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.


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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