Restaurant News & Reviews

In Sacramento, Sticky Gator looks to wipe off ‘opening kinks’

Sauce-covered St. Louis-style spareribs join the barbecue lineup at Sticky Gator.
Sauce-covered St. Louis-style spareribs join the barbecue lineup at Sticky Gator. 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.

Sacramento can’t get enough barbecue and soul food. If you doubt it, try grabbing lunch at, say, Farenheit 250 (916-476-4508), Tank House (916-431-7199), Tori’s Place (916-646-6038) or Mo Mo’s Meat Market (916-452-0202). You’ll find crowds, sure, but also the chance to bond over some fine vittles with new friends.

Now ’cue-lovers are lining up at Sticky Gator BBQ & Soul Food. It’s the new diner opened by pitmaster and entrepreneur Rodney Ray, who has T&R Texas Barbeque on Broadway with partners Rodney and Lisa Nannini, owners of Delta Restaurant Supply and Party Rentals. They’re also aboard Gator, along with veteran pastry chef Vesela Peneva, formerly of Selland’s Market Cafe and The Kitchen.

Gator occupies the remodeled former site of Rick’s Dessert Diner, which moved to larger quarters. “Our six-month plan is to hit the ground running, get acclimated and then start adding little touches, such as breakfast with quiches and scones,” Ray said. “Right now, we’re still working out the opening kinks.”

Gator was supposed to have opened the first week in September as Sticky Fingers, but very few restaurants meet their targeted opening dates. We attended a one-night soft opening Oct. 6 and liked what we saw and tasted.

Then, a couple of weeks later, on the verge of its grand opening, the North Carolina-based barbecue chain Sticky Fingers got wind and temporarily spoiled the party. The 16-unit company claimed to have a copyright on the name “Sticky Fingers,” and fired a warning shot at Ray.

Good thing, too. Otherwise, diners in Sacramento would have confused Sticky Fingers here with Sticky Fingers on the far side of the continent. So Ray replaced “Gator” with “Fingers,” which worked out fine, since the restaurant’s logo has featured a ’cue-devouring alligator all along.

Menu: It’s a mouthful, much of it from family recipes. We counted three platters (entrees teamed with sides), a dozen entrees (nine of them also sold by the pound, including tri-tip and pulled pork), 15 sides, four sandwiches (we eyed the Bayou Belly Buster, with three meats and fixin’s), daily specials and a trio of salads. “We’ll always have some surprises,” Ray said, mentioning gumbo, jambalaya and Yankee pot roast.

Walk past the dining area and up three steps to find Desserts by Vesela. It offers Southern staples such as outstanding fruit cobblers and bread pudding, plus 15 fancier creations including cannoli, chocolate mousse, world-class cheesecake, lemon bars and Persian lime cupcakes. To order special holiday desserts, give her three days’ notice at (916) 803-5452.

Price point: Given the large portions and the time-consuming care ’cue requires, $8 to $18 doesn’t seem off the charts. A la carte side dishes are $4 each.

Ambiance: Sticky Gator’s template is fun and funky, with red-and-yellow walls and a red ceiling, tin buckets for chandelier shades, plastic utensils and cardboard plates and containers. There are booths inside and tables on the sidewalk, but most of the biz is takeout.

Drinks: Sodas and teas (including that Southern nectar, sweet tea), with beer on the way.

Service: A trio of friendly servers greeted incoming customers with a chorus of, “Hi! Welcome to Sticky Gator!” Not only was the staff friendly, but quick, accurate and conscientious, too. The delivery concept is known as “fast-casual” in restaurant-speak. That means you order at the counter and the food is delivered to your table. At Gator, check off your item choices on a paper menu and hand it over.

First impressions: The four of us sampled a heap o’ stuff. The meaty St. Louis-style spareribs and the crisp-tender-moist buttermilk fried chicken were four-star dishes. We liked the Texas BBQ beans, sweet-spicy andouille sausage, potato salad and black eyed peas (if a bit salty), but agreed the mashed potatoes and gravy, mac ’n’ cheese and collard greens need some tweaks.

All the food is made on site, and is kept heated or refrigerated until served. The turnover is fast, but still a few items suffered from sitting around. For instance, the tasty fried catfish nuggets were a bit stale, and the breast meat of the otherwise juicy barbecued chicken was dry. Though there are plenty of napkins, towelettes would be a nice touch. Tip: Ask for the delicious BBQ sauce on the side.

Try it if: You’re always on the lookout for ’cue and down-home cookin’.

Forget it if: You prefer a kale-quinoa bowl to plate of smoked meat and sides.

Call The Bee’s Allen Pierleoni, (916) 321-1128. Follow him on Twitter @apierleonisacbe.

STICKY GATOR BBQ & SOUL FOOD

Where: 2322 K St., Sacramento

Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. daily

Information: (916) 382-9178

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