2014 has been an exciting year for Sacramento. Coming out of a recession, more restaurants opened than closed (by my count of those covered on Cowtown Eats, openings outpaced closings by a more than 2 to 1 margin), but not all restaurant openings were the same. Looking at what you, the loyal Cowtown Eats readers clicked on and tweaked a little by me, here are the 5 biggest dining stories of 2015.
5. Lance Briggs opens Double Nickel Smokehouse in Elk Grove
Maybe it's ravenous Chicago sports fans looking for news about the Bears linebacker's new restaurant and the minor controversy from his in-season trip to his native Elk Grove for the restaurant's grand opening, but posts about this restaurant had surprisingly high traffic. Unfortunately, the reviews are in, and as one Chicago sports blogger tweeted, the restaurant is going as well as Briggs' season (which is to say poorly).
Honestly, this isn't one that I had on my radar when I started writing this post, but you, the Cowtown Eats readers, have spoken by your overwhelming traffic for this topic.
4. RIP Doughbot Donuts
After the couple running the artisan donut shop announced they were closing, Doughbot couldn't make enough donuts to keep up with demand. They sold out by mid-morning most of their final few weeks, and when there were donuts, there were long lines of fans waiting to get their final fix. Doughbot's many fans in line meant lots of interest online too.
I also think there were two other reasons people connected with Dougbot. First of all, their offering was unique in Sacramento. While there were other traditional donut shops, nobody was doing the types of donuts that owners Brian and Dannah were creating. In fact, I'm craving one of their blood orange pull-aparts as I put this post together. Secondly, most donut shops are run by immigrants. There's nothing wrong with that, but Grid dwellers probably didn't connect with them like they did with Brian and Dannah, whom you'd also see at culinary events like Have an Offal Day. That connection to the community and their unique fare contributed to their popularity and will be sorely missed.
3. Tuli & Restaurant 13 Close Unexpectedly
By all accounts, Chef Adam Pechal was hitting his professional stride. In 2013, he appeared on ABC's The Taste, he co-owned the beloved Tuli Bistro, and followed up his first successful restaurant with a second, higher end eatery, Restaurant Thir13en. In early 2014, that all came tumbling down, to the surprise of most. By the end of January, both Restaurant Thir13en and Tuli Bistro closed. Since then, he's regrouped by launching the kitchen at Crawdad's and Pour House, but the talented chef has yet to reach the same heights.
Coincidentally, the closure of Tuli Bistro made the year's second biggest dining story possible.
2. Trick Pony's Original Owner Insults Sacramento Pizza
"The customer is always right," goes the old adage. I think that's probably a losing business strategy, but to go 180 degrees the other direction and insult the community you're about to join is probably a worse strategy.
In an interview with the Sac Bee, original Trick Pony owner Rick Lobely said, "I’m tired of driving two hours to get a really good pizza," instantly insulting the pizza at Masullo, Hot Italian, One Speed, Zelda's and many, many other quality Sacramento pizza joints and their legions of fans. After starting off on the wrong foot, the restaurant never found its footing. A contestant from ABC reality cooking show The Taste was brought in to open the restaurant, but he didn't last long. The pizza was served uncut, forcing patrons to slice it themselves. (I found it unique, but I'm not sure I would have liked it on the third or fourth visit.) Eventually, the ownership group brought in Team Broderick to run the restaurant, leading to the return of my favorite Sacramento server, Andrea Vadavato.
1. Mother Hits the Scene
Undoubtedly, the return of Chef Michael Thiemann to Sacramento to open Mother is the one event that's had the most impact on the Sacramento dining scene. Mother, a restaurant that serves no meat but is unlike any other vegetarian restaurant, seems to have become a cultural hub for the restaurant community in Sacramento - both those who work in restaurants and those who frequent the establishments.
Chefs Adam Pechal of Pour House, Robb Venditti of Pangaea Bier Cafe & Michael Thiemann of Mother at December's 86'ed event.
Beyond serving food that earned Four Stars from the Sac Bee, Mother also hosts extra curricular programming on Monday nights that helps bring the food community together. One Monday, Mother will feature Madre Cerveceria, where Sac News & Review editor Nick Miller pairs beer with Mexican food. Another Monday will feature 86'ed, a Food Network-style cooking competition where two area chefs are given ingredients and must prepare dishes for local celebrity judges. (After having gone to one, though, it really doubles as a reason for the Sacramento restaurant community to get together and reconnect.) The third type of event they'll host is Other, which allows other chefs to come into their restaurant and cook vegetarian meals for one night.
And they're not done yet. Empress Tavern, by the team that brought us Mother, is set to open at the Crest Theater within weeks, where they'll serve meat and allow for food and drinks inside the theater.
More Year End Reviews:
The ’14 food scene? We’ll drink to that - And now, a toast to Sacramento food and wine in 2014. It’s appropriate to hoist a glass because liquids were a large part of the Sacramento area’s successes over the past 12 months. No city had more nods in Coffee Review’s “Top 30 Coffees of 2014” than Sacramento. On the cocktail side, one of the central city’s signature watering holes made Esquire magazine’s list of “The Best Bars in America, 2014.” Chris Macias in the Sac Bee.
Beyond the stars: SN&R's food reviewers dish on some of their favorite things—and a few unfortunate ones—that happened in the 2014 Sacto scene - If you read our reviews this past year, you’d know that we do like to eat lots of different things: Bread from Village Bakery, a freekeh-topped kale salad from Mother and a chef’s selection of sushi from Yui Marlu were among our best bites. In fact, we’re always dining out, and our reviews alone don’t tell the whole story of everything we ate and loved in 2014. Here, we reminisce about some of our favorites of the year—and some of our biggest regrets. Ann Martin Rolke, Garrett McCord and Jonathan Mendick in Sac News & Review.
Top memorable dishes of 2014 - It's time to reflect on the news of 2014, and we don't know about you, but we think with our stomachs over here at the Business Journal. We asked our food writer, Andrea Thompson, to identify her favorite meals of the year, so be warned, you might end up hungry. Here's a list of dishes Andrea really liked. Andrea Thompson in Sac Biz Journal.
Memorable moments from a Sacramento year of dining out - I ate and drank very well in 2014. Sure, there were a few disastrous dishes and a few places that failed to live up to expectations. But, overall, this was a year of stability and quality for the local dining scene. I had many meals that were what I like to think of as “very Sacramento.” It’s popular to call that “farm to fork” these days. But what it really means is there is a style and substance in the conception, cooking, presentation and eating that says something special about where we live. Blair Anthony Robertson in the Sac Bee.
Which food trends were big in 2014? - Carnivores and herbivores are both winners in the battle of the biggest Sacramento-area food trends of 2014. Two opposing ends of the culinary spectrum dominate the year's trends: healthy vegetables and big pieces of meat. Sonya Sorich in Sac Biz Journal.
Top Execs of 2014: Patrick Mulvaney, Mulvaney's B&L - In March, Patrick Mulvaney reached a career milestone when he and 10 members of his staff traveled to New York City to cook dinner at the James Beard House. It was the third time that a Sacramento-area chef was invited to cook at the prestigious culinary landmark. "It was great to stand up and tell the diners that everything they had just eaten, with the exception of water, bread and Irish whiskey, came from California," Mulvaney said. Sonya Sorich in the Sac Biz Journal.