AM15: Tank House BBQ & Bar

Back to Midtown so soon?  Had to try for Tank House again, and tonight was a success.  Mondays are much less busy than 2nd Saturday’s for sure!  They are located on J Street and 20th, right next to the train tracks.  This place is pretty straight forward.  There’s a full bar which runs most of the length of the place on the right, and tables flank it to the left.  There is a patio around the side of the building, and this is where they have the smoker, which smelled amazing every time the front door opened.

The wall along the side of, and continuing around back of, the bar is a giant chalk board detailing the menu items, draught beer, wine, cocktails, etc.  I was early so I got a Anderson Valley Summer Solstice, which I had up near the windows while enjoying a nice long freight train roll by.  Dan & Kathy arrived at about 6 and after looking over the menu we placed our order up at the bar/register.

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I’m not sure if their selection varies over time, but tonight the meat options consisted of brisket, baby back ribs, chicken and hot links.  We ordered a couple of the Meat Treat platters [$26], which come with your choice of 2 meats (1/2lb each) and 2 sides.  Sides consist of mac & cheese, tater tots, greens, coleslaw or cornbread.  They also have a couple special sides (both of which I upgraded to) which are the Dirty Tots (Tater Tots covered in Cheese Sauce topped with Chopped Pork Butt)[$6] and Dirty Mac (Mac & Cheese with Smoked Chicken)[$6].

For my platter (they serve two, so I have a nice sized lunch for tomorrow), I went with the brisket and ribs.  The brisket has 3 options – lean, juicy or chef’s choice (somewhere in-between the two).  I chose juicy for maximum flavor.  Dan & Kathy went with all chef’s choice brisket.  For their sides they got mac & cheese and the greens.

Our platters didn’t take too long to come out, less than 10 minutes I’d say.  It was a nice spread.  The brisket slices were neatly stacked on the paper-covered tray.  My ribs sat next to it and the sides had their own dishes.

The ribs were partially sliced, just needed a slight bit of cutting to separate.  I normally would not order ribs but wanted to try as much as I could.  At first glance they didn’t seem to have a lot of meat on them, but once I got them apart and started working on them I realized they actually were fairly substantial.  They had an excellent smokey flavor to them, but were a bit dry.  I had to use a little bit of sauce to moisten them up.  There was a tangy and a sweet sauce at the table.  The tangy did have a little zip to it and it was good, but I really enjoyed the sweet a lot more.  It was thick like syrup and not overly sweet, nor did it cover up the smokey pork.

The brisket was excellent.  It was definitely juicy and a good amount of fat in some areas.  Those pieces fell apart with my fork and nearly melted in your mouth.  The edges were more lean, yet still packed a lot of wonderful seasoned, smokey flavor.  No sauce was needed on this at all.  My main, most recent comparison for this would be brisket I had in Lockhart, TX, on a recent trip, at Black’s BBQ, a relatively famous BBQ spot.  Their juicy brisket edged this one out only slightly, both in tenderness and flavor.  I’d say that’s pretty damn good for a little spot in Sacramento!

My sides were both awesome.  The Dirty Mac was very rich and creamy, and the smoked chicken bits added a savory component that worked really well.  I’m sure the plain mac & cheese was great also.  The Dirty Tots were equally fantastic.  The tots were perfectly golden brown and crisp.  They were topped with a very thick and rich cheese sauce and a huge pile of shredded pork butt.  I could have eaten both sides and the brisket until I exploded.

The ribs and the greens were really the only things that weren’t amazing.  The greens came with little bits of pork, which unfortunately didn’t add much flavor.  This dish was just kinda boring.

Overall I was very happy with Tank House.  Prices felt about right, not cheap but not expensive for what you got either.  The staff was all very friendly and the place was immaculate and well-kept.  While the ribs and greens didn’t do it for me, there is plenty that did.  I haven’t explored the BBQ options in the area very much yet, but I am glad to know this is here for when I get that craving.  Let me know in the comments if you have any favorites nearby (Dobson’s is on my radar already, so I’ll get there soonish).

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#187: Back Forty Texas BBQ

This evening (well, late in the afternoon) I was joined by my grandma for an early dinner at Back Forty Texas BBQ.  This western-themed restaurant is located on Orlando Ave near Riverside and seems to be one of just three locations (2nd and 3rd being in Shingle Springs and Pleasant Hill).  Interestingly (or maybe not), this is the southern-most restaurant on my list so it’s kind of fitting that it’s Texas BBQ, I guess.  I feel like I’ve been past this place about a million times and this is the first time I have actually gone in.

It was just 4:30PM when we arrived.  The place seemed totally dead.  We waited in the entryway for about 2 minutes.  I could hear a few people in the dining room and I could see two cooks in the kitchen, which was right behind the front desk/registers.  I was thrown off by the dual registers and large, full menu that was on the wall behind them.  I had thought that this was a full service restaurant, but this had me questioning it.  A woman emerged from the back and took us to a booth in the left dining room.  Another dining room (above) is off to the right and was empty and somewhat dark.  The room we were taken into actually had more diners than I expected.  There were about 4 or 5 tables seated, all booths around the walls.  A couple of 8-seater tables with big wooden chairs dominated the middle of this section.  A mix of country and blues-rock played at a volume slightly higher than you’d expect.

We were left to explore the menu for a while.  It was probably about 5-6 minutes before our server came by to take our drink orders, and by then we were actually ready to order.  Both of us immediately noticed the Early Bird Special on a 1/3 sized page in the middle of the menu which seemed like a good deal – Choice of meat (there were about 5 or so to choose from, and I know there was beef brisket, chicken strips and pork ribs, there was probably also BBQ chicken and I can’t remember the rest), choice of 2 items off The Fixin’s List (Tossed House Salad, Caesar Salad, Homemake Soup(s) [Baked Potat0 or Vegetable soup], BBQ Beans, Creamy Potato Salad, Granny Smith Apple Coleslaw, White Cheddar Mac ‘n Cheese, Fried Okra, Garlic Mashed Potatoes, Spicy Onion Rings, Tater Barrels, Texas Wedge Cut Fries, Sweet Potato Chips, Fresh Steamed Vegetables) and a choice of Cornbread with Honey-Butter, Banana Loaf or a Fresh Baked Mini-Loaf.  All that was $9.99 and is served from 3-6 which we were smack in the middle of.  Happy Hour drinks were in effect too so I got a 12oz (might have been 14oz) Shock Top for $3 (which in hindsight wasn’t that great a deal, 12oz isn’t much, 14oz so-so).

Anyway, we ordered away, my grandma looking for advice on choosing between the chicken strips and the pork ribs.  The server gave a very honest opinion, along the lines of chicken strips are chicken strips, and recommended the ribs.  She went with those , picked the veggies, coleslaw and cornbread.  I went with the beef brisket (choice of lean or juicy, I went juicy) with a house salad, white cheddar mac ‘n cheese and cornbread.  Another employee must have overheard the very beginning of our order with the drinks because right as our server was finishing up they brought a water and my Shock Top out.  She asked if I wanted a lemon for it but I passed.  We were left with our drinks for a few minutes before she came back with my salad and the two cornbreads.  My salad came with the requested blue cheese which actually had some chunks in it.  The salad itself was your typical house salad.  Nothing too exciting, everything was nice and fresh though.

The cornbread was a good-sized piece for one person.  Slicing into it revealed a couple whole kernels of corn.  Taste-wise I thought this was ok.  The honey-butter was good.  The cornbread was really dry though.  It was dry enough that once I had exhausted the little cup of honey-butter I did not want any more.  Our food came rather quickly.  I was just finishing up my last bite of cornbread when it showed up (about 7 minutes after the bread and salad had arrived).

It may simply be because we ordered the early bird special but I was a slightly disappointed in the portion size (all said and done I left full, though I had a big lunch earlier that contributed to that).  Her plate had three pork ribs, mine had about four strips of brisket.  My brisket looked very “juicy” and tender like it should fall apart as soon as I touched my fork to it.  Turned out I needed to do a bit of slicing with my knife to get some bite-sized pieces.  The BBQ sauce was served on the side, so I first tried a bite plain.  It didn’t have a ton of flavor and was slightly on the dry side.  I went ahead and added a small amount of sauce across all the brisket.  That made a huge difference.  The sweet BBQ sauce was pretty rich and intense in flavor, and it added that last bit of needed moisture.  I’ve had brisket a few times and most of the time it’s been pretty amazing, even without sauce.  In comparison this was kind of a let down.  It was ok at best.

The white cheddar mac ‘n cheese had arrived looking like it had sat in the little dish for a while and had developed a dull surface appearance, like it had a skin.  I mixed it up to reveal the cheese-sauce.  The noodles were quite soft and the cheese had a texture that coated your mouth and was very creamy.  It was a very, very mild cheddar, I would have preferred something much sharper.  My grandma seemed happy with her pork ribs and sides.  I did taste the apple coleslaw and it was pretty good.

I have to wonder if the time we went and the early bird special was a contributing factor to the quality, like it’s a method they use to clear out any remaining BBQ from lunch.  It seems like they have the capability of making pretty good food here, and the fact that it seems to have been here forever proves that people keep going back.  Perhaps I will return someday, but based on this experience on it’s own, I might visit Dickey’s BBQ Pit first (OK who am I kidding, I’ll drive right out of Roseville and go to Lucille’s Smokehouse in Rocklin if I really want some good BBQ).  One weird thing I wanted to mention is that in-between songs at one point there was an advertisement for Back Forty catering service.  That seemed really strange to me.

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#178: Buckhorn Grill

This evening I crossed off one of the two remaining Galleria Mall eateries from my list, Buckhorn Grill.  I did a little research on this one before heading out to make sure it wasn’t the type of place that has one in every shopping center on the face of the planet that I’ve somehow missed.  Turns out they only have a dozen locations.  They are mostly in Northern California, but a couple out in New York as well.  During my time poking around on their website I skimmed over the menu.  They seem to specialize in tri-tip and have many sandwiches with it.  They also have a few chicken-based items and even salmon (which I find surprising for a food court stall).

I walked into an eerily quiet Galleria just after 5:30PM.  Tuesday evening is apparently the time to come here.  There were entire long runs of mall walkways you could look down and see maybe one person.  Upstairs the food court was busier, but not by much.  I walked right up to the Buckhorn Grill counter where one of two visible workers greeted me and told me she would help me as soon as I was ready.  I was looking up at the big, bright white menu.  Online, I had been drawn to one of the salads.  I’ve found myself generally unimpressed by every tri-tip sandwich I’ve ever had and didn’t feel like adding another to the list.  On top of that, one salad looked and sounded particularly delicious, The Cabo Chop (chopped romaine with honey-lime dressing, in a crispy tortilla with avocado, black beans, corn, jicama, radishes, tomatoes and blue cheese crumbles) [$7.99].  I hadn’t planned on trying any of their tri-tip and it seemed wrong, but I got over it quickly and settled on the salad.  As I was ordering I was asked if I wanted to add any tri-tip, chicken or –third_option_that_I_can’t_recall–.  I was caught off guard by that, having not seen this option on the menu online.  I quickly looked up and also didn’t see it on the menu above me, but went ahead and said “Yeah sure, tri-tip.”  It all worked out!  This adder was $3, bringing the salad to $10.99.  She then asked if medium rare was ok, and I said yes. That also surprised me.  The fact that it was brought up makes me wonder if you can ask for it cooked differently.  I didn’t see beverages on the menu and was obviously not sure what they had because she stepped aside to show me the fountain sodas behind her and then pointed out the bottled drinks available off to the right which included some beers, which again surprised me coming from the food court.  I just got a Dr Pepper [1.99 w/free refills], paid and headed to find a seat nearby with the pager that was given to me.

Sitting in a spot where I could see Buckhorn, I watched as more workers started to appear from the back.  There were at lest five or six and half of them were working on cleaning the place from top to bottom.  Apparently a slow Tuesday is the time to get that sort of work done.  Five minutes after sitting down, my pager started blinking and buzzing.  I went up to the counter to retrieve my tray.  On it was a MASSIVE salad sitting in a wide, two inch deep crispy shell.  To the side was a huge cup of the honey-lime dressing (she had asked me if I wanted it on the side while I was ordering).  I grabbed a fork and some napkins and went back to my seat to figure out if I had made a terrible mistake.  This was literally twice the size I was expecting.  The presentation was great and, unlike most products in the food world, actually looked like the photo on the website.  In fact, dare I say, it even looked better than the photo on the website.  How often does that happen?  (my favorite example of this phenomenon: a Double Western Bacon Cheeseburger I had at Carl’s Jr a couple years ago).

So anyway, the thing looked fantastic.  Each topping was in it’s place and on display (except for a pocket of corn which I found a little deeper down along with most of the Romain).  The one problem I had with this was that due to how much there was in this crispy, edible bowl, it was difficult to mix up without flinging a few black beans a seat to my left or tossing a cherry tomato overboard.  The tomatoes were there in force, by the way.  I counted nine.  There may have even been ten.  So anyway, yes, we get it Sean, the salad is big.  Lets move on.  I drizzled some dressing overtop, mixed the ingredients together as best I could and dug in.  Everything in this was fresh and flavorful.  The Romain was very crisp, the tomatoes juicy, the blue cheese nice and strong and the radishes….radishy (I don’t eat many radishes; I don’t really know how to describe them, they had a good crunch though).  The tri-tip seemed to be cooked medium rare as stated.  It was nice and pink for the most part, darker near the edge pieces.  These chopped up bits of beef were cool, not warm as I was expecting.  I’m not sure if that’s normal or not, but it didn’t really bother me and seemed to work well in a salad.  They were all tender and moist.  Not a ton of flavor though, which has always been one of my problems with tri-tip.  The dressing was creamy and sweet with a little bit of lime to it.  It was quite tasty and they give you about twice as much as you need.

I can’t believe I almost finished this beast of a salad.  I probably made it about 90% through the bulk and picked at the crispy bowl a bit at the end, which was now soggy in some spots and had a buttery flavor to it.  Buckhorn Grill took me completely by surprise.  I did not expect anything near the quality, size or presentation from this place in the food court.  Well played Buckhorn Grill.  Well played.

Website: http://www.buckhorngrill.com