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The first time I heard the word “staycation,” I snickered. The concept didn’t sound very appealing at the time, but now it makes perfect sense. If you have a limited supply of time and money, a staycation is the perfect summer option.
Were I to plan a Sacramento staycation, the first thing I would do is find a shaded table outside midtown’s MARRS Building, home to LowBrau Bierhall and Block Butcher Bar. These two places, sitting side by side, offer very distinct dining and drinking experiences. Owned by Clay Nutting and Michael Hargis, they attract different crowds, but together they represent all that is artisanal and fresh and dynamic about Sacramento’s food scene.
LowBrau, which very successfully took over the cavernous spot at the corner of K and 20th streets last occupied by Lounge ON20, has a boisterous, breezy, German bierhall vibe that hip locals find irresistible. With its lengthy community tables and fabulous array of beers, LowBrau is midtown’s happiest watering hole: a place to meet up with friends, flirt with cute strangers, toast life’s minor triumphs and down a beer or two while cheering on your favorite sports team.
In addition to its celebratory environment, LowBrau offers something very compelling for food lovers: handcrafted sausages. Really good ones. Made next door at Block Butcher Bar, they range from an earthy boar sausage enlivened with sherry and sage to wonderfully spicy andouille and delicate bockwurst. The kitchen also offers two vegan sausages, including an Italian-inspired version made with eggplant and fennel. All are robustly flavored, and toppings include assertively sharp sauerkraut, pickled jalapenos and yellow beer cheese.
On several occasions, I visited LowBrau with a group of friends so we could order the sausage platter, which comes with an array of mustards and a curry-kissed housemade ketchup. Interestingly, buns are not supplied, but you can order them individually for a dollar. (You have a choice between a soft sweet roll and a slightly chewy pretzel roll.)
Pair your sausages with a paper bag full of duck-fat fries speckled with fresh parsley and your choice of dipping sauce. I loved the grune soss, a herb-spiked yogurt sauce that provided a lively foil to the greasiness of the fries and the richness of the meat. Other options include pimento aioli and garlic-chive sauce. If you need some greens to lighten up your meal, don’t miss LowBrau’s delicious shredded kale salad, tossed with a bright lemon vinaigrette.
If the rambunctious merriment at LowBrau doesn’t appeal, make your way to the restaurant’s much smaller, more intimate and sophisticated sister, Block Butcher Bar. It’s a narrow, dimly lit space with a handsome wood bar. A dazzling lineup of whiskeys takes the place of LowBrau’s exuberant selection of beer, and there’s also an intriguing, compact list of wines and house cocktails.
A striking, glass-walled production area showcases an impressive array of knives and a sturdy butcher block. This is where Block’s house-cured meats are made, along with LowBrau’s sausages. Block’s menu is a drool-inducing array of charcuterie boards, “pressed” sandwiches, cheese platters and other small plates, all designed for refined nibblers who also appreciate upscale spirits. I sampled a number of dishes at this unique little salumeria, and all were presented beautifully by enthusiastic, knowledgeable servers.
Melt-in-your-mouth shaved tongue was drizzled with a luscious tonnato sauce and topped with a refreshing salad of celery leaf and parsley. Tasty pork rillettes arrived in a little glass jar along with fragrant fig jam, teeny cornichons and crusty toast points. Ripe grilled peaches were the star of another knockout dish that also featured soft burrata cheese and thinly sliced prosciutto. The plate was a jubilant celebration of summer.
Block’s charcuterie menu includes house-cured pork lomo, green peppercorn pate and smoked hot coppa. There’s also a great selection of cheeses, which are served on marble slabs along with Marcona almonds, quince membrillo and local Potter’s crackers.
The establishment’s cultivated and somewhat cerebral atmosphere is worlds away from the unabashed revelry next door, but the common thread between the two restaurants is a respectful, artisanal farm-to-fork sensibility, earnestly executed by Michael Tuohy, one of the city’s most respected and talented chefs.