Southern Comfort

Posted on August 18, 2008 – 8:52 PM | by beckler
  • Share

I always have you, my loyal readers, in mind, so on a recent trip to Nashville, I selflessly endeavored to eat the maximum amount of barbecue and Southern food that was humanly possible within a three day period. I ate pulled pork until I pulled a jaw muscle, I ate grits until I gritted my teeth in exhaustion, and I ate fried green tomatoes until I turned green in the face. The things I do for you.  I flew home with pork in my teeth and a dream in my heart: to find some good Southern-style food in Sacramento.

Yunece 61Yunece 61 is situated in the Pee-Wee’s Playhouse-style strip mall in Sacramento’s modestly-sized (alas) Korean area out near the Sac Six drive-in.  All the surrounding restaurants are Korean, but Yunece 61 serves Southern style barbecue with a Korean flair.  We were seated by a stylish and petite woman with piled-high hair who looked like she just danced her way off the set of a B-52s video.  The space is expansive and tastefully appointed in an earth-toned palette. I did my best to ignore the sports playing on the sadly ubiquitous TVs, and noted with amazement that the melancholy tunes of Nick Drake were wafting from the sound system, which just added to the quirky vibe.

The menu features an assortment of meats and sides, and they offer half orders of the entrees, which, although I’m not usually a half-order type of woman, I correctly guessed would be more than sufficient in size.  Kimchee is available as an off-the-menu side.  In addition to the kimchee, the sides I sampled were the greens, the macaroni and cheese, and the beans.   The greens, unlike the sides of greens you get at most Southern-style places, still retained some of their original character as a fresh vegetable, and were quite smoky tasting to boot.  The beans had some complexity due to the addition of cinnamon and were lightly sweet, and the mac and cheese was custardy and had a clear touch o’Velveeta, which I look for.  All in all, the sides were excellent, the best out of all three places I visited for this review.

I tried an assortment of meats (brisket, baby back ribs, pulled pork, pork collar and tri-tip), and the brisket, luscious and fatty, emerged at the head of the pack.  None of the meats were particularly smoky.  The sauce was overly sugary, which wasn’t really a problem with the lightly sauced hunks of meat, but on the sloppily sauced pulled pork sandwich it overwhelmed my palate.  The baby-back ribs were tender and had abundant meat, but I preferred the sesame soy tang of the Korean short ribs, although the morsels of meat were hard-won amongst the abundant fatty bits.  Our server brought our bill with a parting gift of Dum-Dum lollipops, and I pushed back from the table with a groan, as I do from most meals involving barbecue.

Cafe Au CremeMy impression is that many barbecue afficionados consider the ribs at Café Au Creme to be the best barbecue to be had in Sacramento.  The active smoker on that bleak corner and day-glo coffee cup paintings on the window (it’s a combo bbq joint and coffee shop) always catch my eye as I cruise past on Stockton, bound for one Vietnamese place or another.  The day I visited, Café Au Creme was staffed by two businesslike and efficient teens and a baseball game was blaring on the radio, which was much more charming than the same game would have been on a TV. I would recommend taking the food to go, especially in the summer, because the cooling system consists of turning on the fan at your table and the food is served to you in a styrofoam box whether it’s ordered to go or not. Even in a styrofoam box, the ribs were glistening pink and beautiful.  The sauce was the star here.  It was tangy, bursting with fruit-juiciness, and had a celery-seed undertone.  The meat was chewy, not tough, but by no means falling off the bone.  The chicken was even better.  It was deeply smoky and moist.  In short: grub of the first order.

The sides were not so grub-tastic.  Both entrees were served with a portion of white baguette in a sandwich bag, which seemed comical until I realized I could use it to soak up more delicious sauce.  The beans and rice had an oddly soapy flavor.  The macaroni and cheese had been made without a roux and looked to be just elbow macaroni with shredded cheese mixed in and baked.  The green beans were overcooked and the greens were flavorless despite the addition of big chunks of turkey meat.  The grandma-style potato salad was the best side.

The meat at Café Au Creme is wonderful and it also distinguishes itself by being cheaper than most BBQ spots around town.  A full (and filling) rib or chicken dinner will only run you nine dollars.  At that price you can get some food to go and have enough money left over to get a room for an hour or so across the street and eat in air-conditioned luxury, maybe while catching a porno or two.  (I recommend Shaving Ryan’s Privates; there’s a surprise ending.)

The appeal of the combination of chicken and waffles lies in the interplay between sweet, savory, and salty flavors.  The version served at Oni’s Chicken And Waffles features deep-fried to order, slightly spicy chicken wings. Wings are the only chicken part on offer here, so if you don’t like dark meat, you are s.o.l.  If you don’t like dark meat you are also missing out on 90% of the flavor of poultry, so Oni’s might be a good place for you to break yourself of white-meat addiction. The waffles were also freshly made to order on a giant waffle press and they were thin and delightfully crisp.  We were waited on by a cute-as-the-dickens little girl whose coloring book art constituted a large part of the decor.  If child labor was always that endearing, I’d be all for it. 

I was really excited to order the ox-tail stew, but the execution fell flat.  The flavor of the oxtails themselves created a meaty and rich, albeit overly oily, gravy.  There were only a few shreds of meat, which is to be expected with oxtail, but the only accompaniment was a mound of white rice that had been cooked until it resembled pudding. The greens I got as a side with this dish were very flavorful and the macaroni and cheese was thick and interestingly flavored with a hint of nutmeg.  The cornbread was gummy and had an aluminum flavor from the baking soda which is a common downfall when it comes to cornbread.  I was going to write that you should stick to the chicken and waffles at Oni’s but goddamnit, the News and Review’s Kate Washington has scooped me again because that’s how she closed her review.  I’ll get you, Kate Washington, if it’s the last thing I do.

An honorable mention goes to the chicken at Sandra Dee’s, which is my favorite thing on their menu. Their red beans and rice and greens are also great, and it gets extra points for being the only place that’s bike-able.  This review is far from comprehensive, of course, and I have no desire to be drawn into the unending and unanswerable debate about who does which style of barbecue best.  I was really glad to return to this leftie, liberal, commie, hippy, weirdo, gay-marryin’ state and city that I call home, but I’m also happy that I can get some Southern comfort food when I crave it.

Yunece 61, 9657 Folsom Blvd, Sacramento, (916) 361-2014
Café Au Crème, 4340 Stockton Blvd, Sacramento, (916) 736-2717
Oni’s Chicken and Waffles, 5015 Stockton Blvd, Sacramento, (916) 453-1224
Sandra Dee’s, 601 15th St, Sacramento, (916) 448-6375

Post a Comment