First Impressions: Barbecue at Fahrenheit 250

04/02/2014 5:00 PM

04/02/2014 12:31 PM

First Impressions visits dining spots in the region that are new or have undergone recent transitions. Have a candidate for First Impressions? Email us at taste@sacbee.com .

While the search for great barbecue in our area continues, frustrated ’cue-lovers often wish Sacramento could temporarily be transported to Texas, Tennessee, the Carolinas or Missouri. That’s how much the ’cue-famished pine for beef, pork, fowl and sausages smoked over hardwood coals and dipped in tangy sauce, with fixins on the side. They’re always on the lookout for it.

The just-opened Fahrenheit 250 could be the new candidate for BBQ greatness. We went to its soft opening the other day and found some very good stuff.

The spectacularly refurbished space is the former Bisla’s sports bar on Folsom Boulevard, which in other incarnations was Bojangles and the Library. Going back to the 1990s, it rocked Sacramento as the Cattle Club, a live-music hot spot that once hosted Nirvana and Pearl Jam.

Co-owners Ray Lettini and Gino Sardo bought the property last year, closing the sports bar a few months ago to begin the transition. Lettini owns Foreign Parts Specialists in east Sacramento, while Sardo has Gino’s Java Juice inside Capital Towers in downtown. They have a unique concept: a BBQ restaurant with professional table service and artisanal cocktails.

Here’s what we found at the soft opening and what ’cue fans can expect:

Menu: Executive chef and pit boss Jacob Carriker has assembled an impressively diverse menu. Earlier in the day, he had moved the contents of the gigantic smoker into the kitchen – hand-rubbed brisket (smoked for 12-plus hours), St. Louis-style pork ribs (great texture and flavor, but in need of more smoke), tri-tip, pork shoulder, chicken, turkey and hot links.

Diners can load up on those tasty standards, but should not overlook the shrimp and sausage coins with grits cakes, sweet prawns wrapped in house-cured bacon, cheesy grits, crawfish-and-corn fritters, fried green tomatoes, red beans ’n’ rice, sweet collard greens, excellent coleslaw, and a rich dip made from smoked Mount Lassen red trout and artichoke, all of which we tasted and will gladly taste again. The spicy condiment piccalilli showed up as a garnish on some starters.

Vegans get a nod with four entries, including a marinated portobello mushroom on top of grits cakes (think polenta).

The 7,000-pond smoker burns oak and peach wood and was hand-welded by the legendary Houston-based Klose Co. Its guiding principle is “maintaining the integrity of the Old Western trail drive-style of cooking.”

Price point: This is not your standard BBQ joint. Rather, it’s a casually stylish restaurant that specializes in BBQ and well-conceived sides. As such, $6 to $28 seems fair.

Ambiance: Plenty of thought and money went into the strikingly handsome and airy space. The wood bar is long and inviting, and there’s decent elbow room in the adjoining lounge. Dining rooms don’t get much more comfortable than this one. The paneling and trim are made from reclaimed wood salvaged from vintage buildings in the Sierra Nevada. Chairs are antique, and the blades of an old windmill function as sculptures on three walls.

Drinks: The four-star mixology team at Shady Lady Saloon consulted with bar manager Brad Morlock on Fahrenheit 250’s cocktail program. One of its signature drinks is the Kentucky Buck, a mélange of strawberry-infused bourbon, lemon juice, vanilla bitters and ginger beer. Thirty beers are on tap, along with 13 craft brews.

Service: We’ve rarely seen a BBQ restaurant with “polished” table service and upscale cocktails, but it looks like a hybrid that will work. The wait staff was trained by director of service Tyler Monk, who was the service trainer for the Il Fornaio chain.

First impressions: Fahrenheit 250 looks and acts like a winner, partly because of its use of carefully sourced, high-quality ingredients and partly because of the cooking and presentation of from-scratch dishes. The ’cue is the real thing, complemented by four house-made sauces. It could well become a sipping-and-supping destination.

Try it if: You want to elevate your BBQ experience.

Forget it if: You prefer ordering off a wall menu and taking a number.

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