The Best Mussels in Town Might be at a Pizza Place

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 ate the whole bowl before I remembered to snap a pic. Trust me, they serve a whole bowl.

Go eat it. Now.

Bywater on Broadway- Po Boys Done Good

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.

I can’t find a “two.” Maybe they’re just optimistic

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.

The tornado, snuggling with an oyster po’ boy

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)



A Sip of Sacramento 2.0

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.

No cute cat face here

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”

Motivations become clearer in tearing down of “world’s nicest projects”

Nice projects, right?
Nice projects, right?

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.

Well, it looks like the incentives for completely transforming this rather calm and park-like housing development are coming into focus.  According to the Sacramento Business Journal, a proposed bridge between Sac and West Sac just got a boost in funding:

A much-discussed bridge between Broadway in Sacramento and the Pioneer Bluff area in West Sacramento got a federal funding boost Wednesday — $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 significantly 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.

The Death of Craft: Hard Work Sucks

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).  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”

On Flavorful Food and Spicy Writing

Folks weren't happy with my last write-up of Mother.
Folks weren’t happy with my last write-up of Mother.

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.

The Coolworths* *Not actually the Coolworths
The Coolworths*
*Not actually the Coolworths

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”