside the DoCo location, about 270 diners chatted and chowed-down on pork ribs, brisket, pulled pork, Mary’s chicken and “burnt ends,” the charry-crispy-fatty pieces from the point of the brisket, along with starters of “Rednexican” nachos, smoked wings and “cheezy” hush puppies spiked with bacon, cheese and jalapeno, and sides of collard greens, cornbread, baked beans, jalapeno-cheese grits and sour apple slaw.
Operating under the guideline that it’s always 5 p.m. somewhere, and fulfilling the double-entendre name of the place, a row of chummy millennials lined the long bar. As they ate, they sipped some of the nine Sauced-branded beers made exclusively for the company by the Working Man Brewery in Livermore. Boston-based Beer Advocate magazine gave a 4.29 score (out of 5) to the Deuce Pigalow double IPA.
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Out of curiosity, some of guys at the bar eyed the drinks menu, titled “How To Get Sauced: The Instruction Manual.” That’s where the hard stuff is, including the $9 daily special – a shot of bourbon with a beer back.
Carla and I crowded our table with a feast of dishes, washed down with that Southern-accented staple, sweet tea. A few days later, I visited the Sauced kitchen and laid eyes on three gigantic Ole Hickory smokers, each capable of holding 1,000 pounds of meat. Oak logs were stacked nearby, next to 40-pound bags of hardwood lump charcoal.
I’ll be writing about our visit to Sauced soon in a “First Impressions” column in an upcoming Friday Ticket section. Meanwhile, what can reviews of the three other Sauced locations tell us about what to expect of our own?
Though Jackie Burrell of the San Jose Mercury News gave the Walnut Creek store only 2-1/2 stars in December, Nicholas Boer of East Bay-centric Diablo magazine wrote on Jan. 9: “Service was fast and friendly, the food almost faultless. The Brussels sprouts were phenomenal – flash-fried with braised pork belly and mingled with strings of fried onion. No doubt, Sauced is loud. But when you’ve got dozens of taps, almost as many TV screens, and more whiskeys than a sober man can count, you’ve got to expect a little excitement.”
In August 2015, Lynn Haggery of the Argus-Courier newspaper wrote this about the Petaluma outlet: “The Carolina pulled pork sandwich served on a soft roll (was) moist and flavorful, and the slaw added enough sweet and crunch to satisfy. The classic Brunswick Stew was a very hearty tomato-based stew with pulled pork, brisket, fresh corn, beans and potatoes, with a nice savory finish.”
When the original Sauced in Livermore opened, Chrissa Ventrelle of the San Jose Mercury News gave it 3-1/2 stars, noting: “We found the best way to explore the menu is through the hearty three-meat combo. Every piece of meat passed muster. The flavorful ribs cling just slightly to the bone, something we all enjoyed. The tasty brisket made my family propose buying a smoker so we could eat it more often.”
Have you been to Sauced yet? If so, what do you think? Let us know in the comments.