Food & Drink

The ’14 food scene? We’ll drink to that

Sami Qureshi, center, of Sacramento listens as local politicians address diners at the second Farm-to-Fork Tower Bridge Dinner on Sept. 28.
Sami Qureshi, center, of Sacramento listens as local politicians address diners at the second Farm-to-Fork Tower Bridge Dinner on Sept. 28. rbyer@sacbee.com

And now, a toast to Sacramento food and wine in 2014.

It’s appropriate to hoist a glass because liquids were a large part of the Sacramento area’s successes over the past 12 months. No city had more nods in Coffee Review’s “Top 30 Coffees of 2014” than Sacramento. On the cocktail side, one of the central city’s signature watering holes made Esquire magazine’s list of “The Best Bars in America, 2014.”

While some locals worry that Sacramento has become oversaturated with breweries, it appears the area has yet to reach Peak Beer. The Sacramento region was home to fewer than a dozen breweries by the end of 2011, but that number has shot to 37 (and counting). Some of these homegrown brewers are in expansion mode, including Track 7, which announced in July that it’s leasing a second location in Natomas. The 35,000-square-foot facility will grow Track 7’s brewing capacity from 2,800 barrels annually to 8,000. A sneak preview of the Natomas facility is planned for Wednesday.

Local wines also scored well, including midtown’s Revolution Wines, which earned three accolades in the San Francisco Chronicle’s roundup of 2014’s best wines. Wine Enthusiast’s list of the year’s best buys included bottles from Bogle and Sobon Estate of Plymouth.

Sacramento’s food industry also saw plenty of action, and seemed to stabilize after some trying years during the Great Recession. Fine dining has become an increasingly niche sector of the local food economy, as illustrated by the struggles of Enotria Restaurant and Wine Bar and Restaurant Thir13en. Sacramento has settled into a sweet spot of casual restaurants that place a premium on local ingredients and house-made products, with bustling business at such eateries as Magpie Cafe and Hook & Ladder.

The campaign of Sacramento as “America’s Farm-to-Fork Capital” meanwhile gained momentum in 2014, with thousands flocking to Capitol Mall for September’s Farm-to-Fork Festival and record demand for its $175 gala dinner on the Tower Bridge. Look for more this movement to grow even more in 2015, and continue to fine tune what “farm-to-fork” means.

Overall, Sacramento endured its share of ebb and flow, and a few soap opera-like shenanigans, in terms of restaurant openings/closures and other moves. Here’s how 2014 went down for Sacramento food and drink:

January

The year kicked off with the annual pork-a-palooza known as Sacramento Bacon Fest, with tickets for the chef’s competition selling out within 80 minutes. Other bright spots included the opening of Mother on the K Street Mall and midtown’s Der Biergarten, with its novel building design that repurporses two cargo containers. But the first month of the year had some bleak touches, too. Enotria Restaurant and Wine Bar shut down, after chasing a Michelin star and launching a guest chef series that attracted some of the West Coast’s top culinary talents. Restaurant Thir13en also announced its closure due to financial difficulties. The fine dining spot at downtown’s Sterling Hotel was the second eatery featuring Adam Pechal (Tuli Bistro) as chef and co-owner.

February

And then a double whammy for Pechal, when Tuli Bistro at 21st and S streets shut down suddenly. The closure was blamed on financial issues stemming from its defunct sister restaurant, Thir13en. More drama arose in midtown when Noah Zonca abruptly left Capital Dime after less than a year as its executive chef and co-owner. But this month for lovers had bright spots, too. A flurry of restaurants opened, including Block Butcher Bar, Krush Burger (Davis location), Vic’s Cafe, New Glory Craft Brewery, Fire Rock Grill and Cafe Plan B. The River City was meanwhile soaked in suds as Sacramento Beer Week ran from Feb. 27 through March 9, with more than 300 individual events and dozens of breweries pouring at Capitol Beer Fest on the Capitol Mall.

March

Sacramento took a bite out of the Big Apple as Patrick Mulvaney and his Mulvaney’s B&L crew cooked at James Beard House in New York City. They presented a menu titled “A Promise of Spring: Savoring Sacramento,” featuring Dixon lamb, Delta asparagus and other local ingredients. Back in Sacramento, the city witnessed a string of restaurant closures including Mangia, El Faro Taqueria, Sam’s Kosher Style Restaurant & Deli, Skybox Grill & Bar and Gatsby’s Diner. But March also saw the opening of such notable new eateries as Fahrenheit 250 BBQ, Strings Urban Kitchen and Field House American Sports Pub. Enotria also re-opened as an events center and wine bar, though the space has since remained low-key with limited hours and a fraction of its food program.

April

Moves to make Sacramento more food-truck-friendly mostly stalled in 2014, but the local appetite for mobile eats remained strong. SactoMoFo 7, held at Sixth and W streets, drew more than 10,000 attendees and ranked as the largest mobile-food event ever in Sacramento. On the local beer front, Knee Deep Brewing’s Citra IPA nabbed first place and the People’s Choice award at the renowned Bistro IPA Festival in Hayward.

May

The midtown shuffle was underway as the former Tuli Bistro space at 21st and S streets transformed into the pizza themed Trick Pony. A few blocks down, Bacon & Butter on 21st Street near K Street shut down after owner Billy Zoellin was unable to secure a long-term lease with his landlord. Bacon & Butter moved to Tahoe Park, and opened to packed crowds in October, with Zoellin predicting that more mom-and-pop restaurants will move to such outlying neighborhoods due to rising central city rents. Some national accolades, meanwhile, came Sacramento’s way as Esquire magazine named Shady Lady Saloon in its list of “The Best Bars in America, 2014.” Pub hopping also became a bit more fun as the 15-passenger Sac Brew Bike debuted. A similar company, Off the Chain Bike Bus Tours, launched a few months later.

June

Local chefs were relieved after Gov. Jerry Brown signed a repeal of the “glove law,” which would have prevented chefs and kitchen workers from touching “ready-to-eat” foods with bare hands. More than 19,000 California chefs signed a petition to repeal the law after it went into effect Jan. 1, saying it created a false sense of security and would increase costs. As the weather heated up, the cold-pressed-juice trend was cemented in Sacramento with the opening of Sun & Soil Juice Co. on P Street. No post-yoga cool down seemed complete without one of these organic, often pricey juices, which could also be found at Wholehearted Juice Co. Coming soon: Liquidology Bar and Metro Juice Co.

July

The retail shop at Preservation & Co. finally opened on 19th Street near Q Street, following a year of delays and permitting challenges. Its commercial kitchen for creating specialty foods received the green light to start operations in October. In terms of legacy businesses, Rick’s Dessert Diner moved from its longtime 24th and K streets location to larger digs a block away on J Street. The former Rick’s Dessert Diner is now occupied by Sticky Gator, a barbecue spot that opened in November.

August

The heat of summer included a mixed bag of news. Doughbot, the popular donut shop near downtown’s Southside Park, shut down after its owners declared they were burned out. But it was a great month for aficionados of fermented curd, as the American Cheese Society Conference was held at the Sacramento Convention Center, featuring more than 1,600 different cheeses. Midtown also got a taste of twang as the country-themed Goldfield Trading Post opened at 17th and J streets, the former site of Hamburger Patties and Sam’s Hof Brau.

September

Sacramento’s second annual Farm-to-Fork Week stretched into a two-week spectacle of local food celebrations, with a downtown tractor parade to launch the festivities. Thousands descended on the Capitol Mall for a Farm-to-Fork Festival, and tickets for the gala dinner on the Tower Bridge sold out in less than five minutes. A high-profile chef change was also underway as David Chavez, an alum with the Thomas Keller Restaurant Group, replaced John Griffiths as executive chef at The Kitchen. Local fans of Mexican food, meanwhile, said good-bye to Miguel Unzueta, patriarch of Caballo Blanco restaurant, who died at age 88.

October

The spookiest month of the year was full of celebrations, as Frank Fat’s, the venerable downtown restaurant popular with politicos, celebrated its 75th anniversary. Local foodies also rejoiced as Michael Tuohy of LowBrau and Block Bucther Bar was announced as executive chef for the upcoming downtown arena. Plans call for a farm-to-fork focus, with 90 percent of the arena’s concessions to be sourced within 150 miles of Sacramento. Chefs and musicians also relished in the grooves at West Sacramento’s TBD Fest. The multi-genre music festival included local food as a core part of its programming, including a head-to-head cooking competition at “The Pit,” which included free food samples.

November

As the weather continued to cool, Oak Park Brewing opened to huge crowds, estimated between 1,200 and 1,400 people on its first Saturday in business. A coalition of local chefs and food advocates huddled for a James Beard-sponsored salon at Mulvaney’s B&L to discuss food policy to address the idea that “in the richest agricultural region in the world no child should be hungry.” But those looking for a taste of Guy Fieri on Arden Way were out of luck. His Johnny Garlic’s restaurant closed down.

December

The year wound down with a steady run of news. Oliver Ridgeway, executive chef of Grange, was named to the Saveur 100, an annual listing of the biggest movers-and-shakers in food and drink. Two much-anticipated eateries, South and Federalist Public House, finally opened after numerous delays. East Sacramento’s The Cultured & The Cured shuttered after a year’s run. But the city still reveled in its caffeine. Temple Coffee and Old Soul each had two coffees listed in Coffee Review’s Top 30 of 2014. With a total of four entries on the list, Sacramento received more nods than any city in the United States. Take that, Portland.

Call The Bee’s Chris Macias, (916) 321-1253. Follow him on Twitter @chris_macias.

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