There is little that Robert Masullo can do wrong. His eponymous restaurant turns out some of the most delectable pizzas, pastas, salads, and desserts in the greater 916. His lone pizza oven is the engine that drives the kitchen. And I’m a big believer that creativity comes from limitations and restrictions much more than from limitless resources.
Think Steven Wright and Mitch Helberg and their stedfast refusal to tell much more than a 10 second one-liner. Think of Picasso in his blue period. Think of that guy from work whose diet consists, apparently, of nothing more than leftover fish that he insists on warming in the microwave. Creativity blooms when resources are slim.
So when you, as a chef, are forced to prepare your bivalves in a 3 million degree oven, this is what you come up with. A gorgeous bowl of mussels in an all too moppable, luscious sitting sauce that permeates the shells and is a perfect trough of goodness through which to run your rosemary bread.
I’ve claimed for many years that one of America’s great cuisines, the gorgeous Creole/Cajun mashup that is New Orleans cooking, doesn’t travel well. Trying to reproduce its flavors outside the swampy lowlands of Louisiana just doesn’t work. It’s like traveling with a $3000 suitcase. It’s looks beautiful at first, but one long flight and it’s beat to hell and looks like hobo luggage. You really should have left it where it belonged.
I’ve never had gumbo outside of Louisiana that stood up to the NOLA original. Never had jambalaya that tasted quite so good. Never had barbecue shrimp encased in quite the same slick, salty, delicious slurry.
Part of it is ingredients. That particular Louisiana rice is unmistakable. That light-as-helium French bread that shatters into 5 bajillion crumbs when you touch it is irreplaceable. That sweaty, swamp-ass, half-drunk semi-coma that most people in NOLA live in permanently is impossible to reproduce outside the greater 504.
Nevertheless, plenty of cooks and restaurateurs try their hand at recreating the Crescent City in their own home towns, and rarely do they come as close as French Po-Boys One here in Sacramento.
First of all let’s talk about where the name “Po’ Boy” comes from. HAHAHAHAHA. Seriously, you thought I was going to tell some dusty shit-story that’s been trampled on a thousand times by bad tour guides? Let’s get to the food.
French Po Boys does the traditional NOLA sandwich right. Fried shrimp or oysters or catfish or soft shell crab, “dressed” with mayo-lettuce-tomoato is what you should get. It you’ve a seafood allergy, I’ll allow you a more pedestrian cold cut affair, but really the fried seafood is unmatchable. The cornmeal crust on the seafood replicates perfectly that New Orleans corner-store micro-kitchen texture.
To really bring home the classic NOLA po’ boy shop feel, that greatest of all hot sauces, Crystal, is on every table in the modest dining room. The silverware is made of plastic and the plates of paper. The family that runs the joint, is, I’m guessing, Vietnamese. The only reason I say so is that I doubt anyone other than a Vietnamese baker could get quite so close to that shattering French bread. It’s not 100% the same as New Orleans French, but it’s as close as I’ve ever had on the West Coast.
You’re also welcome to try the “Potato Tornado,” a spiral cut potato on a stick that is about as state-fair as you’re gonna get in April.
Trust me, just go and get some grub there. You’ll love it.
French Po-Boys One- 6498 Broadway (at 65th Street), Sacramento
Food **** Atmosphere (doesn’t matter)* Service ** (perfect)
Before there was the arena, before there was Mayor Basketball, before there was the idea of a Sacramento 3.0, there was a simpler time, the ’80s. And a simpler time called for a more straightforward and forthright beverage, coffee. And Sacramento’s first coffee roaster of that age was not Java City, it was not Boulevard, it was definitely not Temple. Honestly, you thought it was Temple? Read a book. It was, my friends, Coffee Works.
The simple roaster and coffee slinger started in 1982 at the same Folsom Blvd joint it currently inhabits, a one shop stop. And the coffee still tastes like a neon-fringed, aqua-netted, synthesizer-imbued cup of goodness that can’t be beat.
The signature roast, Jump Start, is a throwback cup a joe, an uncomplicated step-up from diner java, a gorgeous, brutalist thing that belongs in a museum alongside a 2-minute egg and a morning paper. For those in my gen-x demo, it’s a delightful way to revel in a morning.
Or, order a cappuccino, I dare you. Does it come with a beautiful leaf emblazoned in foam? A heart? A freeform message of artistic expression? Of course not. It’s a cup of coffee with foamy milk on it. It’s unfussy and strong and dark and toasty and roasty a little bit sinister and not your friend. Continue reading “A Sip of Sacramento 2.0”
Remember this story from January about a seemingly unmotivated push by developers to knock down a huge swath of public housing in a sleepy part of town and replace it with “mixed-use” buildings? If you don’t, check out the link first, I’ll wait.
A much-discussed bridge between Broadway in Sacramento and the Pioneer Bluff area in West Sacramento got a federal funding boost Wednesday â€” $1.5 million to help start planning the project.
It becomes clear that if the bridge project progresses, land values along the west end of Broadway will shoot up significantlyÂ in value, especially as commercial space. And, as is so often the case, if land values are slated to go up, better get the poor folks off the land before they know what’s going on.
I’m perfectly happy with the idea of the bridge going up, as it will help revitalize the Broadway area, which has always been a land of potential. But displacing people from their homes and not being honest about it seems like the worst, old-fashioned, robber-baron behavior.
I received terrible news this morning. My beloved Doughbot will be closing in August.
Unlike most restaurant closings however, this isn’t due to lack of business, or lawsuits, or partnership disputes, or any of the myriad ways small businesses, especially restaurants, can be struck by struck by figurative lightning (including literal lightning). Â No, per their Facebook posting today, Doughbot is closing because they have too much business, and catering to all that business is hard work. Too hard to keep doing it.
Do not, I repeat, do not take this post as some type of belittling of the amount of work it takes to keep a small food-service business going. I’m totally on board with Doughbot’s owners in that busting ass is hard, burnout is real, and they do not owe the community their sweat simply because we’ve spent money at their shop. Continue reading “The Death of Craft: Hard Work Sucks”
Quick background: I wrote a piece a bit ago about newly opened Mother restaurant. It was one of the few pieces in town that didn’t sing its praises like the Mormon Tabernacle Choir all hopped up on whatever Mormons are allowed to drink. It had its share of snark (that is our mainstay y’know), its critical moments, and positive moments as well.
A few people who felt close to the project, as diners and partners, derided the piece as ignorant, unprofessional, and poopy-headed. Some made disparaging remarks that bordered on personal attacks. Many of these people didn’t realize that they knew me IRL which made for entertaining if not awkward reveals. Thankfully, no feelings were actually hurt in the making of that blog post.
So, after much encouragement from friends and other writers, I returned to Mother recently and gave it a second shot.
First, I came with backup. I brought a fellow food writer, her husband and their adorable daughter to round out the party. For sake of ease, we’ll refer to them as “The Coolworths.”
The Coolworths and I got a nice table by the kitchen (honestly, every table is by the kitchen) and were waited on by a super-friendly staff member. It wasn’t long before the the chef. Michael Thiemann, dropped by the table to say hi, see if our beer was ok, and make it very clear, I mean Riedel crystal clear, that he knew exactly who we were. There was no avoiding it. It was a, “Hey sac-eats, thanks for coming back, I hope everything winds up being to your satisfaction” kind of conversation. Except that he didn’t call me sac-eats. He knew exactly who I was, no internet handle required. However, rather than being a dick, he was kind of lovely about it. Continue reading “On Flavorful Food and Spicy Writing”
Have you heard? A new restaurant opened up on K Street. It’s vegetarian. It’s hip. It’s different. It’s the toast of the town. And I can say that because toast is vegetarian.
It’s called Mother. And if you don’t read the local print journalists, then you might not know that Mother is the best restaurant to open in the area since a tired woman first roasted a bluegill trout on the banks of the American River after first coming over the land bridge about 12,000Â years ago. Seriously. If you think I’m kidding, read this. Or this.
People I know are going batshit about this place. I expect this of the vegetarian and vegan community in town, with their Jehovah’s-Witness-level zealotry and their incessantly low reviews on Yelp of restaurants that don’t cater to their self-imposed dietary restrictions. But straight up eaters are singing this joint’s praises. So, you go. Right? Continue reading “On Taking My Mother to Mother”
If you’ve driven by the corner of Broadway and Muir (9th) anytime in your life and wondered what exactly the grouping of building was you were looking at, you know the ones, the one and two story brick jobs laid out in a wide open pattern, like some kind of Massachusetts militia base from the heady days of the war of British aggression, then I’m here to tell you that they are, and always have been, public housing.
The handsome brick structures surrounded by leafy old trees, green lawns, soccer and baseball fields, and a head start pre-school were built after WWII by a team of architects known for their impressive, enduring structures like the Elks Building, YWCA, and (less enduring) the Alhambra theater. To have such eminent architects work on public housing was no big thing back then, as public projects of any kind were ways to show American superiority and excellence on the world stage.
These days, the public housing project known as Alder Grove (they were originally called New Helvetia, probably because of all the poor Swiss people that lived there), boasts hundreds of residents, many of whom have lived there for decades.
Surrounding Alder grove on the South is the neighborhood “Upper Land Park,” a collection of mostly post-war houses, built to a slightly smaller scale than the larger Land Park homes east of Riverside Boulevard. Recently, this neighborhood has become one of the hottest real estate markets in the city, given it’s medium price range and proximity to downtown, as well as the charming nature and fine condition of many of its 70-year old houses.
So, here’s the rub. The Sacramento Housing Authority (SHRA) wants to pull the Alder Grove residences down, run a bulldozer through them, rip them up, shred them to a pulp, and put up some multi-story cubes in their place. Put some commercial on the Broadway side and build some “mixed” housing including a mix of market-rate and subsidized housing behind the commercial frontage.
Yet, the main reason for the pull down given by the SHRA is “the housing communities suffer from severe physical distress, with outdated, 60-year-old building systems. Many of the 700 residential units are undersized and do not meet the needs of today’s families.”
It’s funny a bit that the surrounding neighborhood is also more than 60-years old, and was built with the outdated technologies of the time, yet it’s still one of the most desirable neighborhoods in town. Also, the families that live in the Alder Grove development haven’t complained at all about the living conditions and would have to be displaced for months if not years while their homes are destroyed and replaced. So, I’m trying hard to believe that this is “for the comfort of the residents.”
Instead, this seems like a project that, like almost any building project in the country, is designed to make developer, builder, owner, and politician a lot of money. It seems a shame, doesn’t it, to have this wide patch of land without something on it that you can gain a market income from. It seems a shame, doesn’t it, that there are wide open spaces wherein children can play rather than rent-earning apartments. It seems a shame, doesn’t it, that there is room to put up a Subway sandwich shop that doesn’t yet have a Subway sandwich shop occupying it.
Also, there’s always bound to be shenanigans. According to one frequent commenter and expertly knowledgeable individual that’s a personal friend of mine, “The weird part is that the city paid a consulting firm to determine if the buildings were eligible for the National Register, which is part of the environmental review process. The firm determined they were, so they buried the report and hired another consultant.”
Thanks, city council, for looking out for the needs of the citizens once again. Why don’t you work on the empty, I mean EMPTY, city blocks in Downtown and Midtown before you go ripping down perfectly good residences? Try finding a plan for the Ice Factory. Try building a public market. Work on that ridiculous rail yard boondoggle. Find some tenants for the empty buildings on K Street. Do something useful rather than what appears to be a naked grab for money designed to screw the lucky few comfortable, low-income folks in your town.
The most recent (Jan 21) city council meeting addressed the issue and the council voted to go ahead with a plan to acquire a plan to tear the thing down. They haven’t agreed to move ahead, just to develop a plan to move ahead. So there’s still time to stop the move if you, the citizen, so wants. Just sayin’.
It started as a few disparate people getting gift cards in the mail around Christmas. The cards were sent from an anonymous gift-giver who, from all evidence, seems to favor those people in the Sacramento community who do their thing and in the process make our town a better place.
I noticed several people in my Facebook feed thanking this anonymous Santa, people like Brian Crall, owner of the Sacramento Comedy Spot, or Chris Crotty, owner of ComedySportz, or standup Keith Lowell Jensen. Each of the three received a gift card with a note saying, “Thank you for all you do for the Sacramento comedy community.”
Thinking this was just a nice gesture from an ardent comedy fan, I stored it away as interesting and nice.
But, just in the last few days I’ve seen posts from John Marcotte, political satirist and high-brow prankster, Stephanie Rector, organizer of Sac Geeks, and a few other “non-comedy” souls. These cards were sent with custom notes that basically said thank you for making Sacramento a better place.
So, #1 This gift-giver is awesome and deserves high praise for true heart and brilliant execution. #2 I don’t need to know who it is, nor should you. They’ve chosen to remain anonymous and that’s just fine. #3 Their choice of recipients is interesting and I’d like to know if anyone else out there received such a gift. If you did or know of someone else that did, please comment below or shoot me an email at saceats at gmail dot com.