October is the month when Germans celebrate beer at a public festival known as Oktoberfest. In the Sacramento region, thanks to a plethora of breweries, you can join in the fun.
Local brewpubs and alehouses offer an astounding array of beer styles, from invigorating Hefeweizen to sturdy, intense, Irish-inspired stout. But what is beer without food? We recently explored some brewery restaurant menus to find out what local suds lovers will be eating and drinking during Oktoberfest.
>> River City Brewing Company
While most brewery restaurants excel at simple, robust cuisine, River City for years has dared to characterize itself as a fine-dining establishment that also happens to have excellent house-brewed beer. And their efforts have succeeded: You can expect to enjoy an upscale meal, including dishes like the popular crispy eggplant napoleon, crab cakes served atop pasilla chile-black bean coulis, and balsamic-rosemary-marinated flank steak. That’s not to say that you can’t find a good burger or pile of barbecued pork ribs here&emdash;you can&emdash;but you can get a little edgier at this bustling brewery. I especially like the kitchen’s interpretation of fritto misto (mixed fry): quick-fried calamari and chunky artichoke hearts, served with lemon-caper aioli. Try the kitchen’s tasty Reuben sandwich, served on swirly rye bread and loaded with pastrami, Swiss cheese and Thousand Island dressing, with brewmaster Brian Cofresi’s golden pale ale. And River City’s red-skinned potato salad is perhaps the best I’ve ever tasted at a restaurant: peppery, bright and refreshing.
River City, located in Downtown Plaza, has an industrial, urban feel that’s softened slightly by velvety blue drapes bisecting the bar from the dining area and a warmly twinkling wood-fired copper oven that produces the restaurant’s crusty pizzas. The floor is fatigued concrete, the ceiling black, and the second-floor balcony features a metal sculpture of waving grain. Fermentation tanks quietly stand sentry around the perimeter of the dining area, reminding patrons that the beer they are drinking was made very close to where they are sitting.
545 Downtown Plaza, Sacramento; (916) 447-2739; rivercitybrewing.biz
â€¢ Kölsch&emdash;A snappy, citrusy light ale
â€¢ Wooden Head Ale&emdash;Bitter, drinkable and great with burgers
>> Brew It Up! Personal Brewery & Grill
If you want a powerful whiff of the grainy fragrance emitted in the brewing process, you’ll find it at Brew It Up, where the brewing staff not only concocts tasty libations but also guides home brewers in the art of beer production. If you happen to visit on a Friday evening, you’re likely to see an enthusiastic Brew Party group gathered around the mini copper tanks, where they will spend several hours eating, tasting house beer and crafting a batch or two of their very own brew under the hawklike surveillance of a staff brewer.
The number of beers at Brew It Up will make you dizzy&emdash;I counted 22 on my last visit. This is a great place to try unusual styles, from the Orange Blossom Blonde (a light blond ale brewed with orange blossom honey) to the Sky Diver Barley Wine, a high-alcohol ale that the menu characterizes as one of the original â€˜extreme beer’ styles.
Brew It Up’s ambitious menu offers a huge selection of appetizers, which in addition to the usual suspects includes interesting items like smoked salmon crÃªpes and fried brussels sprouts served with Green Goddess dressing. Adventurous diners could have a ball experimenting with their own wacky beer-and-food pairings&emdash;say, the coconut chicken salad with Captain Ron’s Imperial IPA, inspired, according to the menu, by the nautical misadventures of a vagabond sailor. And while the entres include such swanky selections as a bacon-wrapped filet mignon with red-wine beurre rouge sauce and seafood Alfredo, the kitchen’s talent really shines in the simpler dishes, especially the sandwiches and burgers. One of the tastiest choices is the hickory-smoked pork loin sandwich, smothered in a bourbon-barbecue sauce and topped with Swiss cheese.
A friend who is wild about this sandwich calls it a high-calorie, zero-disappointment dish, and I couldn’t agree more. If you’re into hamburgers, try the California burger, a half-pound patty loaded with beefsteak tomato slices, avocado, fresh mozzarella and red onion. There also are 11 salads&emdash;I recommend the Pacific Rim greens salad tossed with a lively sesame-wasabi dressing and topped with a pile of crispy won ton strips.
801 14th St., Sacramento; (916) 441-3000; brewitup.com
â€¢ Aric the Red&emdash;Spicy, acidic, alluring Belgian red-style ale
â€¢ Marzen Lager&emdash;Exotic, complex, dark amber
>> Pyramid Alehouse, Brewery & Restaurant
Located in the same vibrant downtown corridor as Chops restaurant and the charming Ambrosia Cafe, Pyramid Alehouse is just a short walk from the Capitol and offers Sacramentans an entertaining dining and drinking experience.
The alehouse is airy and enormous, with two dining levels and a wall of showcase windows behind which fermentation tanks glisten like metallic jewels. Walls are a pretty apricot-gold, bar tables are copper-topped, and the main dining area lies under a curious, curved and perforated hanging ceiling that would look right at home in a train station. The space can feel a bit austere (note: the temperature tends to be chilly; bring a sweater). I prefer dining in the evening, when candles on the tables soften the ambiance and inject a little romance into an otherwise rambunctious, beer-focused environment. There also is a wonderful outdoor dining area, which is a great place to people-watch and see the light rail trains roll lazily by. The bar is a favorite hangout for young professional types who like to stop off for a brew or two after work.
The menu, though large, is designed to complement Pyramid’s lineup of house-brewed beverages; it offers hearty comfort food, from bacon-wrapped meatloaf and a spicy Buffalo chicken sandwich to brick-oven-baked pizzas. There’s also an attractive selection of salads, including the substantial Big-Bowl Deluxe, loaded with cheese, greens and golden raisins and bathed in roasted-tomato vinaigrette. You can’t go wrong with the kitchen’s half-pound burgers: Dependable and huge, they’re served on freshly baked focaccia buns and are guaranteed to go down smoothly with a cold gulp of the brewmaster’s Amber Weizen.
1029 K St., Sacramento; (916) 498-9800; pyramidbrew.com
â€¢ Apricot Weizen&emdash;A delightful, fruity and unique wheat ale
â€¢ Curve Ball Kölsch&emdash;Very clean, light and lively, an inspired potation for a sizzling day
>> Sacramento Brewing Company
Visiting Sacramento Brewing Company is a little like Sunday dinner with Grandma: The surroundings are comfortable and laid-back, the food hearty and satisfying, and the staff treats you like family. The two-level dining area has cozy booths and tables draped with white cloths, and the cream-colored walls are festooned with framed ribbons attesting to the brewery’s many awards over the years. Sacramento Brewing Company claims it is California’s most-decorated brewery, the recipient of 135 medals throughout the past 11 years.
The bar area looks and feels like a pub: Dimly lit, woody and masculine, its walls are encrusted with hundreds of beer coasters and its stools are filled with regulars who gather to enjoy owner/brewmaster Sam Petersen’s zesty Hefeweizen and assertive Red Horse Ale. (Try it with the mushroom and pepperoni pizza.)
Menu items range from a blackened Cajun salmon sandwich to Southwestern skirt steak and three-cheese vegetable lasagna. The kitchen’s pub-fare appetizers&emdash;including deep-fried chicken strips and french fries served with blue cheese dressing&emdash;are guaranteed to make you thirsty for more beer. I like the Drunken Pig Tostada, piled with smoky, tender shredded pork, pepper Jack cheese, black beans and a big clump of fresh guacamole. And make sure to check out the back of the menu&emdash;it has a cartoony, fun-to-read primer on the microbrew process.
Town & Country Village, 2713 El Paseo Lane, Sacramento; (916) 485-4677; sacbrew.com
â€¢ Russian Imperial Stout&emdash;Chocolatey, intense and smooth
â€¢ Independence Ale&emdash;Doubly hopped, surprisingly bitter and refreshingly different
>> Elk Grove Brewery
It’s well worth the drive from Sacramento to sample Elk Grove Brewery’s lovingly crafted beers, from the quaffable Sloughhouse Pale Ale to the broodingly dark but enticingly sweet Grainbarrel Stout. Housed in a beautiful 121-year-old building in Old Town Elk Grove, the brewery features soaringly high stamped-tin ceilings and gorgeous brick walls. The interior is long and narrow, with a bar along the left side and a dining area on the right, interrupted by two of the prettiest old copper brewing tanks I have ever seen, one loyally wrapped with a large American flag. Faux-antique oak chairs and whimsical antler chandeliers add quirky character to the space. The menu is straightforward and simple, featuring a number of beer-chummy appetizers like hot chicken wings, peel-and-eat firecracker shrimp and famous garlic fries whose reputation is well-deserved. (But be forewarned: Your family may recoil from you for days after you eat them.) Don’t miss the sturdy, delectable french dip sandwich or the Wild West burger, topped with cheese, bacon, barbecue sauce and a beer-battered onion ring. Other sure-to-please entres include ale-battered fish and chips and the toothsome beer-becue pork ribs. If you’re looking for something a little lighter, the kitchen also offers a nice selection of salads, including a chicken Caesar and a Cobb. Elk Grove Brewery takes food and beer pairing seriously, hosting well-attended brewmaster dinners every three months with a special menu that marries each food course with a complementary beer.
9085 Elk Grove Blvd., Elk Grove; (916) 685-2537; elkgrovebrewery.com
â€¢ Otis Alt&emdash;Coppery-colored, German-style amber ale with a touch of sweetness
â€¢ Big, But Blond Ale&emdash;Vibrant and light, perfect for hot summer days
>> Rubicon Brewing Company
Compact and convivial Rubicon is a midtown institution. On any given evening, expect to see a mellow crowd of regulars thronged comfortably on the outdoor patio, swigging their favorite brews and comparing notes on the day’s activities. Inside, the scene is boisterous and lively, tables and bar packed with diners and microbrew aficionados. Singles are making eye contact, kids are chomping on french fries and most everybody over 21 is wetting their whistles with one of the brewery’s creations, from the best-selling IPA (India Pale Ale) to the soft, coffee-nuanced stout. If you peek through the windows that line the brick and corrugated metal walls into the brewery production area, you might catch brewmaster Scott Cramlet at his craft.
Rubicon’s menu is simple and appealing, offering beer-friendly items like burgers, fish and chips, Philly steak sandwiches and chicken fajitas. If you’re feeling brave, order the kitchen’s gloriously greasy and wickedly hot chicken wings, served with cool, soothing blue cheese dressing and crunchy carrot and celery sticks. I also like the hefty Rubicobb salad&emdash;greens piled generously with avocado, bacon, tomatoes and hard-boiled egg.
2004 Capitol Ave., Sacramento; (916) 448-7032
â€¢ Czech Pilsner&emdash;Straw-colored, crisp and grainy
â€¢ Two Rivers Pomegranate Cider (not brewed on the premises)&emdash;Tart, rejuvenating and a lovely rose-petal pink
>> Sudwerk Restaurant and Brewery
Davis beer lovers have headed to Sudwerk since 1990 to guzzle the brewery’s exciting lineup of German-style lagers and feast on the kitchen’s rib-sticking jaeger schnitzel and sausage-sauerkraut plates. And while a German-inspired eatery/brewery sounds quaint, you may be surprised by the sheer size of the place: Cavernous and dim, it looks like the hold of an enormous ship, seeming to stretch back forever from the entrance. But don’t let its size intimidate you. Instead, plunk yourself down in one of the roomy wooden booths that surround the bar area (don’t get stuck in one of the back rooms; you’ll feel like you’ve ended up at a big, impersonal wedding reception) and admire the dozens of international flags that flutter from the ceiling as you strain to decide which beer to try.
While the menu proudly includes a handful of traditional German entres, there also is a number of lighter items, from the lime chicken salad and the Tuscany ravioli (blanketed with Gretel’s own marinara sauce) to herb-crusted salmon and a half-pound burger served on a sesame seed bun. On a recent visit, I enjoyed the kitchen’s spongy, dense, parsley-flecked potato pancakes, served with a disappointingly bland applesauce and two terrific sausages: the Oktoberfest, a hickory-smoked pork and beef bratwurst that was rosy pink, with rich, robust, fatty flavors, and the NÃ¼rnberger, a German pork sausage with a hint of marjoram, that was light and delicate, pairing beautifully with the brewery’s oh-so-smooth Helles lager. All meals are served with local Village Bakery’s excellent, chewy, pull-apart white rolls, and all entres come with salads. (Try the wonderful sweet/tart tomato vinaigrette.)
2001 Second St., Davis; (530) 758-8700; sudwerk.com
â€¢ Mai Bock&emdash;A luscious, smoky, candied, dark-amber lager
â€¢ Hefe-Weizen&emdash;Wheaty, banana yellow and light as a cloud
>> Hoppy Brewing Company
A visit to Hoppy Brewing Company is a guaranteed mood lifter: The staff is upbeat, the ambiance festive, and on Sundays beer lovers get to take home a free 22-ounce bottle of house-brewed beer with every adult entre ordered. Walls are a cheery mustard yellow and the hippy/groovy ’70s-inspired mural over the bar depicts a flowing, fantastical landscape, benignly overseen by a smiling sun face whose rays emanate like wavy tresses. The dining area is separated from the bar by a chest-high wood divider out of which flourishes healthy-looking plants, and a large-screen TV dominates one corner of the space, fronted by comfy couches. It all adds up to a friendly environment, perfect for relishing the kitchen’s delicious hot turkey club sandwich or the grilled portobello mushroom sandwich, topped with melted Jack cheese, chilies and roasted red peppers. Other specialties include the Hoppy Burger, which you can embellish with all sorts of interesting ingredients (pineapple, jalapeÃ±o aioli, Cajun spices), and giant beer-battered onion rings, which arrive hanging on what looks like a miniature hat rack. The brewery also serves weekend brunch, with items such as country-fried steak and eggs, and Hoppy pancakes&emdash;though I’m not sure which beer you would pair them with.
6300 Folsom Blvd., Sacramento; (916) 451-4677; hoppy.com
â€¢ Stony Face Red Ale&emdash;A heady burst of robust, caramelly flavors
â€¢ Hoppy Face Amber Ale&emdash;Subtle and nutty, with a refreshing finish
>> BJ’s Restaurant and Brewery
Sleek, expensively appointed and raucously noisy, BJ’s in Roseville is one of the most popular eateries in the community. The huge space is strikingly attractive, with deep carnelian red and brick walls, a lengthy bar with glistening hardwood floors, and a lower dining area packed with a sea of highly varnished tables.
Fermentation tanks plastered with BJ’s logo peek out at diners from behind glass windows and a huge Rosie the Riveter-style poster, featuring muscled workers laboring in a fiery industrial setting, dominates one end of the room. From where we sat, we could count eight televisions scattered throughout the restaurant (the bar has an enormous one that’s separated into four different screens) featuring mostly sports events. This is the same as bringing a guy to Hooters, commented a male friend, finding the allure of the flickering screens very difficult to resist.
The menu struck us as overwhelmingly large, although many diners may appreciate the vast selection of dishes. Entres range from chicken-fried steak and a garden vegetable-stuffed potato to fettuccini Alfredo and an oven-roasted ham and pineapple deep-dish pizza. There also is a nice variety of burgers and sandwiches (always good with beer), including a meatball sandwich and a turkey club. The roast beef dip sandwich was fabulous, piled high with juicy, medium-rare meat atop melted provolone cheese and sweet caramelized onions. The kitchen’s baby back pork ribs were some of the best I’ve tried in the region. Moist and meaty, they’re doused with a pungent barbecue sauce prepared from the brewery’s own Jeremiah Red Ale. Other dishes we liked included the very buttery Chardonnay shrimp pasta, sauted with roasted bell peppers and sun-dried tomatoes, and the messy but flavorful chicken lettuce wraps.
1200 Roseville Parkway, Roseville; (916) 580-2100. Other locations (the Roseville location is the only BJ’s with an in-house brewery): 2730 E. Bidwell St., Folsom; (916) 404-2000 and 9237 Laguna Springs Drive, Elk Grove; (916) 753-1500; bjsbrewhouse.com
â€¢ Piranha Pale Ale&emdash;Sassy, fragrant and very bitter, a jolt to your taste buds
â€¢ Jeremiah Red Ale&emdash;Malty, enticingly sweet and easy to quaff