You could stand on a corner and look around until a restaurant sign draws you in. But we have a better idea. Each week, Patch picks a restaurant in Petaluma or Novato that is worth checking out. Here's this week's choice:
Southern Pacific Smokehouse
224 Vintage Way (at Vintage Oaks shopping center, Novato; 415-899-9600
Overview: I have worked as a consultant for the Novato Redevelopment Agency to encourage new restaurants to open in our town, and over time I have contacted everyone from the director of the Il Fornaio group to the In-N-Out folks, plus scores more. To a person, Novatans told me they wanted more restaurants, but no more Italian eateries. They also said they wanted to have a place to hear music, stay out late.
Many months ago, I sat down with Rick Riess, managing partner of the Southern Pacific Smokehouse and he told me of his plans to open a barbecue/music venue in the former Shane Co. jewelers at Vintage Oaks shopping center. At the time, I wondered if he could pull it off.
He not only pulled it off, he pulled it off royally. The Southern Pacific Smokehouse stands alone, not only because it cost $2.5 million or that the team has a managing partner like Riess, a veteran of Auberge Resorts and the PlumpJack group, or that the minority owner is former major-label country music talent Phil Claypool. It's that it is a ballsy idea to do a barbecue plus restaurant/music venue smack dab in the middle of a suburban shopping center. Plus it is a stone's throw from Highway 101.
There is no doubt in my mind that this restaurant will draw from Petaluma, Southern Marin and maybe even the City. I heard from one diner, that on a recent early Saturday night, the wait was 45 minutes.
Décor: I call it industrial chic. For example, over the handsome bar there is a square opening with stacked pieces of cut wood, creating a beautiful visual and reinforcing the barbecue theme. Don’t expect a lot of railroad-themed chatskis. It’s dark, clean and comfortable.
The Drinks: They have a real bar with artisanal cocktails, like you can experience all over San Francisco. There is a house-labeled whiskey, a list of interesting draft beers (including a Belgian-style ale) and four punches. I usually have the Corpse Reviver. Claypool told me one will revive you, two will send you to heaven.
Appetizers: I've been three times and I really like the food. They have been open about a month, so there have been some small glitches.
I loved the BBQ shrimp with a cake made from grits, enrobed in a spicy light sauce. The Little Gem salad is nice but dressed with a green goddess that also contains avocado, something I think it doesn't need. The smoked chicken-tortilla soup is full of flavor. The roasted asparagus is topped with lemon flavors and Crescenza cheese; it really shows off the skill of executive chef, Ryan Barnett.
Entrees: The house hamburger is $14, prompting sticker shock for some, but the house-ground brisket served on a lovely house-made brioche roll, with aioli and grilled onions is better than any in the area. The quality of the ingredients shouts. The tri-tip melt features Gruyere cheese and a shot of horseradish cream. Lovely.
The smokehouse combo with chicken, beef and ribs comes with two sides. "Mabel" the thousand-pound smoker that they could only install after taking out a wall, smokes the meats over hickory. The sauce, as one would expect from Memphis-style ’cue, has some mellow notes from molasses and a zing of vinegar. The pulled pork plate is a tangle of expertly smoke meat.
The sweet potato fries are the bomb. The french fries have a light coating of fine flour and are totally addictive. On one visit the bourbon baked beans were undercooked. The coleslaw tastes to me as if it has a shot horseradish somewhere in it. Yum-city.
Desserts: On one visit we had a little room to try the banana pudding, which was fine.
Service: Mostly it is pretty good, with the usual opening days’ jitters.
Cost: Appetizers $3-8; salads $7-16; pizza $11-13; sandwiches $13-14; mains $16-28; sides $5.
Disabled accessible: Yes.
Noise level: Loud at prime times.