Sacramento has become one of California’s top cities for craft beers, as established breweries thrive and new ones open. At last count, more than 50 breweries are doing business in our area, reminiscent of the coffee craze of recent years. The question is: Will demand keep up with supply? So far, there’s no sign of saturation.
Meanwhile, we squeezed around a table at one of the more lively tap rooms, Duke’s Plates & Pints in Arden Town Center, across a parking lot from the higher-end Plan B, Cafe Vinoteca, Chinois and Danielle's Creperie.
The relatively small, high-ceiling room is nicely decorated in “beer signage moderne.” Clearly, the place is about the brew, with a menu of 24 rotating taps and a surprisingly diverse wine list. One of the four desserts is a beer float, big brother to a root beer float.
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The pub-grub offerings ($5 to $14) include many of the usual suspects – buffalo wings, sliders, carnitas tacos, nachos, and french fries covered in cheddar, scallion, bacon and house-made chipotle aioli. Larger plates include four burger options, sausages, pulled pork, turkey and chicken. Oh, and three salads, two of them with poultry. A note on the menu says, “(We’re) proud to serve house-made sauces and dressings,” which saved a couple of our dishes.
We wanted to try the BBQ pulled pork and a trio of carnitas tacos, but our efficient server returned from the kitchen with bad news: They’d run out of pulled pork, he said, which meant there were no carnitas, either. On the phone later, co-owner Mike Carlson explained that an unexpected crowd the night before had wiped out all the pulled pork, and more was cooking in the oven the day we visited.
We settled on a house salad, sausage plate, a trio of grilled chicken tacos and a brisket burger. For that one, the restaurant buys pre-ground brisket and forms it into half-pound patties on site.
As we waited, the place grew noisier with more beer-drinking patrons, their laughter echoing off the hard surfaces. We cruised the beer list and noted some of the unusual names – Fortunate Islands grapefruit wheat, Pineapple Sculpin IPA, Nothing Too Fancy pale ale. One in particular sounded so complex we just had to taste it. The dark, rich and slightly bitter salted coconut oatmeal stout (nitro) showed flavors of coconut, coffee and chocolate, a dessert in itself. “Wow!” exclaimed the lunch pal, eyes wide.
Soon, a brightly colored house salad arrived (greens, cucumber, cherry tomatoes), flavor-rich with one of those house-made dressings, a very tasty and piquant balsamic vinaigrette.
Next, a plate of sliced smoked-Gouda sausage (one of two flavors of the day) showed up, covered in sweet caramelized onion and surrounded by house-made ketchup and store-bought stone-ground honey mustard. The condiments were excellent, but in concert with the onion they overwhelmed the sausage’s delicate flavor (which tasted nothing like smoked Gouda).
The OK tacos showed up on somewhat dry double-tiered mini-corn tortillas, with pico de gallo and house-made salsa helping moisten the dried-out pieces of chicken. The mild salsa was so good we asked for a cup on the side and drenched the tacos.
The star of the show was the burger, thick and meaty on a sturdy challah bun from Bella Bru bakery (Carlson is a co-owner), cheddar, truly crisp bacon, crunchy onion rings and another excellent house-made sauce – this one a sweet ’n’ hot molasses-based BBQ sauce. We cut the monster burger into segments, and relished the flavors taken together. Deconstructed, however, the patty itself was dry, not what we expected from a presumably show-cooked brisket. The fries that came with it were well-seasoned and crispy-creamy.
“If you’re a vegetarian, you probably go someplace else,” said a lunch pal. “Or you drink beer to mask your pain.”
Or, like most of the customers, you drink beer and don’t pay that much attention to the fare.
Roma II turns 35
We found Maria Guerrera in her usual place, amid pots of bubbling sauces and steaming pasta in the kitchen of Roma II pizzeria. Her biggest distraction is guests stopping to chat as they enter or leave.
As hipster restaurants continue to open loudly and close quietly, Maria is celebrating the 35th anniversary of Roma II. It’s one of those old-school Italian restaurants you rarely find anymore. Not much has changed over the decades, with the exception of its Pizza of the Month program, inaugurated last year. This month the featured pie is topped with ground lamb, feta and mozzarella cheeses, rosemary and other herbs. As good as it was, we favored our longtime go-to, the Italian sausage-mushroom pizza.
The menu reflects the cooking of southern Italy, including mozzarella-topped pastas baked in the oven and served in ramekins, a style that’s all but vanished. Add house-made meatballs or Italian sausages, and you’ve got something special.
Thirty-five years in the restaurant business is a lifetime. Maria reflected on that: “The satisfaction comes from people enjoying the food and being happy together. It’s a lot of work, but it would be hard to walk away.”
Don’t even think about it. Please.
Roma Pizzeria II, 8491 Folsom Blvd., Sacramento; 916-383-9264, www.roma2pizza.com.
Duke’s Plates & Pints
Where: 510 La Sierra Drive, Sacramento
Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Sundays-Wednesdays, 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays
Food: ☆☆ 1/2
How much: $-$$
Information: 916-514-8430, www.dukesplatesandpints.com