Sacramento is justifiably proud of its blossoming farm to fork movement. Farmers’ markets are thriving, even in the winter, and more and more local chefs are celebrating their use of locally grown produce.
Mother, a vegetarian restaurant featuring local produce, has just opened downtown to excellent reviews. Last year’s festival showcasing local ingredients drew 25,000 people. And restaurateur Patrick Mulvaney has been invited to cook a Sacramento farm-inspired meal at one of the country’s culinary epicenters – the James Beard House in New York.
So, while the nation takes notice of the State Capitol’s return to its roots (and other produce), I’d like to discuss something different – Sacramento’s far less known and appreciated pigpen to plate movement. Or more specifically, sparerib barbequing. Because there is progress.
I’m not talking about Dickey’s BBQ Pit – a Texas-based chain that recently opened a branch on J Street. A little too corporate and predictable for me. My preference is the unpolished amateur feel of tiny, out-of-the-way, neighborhood joints run by folks from and for their communities.
Which brings me to Mo Mo’s Meat Market in the Tahoe Park region, south and east of Sacramento’s UC Davis Medical Center. It’s mid-way through its second year and makes no bones about what it is, and isn’t.
If you can be charmed by a place that clearly has spent no time on décor or presentation, this is it. Because it shines where it counts – hospitality and food. No celebration of farm-fresh carrots or kale here. This is parking lot smoker to table, with a brief stop in the open kitchen behind the cash register for slicing and serving.
Now a few words about ribs. Devotees of fall-off-the-bone rib-eating puzzle me. In my opinion, the more readily detachable the meat is, the more it resembles pot roast on a stick. For my taste, when BBQ falls off the bone, it is overcooked or has steamed too long in a foil-covered pan after cooking.
Apparently Glenn Miller, who runs Mo Mo’s with his wife Sharon, agrees. Because the ribs I got were large and meaty, with just the right bone adherence and, in addition to the great BBQ flavor, still tasted like pork.
We didn’t want to wait the 45 minutes for the next tri-tip to come off the grill, but we surely had plenty with our three-way combos of ribs, chicken and spicy sliced hot links. The sides (two per combo) were fine. But the stars were all meat products.
The line to order can take a bit of time, as Sharon takes the food orders and chats with the locals. But once we ordered and seated ourselves, she stopped by our table with free appetizers – in our case a rib and a few slices of chicken – to keep us entertained while dinner was being plated (if you consider the white take-out container a plate).
Miller, who has been a meat cutter for many years, also sells meat in large quantities – including buffalo, beef and much more. But the diners during our visit were concentrating on the cooked varieties, which he also selects and prepares.
This is the kind of place you root for. The Millers and their crew clearly enjoy their jobs as much as their customers enjoy their food and warm hospitality.
That’s what makes a BBQ joint. And it reminds us all that with every farm to fork or tractor to table or furrow to face, there is room for pig to pucker dining featuring decidedly non-vegetarian hand to mouth cuisine.
Mo Mo’s Meat Market is a 5776 Broadway in Sacramento. The phone number is (916) 452-0202.