Advertising slogans can become footnotes to popular culture, such as two that were the face of multi-million-dollar ad campaigns in the 1980s and ’90s: “Beef: It’s what’s for dinner,” and “Pork: The other white meat” were effective in promoting sales, sure, but chicken sells itself.
This nation loves chicken, as shown by a revealing figure from the National Chicken Council: Per-capita consumption in the U.S. for 2013 will be 83.1 pounds by year’s end. (P.S.: Check out the “Chickopedia” section at www.nationalchickencouncil.org, which reveals what terms such as “natural” and “farm-raised” really mean.)
Now along comes the Sacto Chicken Co., specializing in Caribbean jerk and Southern fried chicken, served with five sides.
“I spent a lot of time in Jamaica and fell in love with the cuisine,” said owner Zak Reber. “I took up making jerk chicken as a passion and never stopped.”
In Jamaica, chicken is typically marinated in “jerk sauce,” a spicy mix that includes Scotch bonnet peppers, nutmeg, cloves and allspice (aka pimento), then smoked over charcoal topped with green pimento wood, which infuses a distinct flavor.
For his version, Reber sources organic chicken from Petaluma Poultry, brines it for 24 hours, then marinates it in jerk seasoning. He smokes it over a mix of Kingsford briquets and lump mesquite charcoal topped with pimento-wood chips.
We sampled a surprisingly dry half-chicken with well-spiced skin one day last week, improved with dips in from-scratch spicy-citrusy Caribbean and “hot Sacto” sauces.
On a second visit, we arrived at 11 a.m. as Reber was taking a batch of jerk chicken off the grill for the lunch rush. We bought four thighs, which were juicy and fiery, infused with plenty of smoke flavor. He smokes a second batch in the mid-afternoon for the dinner crowd. The lesson: Get it while it’s hot.
The Southern fried chicken sits in seasoning for a day, then is coated with house-made breading and cooked in a pressure fryer. Our pieces were juicy and crunchy, with well-balanced seasoning.
“Sacto wings” are Reber’s take on the conventional hot wing, but with a significant difference. The wings are seasoned overnight, not breaded, then pressure-fried and tossed in hot sauce. We brought a mess ‘o’ wings back to the office, blinked once and they were gone.
Sundays are “Wing Day” at the restaurant, featuring Southern fried, Jamaican jerk, hot Sacto and “mango scotchie.” The latter are wings coated in a mango-Scotch bonnet sauce, a marriage of sweet ‘n’ heat.
Though Reber continues to tweak the menu (and the restaurant’s day-to-day operations), a side dish of interest is the Caribbean-style fried cornbread fritter, tasting like a hybrid of cornbread and doughnut. Like it or don’t.
The Caribbean-style rice and beans have been replaced with a more traditional rice pilaf, but will make a comeback, Reber said, as part of a rotating list of seasonal sides to include collard greens and corn on the cob.
As for those rice and beans, Reber said, “People who don’t know much about Caribbean food expected (Louisiana-style red beans and rice). We do use a small red bean and the dish looks like red beans and rice but has a presence of thyme, allspice and coconut milk.”
As you sit at one of the little tables by the sidewalk out front, take a close look at the orange kiosk that houses Sacto Chicken Co. It’s the Original Orange Freeze Stand that’s been a local landmark since 1946. Yes, you can get Merlino’s Freeze there in three flavors.
Corn dogs for breakfast
Diners lost a lot when Maranello Bar & Kitchen in Fair Oaks closed two months ago, such as its marvelous burger made from shredded short rib meat, and a serious Sunday breakfast-brunch. Dad’s Kitchen opened in the space Tuesday, and we’ll drop in soon.
Meanwhile, another fine Sunday breakfast-brunch is still served in Fair Oaks at Fabian’s Italian Bistro, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The menu shows the likes of frittata, an omelet with Bolognese sauce and risotto with eggs. What caught our attention, though, was the sausage corn dogs.
Forget about the greasy, overbreaded template with ballpark mustard found on the national fair circuit. These start with lightly spiced breakfast sausages dipped in a thin, slightly gritty cornmeal batter, then cooked to a non-oily crisp and served with maple syrup for dipping and a side of fluffy scrambled eggs ($9.95). They’re fun, but don’t mistake them for just a novelty.