Carla Meyer

First Impressions: Tank House is place for smoked meats

The first thing I noticed about Tank House was the side patio. Walking through midtown one night, I did a double take. Who are those people sitting under those big red umbrellas? What are they doing? And most important, where are they doing it? In other words, I’d never seen people sitting there before.

Turns out, that busy patio belongs to Tank House, and it has breathed new life into this stretch of midtown along the J Street corridor. This location was formerly occupied by Hads Steak and Seafood, which was a pleasant but underappreciated eatery.

In this highly competitive dining and bar scene, will Tank House be able to offer enough — and distinguish itself enough — to draw crowds on a regular basis?

Barbecue is a tough business in midtown Sacramento. Witness the recent demise of Negril Island Grill five blocks up J Street. Sandra Dee’s is still filling seats on a regular basis on 15th Street, but its menu is much more diverse than Tank House’s and it has an established following.

Brand-new Tank House is the brainchild of husband-and-wife co-owners Tyler and Melissa Williams, who are introducing a bit of a country flavor and vibe to midtown. They apparently like doing food the old-school Texas way — low and slow, with plenty of smoke. Why barbecue? Why not? It’s got soul. It’s got flavor. Why is it called Tank House? There’s a water tank next to the patio that was built in 1881.

When we stopped by Tank House on a recent night, my first thought was, “OK, another restaurant with really bad acoustics.” The echoes had echoes. It was a challenge to hear a basic converstation. If the dining room was actually in the water tank, the acoustics would be more refined. The owners are aware of the issue and are working on it.

Next, the people here are very friendly and laid-back. A good-natured employee stopped by our table and advised that we would do better if we went up to the bar to place our order, which is 12 feet away. That’s cool, but it would have been even cooler if the employee had just taken our order. Since then, they’ve added a sign to indicate that it’s counter service. Once people catch on, all will be OK. Best of all, the food is ready very quickly.

We ambled up to the bar and ordered most of the things on the very limited menu. Beef brisket ($10), baby back ribs ($12 or $22 for a huge order), corn bread ($4) and a hot link ($3). They had run out of a couple of things. The bartender was very friendly.

Tank House has a full bar and a nice little selection of craft beer that seems to rotate fairly regularly. We had a Ruhstaller Gilt Edge and a Ninkasi IPA. Tank House’s website is still dormant, but the establishment lists new beer offerings on its Facebook page. To its credit, this place seems intent on supporting local beer. Last time I checked, it was tapping a triple IPA from Device Brewing, one of the newest breweries on the local scene. The bar is not doing craft cocktails, and that’s probably wise. I’d much rather have an Old Fashioned while gnawing on ribs than some precious concoction with house-made simple syrup and basil leaves.

Menu: For my readers over 30 — and I know you’re out there — beware that a “sando” is actually a sandwich. There was a 15-minute window about five years ago when calling a sandwich a “sando” actually seemed cool. In 2013, it may be too Guy Fieri for midtown. That said, the brisket sando here is pretty good, and a pretty good value, now that it comes with tots or slaw for $10. The hot link sando is $8. They also have a pork sando.

The larger items include the beef brisket and the ribs, available in two sizes. There is a noticeable absence of vegetables, though the owners assure me they hope to expand the veggie offerings to things like grilled corn. The greens, a combination of kale and Swiss chard, are not vegetarian (they’re made with bacon). For dessert, there was peach cobbler.

Price point: The hearty sandwiches, including brisket and chopped pork offerings, are $10. The larger plates of brisket are $10 or $18. The smoky, tender ribs are $12 or $22. Sides are mostly $4.

Ambiance: It’s an attractive, modern-looking dining area with a nice bar and seating for 55. The side patio also seats 55. The vibe is generally casual, though it shifts as the day goes on — an office crowd at lunch, a younger midtown crowd at night and into the wee hours.

Drinks: Full bar, with an emphasis on craft beer and traditional mixed drinks.

Service: Until they added a sign at the door, it was confusing. It looks like a place for table service. But you order your food and drinks at the bar and then take a seat. The food is ready in minutes (since the meat has been smoking since 7 a.m.).

First impressions: The brisket was very tender and nicely prepared. It had clearly been cooking low and slow for many hours. Good stuff. And it was great with a craft beer. The ribs were pleasingly smoky and the meat was also tender and full of flavor. We especially enjoyed the brisket sandwich. The mac ’n’ cheese seemed ordinary, but the “dirty mac and cheese” may be the way to go — they add a smoked meat to the equation.

While the menu is limited, the owners stress that they want to focus on what they do well, and that’s preparing and serving smoked meat. They apparently don’t have any vegetarians in their inner circle. I can’t imagine a vegetarian who would feel welcome here for anything other than drinking. This is a missed opportunity that could easily be remedied. This meat eater would welcome more vegetables, too.

Since its soft opening in late August and the grand opening a week ago, Tank House has brought a refreshing new attitude and energy to midtown. To be sure, it will need to tweak and adjust, but so far, it is working a game plan that might succeed at that location.

Try it if: You like nicely prepared smoked meats, good craft beer and aren’t turned off by a very limited menu.

Forget it if: You don’t eat meat. Charming as it may be for carnivores, this joint is practically vegetarian hostile.