To find some of the best barbecue in the Sacramento region, follow your nose.
Your eyes – and GPS – will not do. I drove past LBB Gastropub & Smokehouse despite having its correct address on Taylor Road in Loomis. All I saw was a Subway sandwich shop in the spot where it was supposed to be.
But once I was out of the car and on foot, the unmistakable smell of woodsmoke drifted toward me, and I followed it to the back half of the building that holds the Subway to a patio where people who obviously already had found LBB Gastropub were eating ribs and drinking beer on a breezy May day.
LBB Gastropub – a 9-month-old offshoot of Loomis Basin Brewing, which sits about a mile away – does have a sign. But it’s subtle and faces a side-street extension of Horseshoe Bar Road instead of Taylor.
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Its hidden-away feel enhances LBB Gastropub’s status as a true find – one that might make barbecue a top attraction in this Placer County town, along with High Hand Nursery and Cafe and the powerhouse Del Oro High School football team.
At LBB Gastropub, a $28 three-meat “sampler” yields wonders, like a generous serving of fatty, juicy brisket that has been smoked 12-14 hours at about 240 degrees, tri-tip that spent a fraction of that time cooking in the oak-fueled smoker before emerging as moist as if it had been grilled – but with more flavor dimension – and the best smoked chicken breast I have tasted.
I prefer smoked poultry to smoked beef or pork, but usually only in theory, since the cooking process often seems to toughen and/or dry out chicken and turkey. But the breast I ordered with LBB’s meat sampler platter was defiantly, spectacularly moist, absorbing just enough wood-smoke flavor to heighten its poultry taste.
Nearly as dazzling were spare ribs we ordered as part of the sampler platter on another visit. The meat’s delectably glossy surface gives way to an interior that is noticeably textured without being stringy and offers the perfect amount of resistance before sliding away from the bone.
Open since August, the gastropub furthers the reputation for high quality that Loomis Basin Brewing established through beers like the malty, smooth “Alohawk” and sparky “Vindicator” IPA. LBB Gastropub offers 10-12 of the brewery’s beers on tap, and the professional service and relaxed atmosphere of the brewery’s taproom have carried over to the new business as well.
Both spots are owned by the Gowan family, which includes brewmaster Jim and his restaurant-veteran son Kenny, who worked in front-of-the-house management at Sugar Bowl. Kenny Gowan worked with chef Alan Davis, then in charge of the resort’s three food outlets.
Davis came down from the mountain to work at LBB Gastropub, where his purview spans the 400-square-foot kitchen of what used to be a coffeehouse, and a semi-enclosed lean-to, added by Gowan, that holds the smoker and a walk-in refrigerator and allows passers-by big whiffs of wood smoke.
In addition to his obvious smoking skills, Davis lends enough finesse to the rest of the menu to lift the gastropub’s food above typical brewpub level. For LBB’s taco plate, Davis sautés pulled pork and smoked-tomatillo salsa verde, further tanging the assembled taco with cilantro sour cream. Davis’ nuanced balsamic vinaigrette teased out the fruit tartness of fresh strawberries while also toning down endive bitterness and feta saltiness in the large, $11 “farm house” salad.
When LBB Gastropub’s food falters, it usually has to do with vinegar or mustard. There is too much acidity in its Carolina gold barbecue sauce and potato salad and too little in the aioli accompanying its coleslaw and Cuban sandwich.
The Alohawk paired nicely with several of the pub’s dishes, but the drink we could not get enough of was the house-made root beer. Made with sassafras, vanilla and cinnamon sticks, this creamy, lively soft drink comes with one free refill, for $4.
Roll-up garage doors open up the space between a dining room/bar filled with high-top seating and a patio with sturdy wooden picnic tables. Patrons can sit on the border between spaces at a bar whose tin base and polished-granite top reflect the place’s overall gentrified-country feel. Our only quibble with LBB’s ambiance arose on our first visit, when rock and reggae played on the sound system.
But country music – a genre for which a smokehouse in a town known for its agricultural history cries out – accompanied a subsequent visit. It was modern, pop-inflected country, granted. But tin topped by polished granite is still tin.
LBB Gastropub & Smokehouse
Hours: 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday; 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 11:30 a.m.-8 p.m. Sunday; Closed Monday and Tuesday.
Beverage options: Loomis Basin Brewing beers on tap. Limited wine list. House-made root beer.
Vegetarian friendly: There are options, but the best offerings here are meat-based.
Gluten-free options: Yes
Noise levels: Moderate to high
Ambiance: The interior looks like a high-end taproom, with plentiful wood and granite. Things get very lively in the bar/dining room, where on a recent Friday night we heard whoops connected to a baseball game on TV. Service was equally helpful and friendly in the bar and on the patio, but we always preferred the latter, for its open air and view of the old Loomis train station.
Overall ☆☆☆ 1/2
This small Placer County gastropub serves delicious smoked meats and tasty beer in a relaxed, welcoming setting.
Food ☆☆☆ 1/2
The brisket, tri-tip, pulled pork and ribs were exceptional, but the standout was an unusually moist and flavorful smoked chicken breast. The nachos, taco plate, salads, dessert and charcuterie plate all were better than you might expect at a brewpub. The coleslaw and Cuban sandwich needed more pizzazz, and the overly vinegary Carolina gold sauce and potato salad a bit less.
Efficient and friendly. Our server on one visit happily answered our inquiries about the no-longer-in-use-but-still-spiffy train station and other points of local interest.
Prices are reasonable for the generous portions you get, but only the wonderful $4 house-made root beer, which comes with a free refill, seems like a genuine bargain.