Allen Pierleoni

Sauced BBQ & Spirits is the new boss hog in town

A feast at Sauced BBQ & Spirits, clockwise from center: burnt ends, smoked beans, mac and cheese, pulled pork, sliced brisket.
A feast at Sauced BBQ & Spirits, clockwise from center: burnt ends, smoked beans, mac and cheese, pulled pork, sliced brisket. apierleoni@sacbee.com

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.

Sacramentans are barbecue-crazy, shown once again by the diners who have swarmed Sauced BBQ & Spirits since its opening Jan. 4. Curiosity is a factor, sure, and the restaurant is next to the Golden 1 Center, our town’s newest big draw.

Beyond that, three massive Ole Hickory white oak-fueled smokers (aka “pits”) occupy part of Sauced’s industrial-sized kitchen, while smaller “finishing grills” burn natural lump charcoal. Meats are hand-rubbed with proprietary spice mix, briskets spend 14 to 18 hours in the pit, and baby back ribs dwell there four to six hours. Carolina-style pulled pork is mopped with vinegar-based sauce. Ribs are brushed with BBQ sauce just before they’re kissed on the charbroiler to add color and caramelization. A full-time pitmaster, Kyle Woodfill, oversees the goings-on. All told, Sauced appears to be the real deal, ’cue wise, and not just a notion.

The concept began when two cousins kicked around the idea of bringing “Southern-inspired BBQ to Northern California.” They aggregated a menu of signature dishes and cocktails 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.

Menu: It revolves around smoked meats served many ways, beginning with 11 starters. Pulled pork, brined turkey, brisket, pastrami and a Kansas City specialty – “burnt ends” – show up in 10 sandwiches. Those charred “ends” are from the fatty point of the brisket, rubbed and smoked a second time, and cut into cubes that are “tossed in their own jus and (BBQ) sauce.” The little showstoppers are sticky, densely flavored morsels of caramelized beef candy (the daily supply is limited).

A half a Mary’s-brand chicken joins baby back ribs, burnt ends, brisket and pulled pork as full plates and combo plates, each with two sides (choose from 15). Eight burgers, three smoked sausages, five salads (only one without meat), chili and Brunswick stew join the club. There’s a smoked portobello mushroom sandwich.

Price point: It ain’t cheap, but neither is the rent there. Sandwiches (including burgers) go for $12.50 to $21, while plates are $15 to $33. A three-meat combo will poke you for $31.50. Starters are $8.50 to $20.50.

Ambiance: The space holds nearly 400 diners (with 100 more on the patio come spring), but we didn’t feel like we were sitting at our neighbors’ tables. Handsome touches abound – corrugated-tin ceiling, vintage barnwood paneling and garage-style roll-up doors. And a ton of big-screen TVs.

Drinks: The double-entendre name is reflected in the bar program, starting with nine Sauced-branded beers and 40 rotating taps and moving to more than 250 brands of brown whiskies, and much more.

Service: The place was slammed on both visits, yet the energetic, nonstop servers were on their game as much as possible.

First impressions: Our juicy pulled pork, tender brisket and chewy burnt ends were expertly handled, but we wished for more smoky taste. The meaty baby back ribs were an issue, though. On our first visit, they were somewhat dry and showed a “fall off the bone” texture. Some folks think that’s desirable, but the authoritative Kansas City Barbeque Society equates “fall off the bone” with “overcooked.” On a second visit the ribs were much more firm.

Four proprietary BBQ sauces are in a tin caddy on each table, each respectable but not “wow!”

As for sides, we loved the cheesy, jalapeño-spiked stoneground grits and the house-made hush puppies, textured with bacon, cheese and jalapeño. Tender collard greens lost ground with too much sugar and vinegar (but just-right heat), and the smoked beans had a vaguely bitter aftertaste (though two other diners who visited separately thought they were terrific).

Fresh and crunchy sour-apple slaw improved when we discovered the thin dressing had pooled in the bottom of the bowl, and mixed it into the slaw with a fork. Though honey-glazed cornbread appeared tasty, it turned out to be more like dry cake (but thumbs up for baking corn kernels in it).

Try it if: You’re a BBQ aficionado, a bourbon connoisseur or believe that another opening is another show.

Forget it if: You just don’t “get” Southern cuisine, with all that smoke and fat and mess.

Allen Pierleoni: 916-321-1128, @apierleonisacbe

Sauced BBQ & Spirits

Where: 1028 Seventh St.,, Sacramento

Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays; 11-1 a.m. (kitchen closes at 11 p.m.) Fridays-Saturdays; 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sundays. Happy hour 3-6 p.m. weekdays. Reservations are not accepted, but will be soon. Note: “Closing times may be extended if there are events at Golden 1 Center.”

Information: 916-400-4341, www.saucedbbqandspirits.com

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