Bites Nearby: Novato’s Southern Pacific Smokehouse Stirs the Pot

There is so much more than barbecue at new Vintage Oaks restaurant.

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.


Bob May 27, 2011 at 12:48 AM
I have not been there personally but have friends that have. For the most part they said the food was good but they were disappointed that there was no dance floor. Live music and no dance floor. This is a deal breaker for most of them. We will have to see if Novato is ready for a dinner house that does mini concerts without a dance floor. P.S. They were a little shell shocked by the $14 burger and $9 Belgian draft.
joe garcia May 27, 2011 at 12:51 AM
2 times we went. !st time wedge salad was great, pulled pork dry, berger fell apart while eating. Second time had them bring extra sauce for pulled pork sand. Wife's berger order was supposed to b med. was raw in center they comped the berger. over all c . jg
Lynn May 27, 2011 at 01:53 AM
I felt it was ok. I thought the appetizer ribs were pretty dry. I had the butter lettuce salad which was very good. We were seated in the bar and the people next to us were very loud and I wasn't really interested in hearing their conversation. Of course, this is not the fault of the restaurant. I give it a C. I don't mind paying high prices for good food, but this is Novato. I think business will fall off because of the high prices. People might try it once, but I don't think there will be many repeaters. Would I go back? Maybe, but I'd rather go into the City if I'm going to pay Smokehouse prices.
DougEFresh May 27, 2011 at 03:10 AM
I've been a few times and this place is fantastic. Great BBQ, a true professional music venue for listening to great bands, and top notch people to serve you. This is a great addition to Novato and adds a whole new experience to a town that is really making a move when it comes to dining out. Try it out for yourself, I think you will be please you did. PS..I cant wait for the patio to be open.
mike jones May 27, 2011 at 01:45 PM
Place sucks went in a few weeks ago bar was small and food was over priced for what you got. What lost,me was no happy hour i asked the bartender why no happy hour he said we are atill working things out what things do you have to work out for happy hour all you do is say yeah all draft beer 3 bucks how hard is that?
Cheryl Paddack May 27, 2011 at 03:12 PM
I've eaten there three times and seen music there twice. All experiences have been top notch!! Southern Pacific Smokehouse is a great addition to Novato's restaurant and night life options.
Karen Dionne May 27, 2011 at 03:14 PM
I ate there once, so far, with my sister and a friend. My sister and I split the burger - it was great. Our friend had the pulled pork and thought it was delicious and brought some home to her husband (who has two smokers in the backyard) and he thought it was great too. My sister and I tasted it and thought the smokey flavor was too heavy. We liked the ambiance - simple, dark with nice lighting. Our waiter was nice enough, but seemed to lack personality - much like our husbands, so he is forgiven ;-D
Kristi Frlekin May 27, 2011 at 04:02 PM
My husband and I have been to the Smokehouse 3 times and LOVE it! We've brought friends twice. We all love the food and the music. (the fundraiser for the Novato Youth Center was out of this world!) What a feather in Novato and Vintage Oaks' caps! Thank you, Graceann, for helping to make it happen. P.s. I.m writing from a gorgeous little island in Croatia. If we weren't here, we'd probably be at the Smokehouse tonight!
Abe May 27, 2011 at 05:09 PM
Nice Article - Grace Ann: are you still serving as consultant for the Novato Redevelopment Agency? Please put in a plug for the types of restaurants seen in towns like Petaluma - we need something like Real Döner and an authentic Vietnamese place. I agree that we have enough Italian and Chinese places already. Thanks to everyone for supporting good food in Novato.
Jerome J Ghigliotti Jr May 27, 2011 at 05:37 PM
I have been twice in the past two weeks and the food was great and the staff were great.
John.Maher May 28, 2011 at 12:05 PM
Why are we giving so much attention to an eatery out of town when there are so may right here in Petaluma? SHOP LOCAL!
Susannah Nation May 28, 2011 at 02:06 PM
John, I think you stumbled onto an article on the Novato Patch (which is where this review is posted). So, this IS local -- for us! But pleast also note that last week, GraceAnn reviewed a Petaluma restaurant for us, and gave it very high marks. So we're throwing some business your way, too.
Karina Ioffee May 28, 2011 at 03:46 PM
Thanks Susannah for your explanation. Each week, Bites Nearby takes turns reviewing restaurants in Petaluma and Novato, a way to introduce readers to new restaurants and yes, as you said "throwing some business" to nearby communities. Plus, everyone's definition of local varies!
John.Maher May 28, 2011 at 04:44 PM
Stumbled is a good word here. Duhh...
GraceAnn Walden May 30, 2011 at 05:43 PM
I am not presently working for the Novato Redevelopment Agency, but I am always working for Novato. :--) I'd love to see a good Viet place; a yummy vegetarian place, In-N-Out and more places to hear music. The reader that wants S.P. to offer discounted prices, i.e. a happy hour, should be aware of their enormous investment in S.P. and in Novato. They need to make a profit, right? Restaurants offer discounts, when they need to bring people in. At this point, they don't need to. As far as a dance floor, that again is a business decision. It worked for Sweetwater in Mill Valley for 30 years. Sometimes, I think some Novatans eat their young; by that, I mean they are not comfortable with something new. Sigh.
Brent Ainsworth (Editor) May 30, 2011 at 08:23 PM
GraceAnn Walden's "Bites Nearby" features run on both Novato and Petaluma Patch sites, and all the comments can be seen by readers on both sites.
John.Maher May 31, 2011 at 12:15 AM
Does "Shop Local" also mean "Eat Local?" If so, Petaluma is local. Please click here and spend here. :-) http://petaluma.dineview.com/
GraceAnn Walden May 31, 2011 at 03:59 AM
Every other week, I do a Novato review and a Petaluma review. They run on both sites. We are 10 miles apart. Do you have a restaurant you want me to review? GAW
Ptown May 31, 2011 at 06:01 AM
I've gotta agree with Maher here. Novato is not only a city away, it's a county away. Keep the $ in Ptown or at least another city in SOCO. We really don't need to hear about Novato food on this site, unless we choose to search for it ourselves. At the least connect our patch with another in the same county.
John.Maher May 31, 2011 at 02:50 PM
Petaluma restaurant to review? Click here GraceAnn: http://petaluma.dineview.com/ Any one of these will do. :-)
GraceAnn Walden May 31, 2011 at 04:28 PM
So, far I have reviewed Da Schmire, Della Fattoria, Thai Ginger Bistro, Affendi, and Real Doner. This week will be Namaste. Apparently, you are new to Patch. All reviews are archived. Happy reading and dining.
Michelle May 31, 2011 at 04:42 PM
The Smokehouse is a great addition to novato. if you want discounted drinks, go to Finnegans. there is a really quality difference in the quality and the experience.
Susannah Nation May 31, 2011 at 04:59 PM
Please note that the dining reviews appear on BOTH the Petaluma site AND the Novato site. So when you comment on them, your comments appear on BOTH sites. We here in Novato are reading your comments on our Novato Patch site (and it's a little insulting being told on our Novato site that you have such little use for us). The particular dining-review feature (and its comments) belongs ot all of us -- Novato residents and Petaluma residents. It straddles boundaries (which I think is a lovely idea).
John.Maher June 01, 2011 at 05:56 AM
My sincere apologies Susannah Nation. If they had named it Peatluma.Novato.Patch I guess should stand corrected. My hobby and my love is downtown Petaluma. Can't help myself. Could you guys use a piano player? Maybe I can double as Novato Ned? :-)
Susannah Nation June 01, 2011 at 03:15 PM
John, I can dig it. I adore Petaluma too and always enjoy finding a reason to frequent your downtown. And I can also appreciate keeping one's money local. One of my favoite things about living in the Bay Area is having such a wealth of diversity (food, art, performance, geography, activity, entertainment) at our disposal. Our "village" can be as small or as large as we like. Much as I love Novato, I'd go a little crazy if I never ate anywhere else.
FINNEGAN'S MARIN June 01, 2011 at 05:14 PM
John, Many here in Novato frequent Petaluma for the many great things the downtown offers. I am sure many Novatoans, as I have myself, have seen you playing away on and around Western & Petaluma Blvd. So to answer your question.. "Yes!" We would love a healthy dose of "Novato Ned" in Old Town Novato on Grant Ave. Hope to see you soon!
Steve B June 23, 2011 at 03:27 PM
I agree, I think the comments about it being expensive are tacky. BTW, they need "margin," not "profit." :-) With how much money they put into the place, they won't make a profit for years... All new restaurants have hiccups, I wish people would forgive this before blabbering all over. I used to work in a restaurant, well, a few, and we always said: "If someone has a great time, they'll tell one person, if they have a bad time, they'll tell ten." -it's a sad part of human nature, a tacky part.
Denise Scoles Olson June 23, 2011 at 03:47 PM
Our Scrapbooking group went to S.P. Smokehouse and the food was excellent! We ended up being seated in the lounge because we needed to eat and leave quickly and the service was great! Great food and great service. Thankyou S.P. Smokehouse.


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