Lucky Livermore recently welcomed a new clubhouse for carnivores with the debut of Sauced BBQ and Spirits on First Street. The smell of smoked hickory and apple wood blasts outward as the door opens, beckoning diners like the cologne that Abercrombie pumps outside its storefront to lure in teenage shoppers. Sauced hostesses tell me they leave work every night with their hair redolent of barbecue, a scent most men probably secretly prefer anyway.
The smoky smell wafts from a giant smoker operated under the command of pit master Brenden Scanlon. Scanlon learned his craft as part of Atlanta's competitive barbecue circuit before he and his cousin, Tri-Valley native Barrett Gomes, made good on childhood conversations to open a restaurant together. Sauced is the pair's first stab at restaurant ownership, though on my visit it hardly seemed like rookies were running the show.
Under Scanlon's watch, the menu is an homage to the nation's barbecue hot spots, with St. Louis cut spareribs, Carolina pulled pork, Texans' favorite beef brisket and Kansas City-style sauce. The only item missing is something a bit more local, such as California's Santa Maria tri-tip.
At Sauced, meat spends up to half a day in the smoker. Most meat is served without sauce, so diners can appreciate the extra layer of smokiness before smothering it with sauces nestled into six-pack beer carriers on the table. Options range from the Kansas City-inspired "hot tin roof," a
We found the best way to explore the menu is through the hearty three-meat combo ($24) and opted for ribs, brisket and "burnt-ends." Other choices include a sausage link, quarter chicken or pulled pork.
The burnt ends are a must-try, if only because they are an uncommon find in the East Bay. This Kansas City delicacy involves smoking the whole brisket, then removing its fatty, pointed end and smoking it further. At Sauced, the au jus is put back into the burnt ends and then smoked for another hour and a half. The results are surprisingly tender and ultra smoky.
On my visit, every piece of meat passed muster. My two kids shared the half-rack of ribs ($18.99) and licked their fingers happily. Sauced's flavorful ribs cling just slightly to the bone, something we all enjoyed. The juicy chicken ($14.65) was another hit, though I'd be hard-pressed to pick this weeknight staple over other options that rarely find their way into my grocery cart. The tasty brisket made my family propose buying a smoker so we could eat it more often.
Entrees and sandwiches come with a choice of sides, such as cornbread, squash casserole, fries and baked beans. The baked beans, first tangy then slightly spicy, were most memorably delicious, followed by the moist cornbread spotted with corn kernels.
I later saw a woman wisely opting for a simple green side salad as her side. I'll follow her lead next time, as the heavier squash casserole and rich mac and cheese felt overwhelming next to the pile of protein I was already facing.
Desserts fit right in with the down-home feel. The real show-stopper is fried Oreos with ice cream ($3.99). This was my first time eating this sinful carnival fare, and I was surprised to find it reminded me of a chocolate-filled beignet, with the cookies soft and oozing inside. It's not hard to see why this is such a perennial favorite.
Sauced's double-entendre name means cocktails and spirits are part of the fun. Who isn't curious about a Bacon Old-Fashioned ($9.50) or Southern-inspired Watermelon Moonshine ($8)? Meanwhile, the full-page whiskey menu runs from big named Jim Beam bourbon to Livermore's own Concannon Irish Whiskey, which is mellowed in petite sirah wine casks.
At Sauced, the barbecue vibe is in full force, but in a smart and handsome NorCal package. An Atlanta designer created a whimsical, but not heavy-handed look with weathered barn wood and a ceiling covered with mishmashed squares of corrugated roofing.
Details, such as a mural of a pig butchering chart, add more character. Stacks of wood serve as room dividers. Metal pipes form table legs and serve as light fixtures. Drinks come in jars and food on paper-covered metal sheet pans. The ample bar area, with multiple TVs, is ripe for watching games.
Our server deftly fielded questions from three generations of inquisitive foodies. Little touches -- such as when he brought over a sample of the squash casserole after we asked about it -- made for a relaxing experience.
Sauced is a welcome addition to the Bay Area's barbecue scene. It's worth a stop for both those nearby and those passing through.
Reach Chrissa Ventrelle at firstname.lastname@example.org.
SAUCED BBQ & Spirits
* * * ½
FOOD: * * *
AMBIENCE: * * * ½
SERVICE: * * *
WHERE: 2300 First St., #120, Livermore
CONTACT: 925-961-1300, www.saucedbbqandspirits.com
HOURS: 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays, until midnight Fridays and Saturdays, and until 9 p.m. Sundays. Sauced will begin serving breakfast on Aug. 23.
VEGETARIAN: Smoked portobello sandwich on grilled sourdough or spinach salad.
BEVERAGES: Full bar, including seven whiskeys on tap and a large whiskey menu, and Southern-inspired cocktails, such as Watermelon Moonshine.
RESERVATIONS: Accepted for parties of eight or more
NOISE LEVEL: Medium to loud
PARKING: Street parking in front and parking garage nearby
KIDS: Children's menu includes mini-versions of pulled pork, brisket and other sandwiches ($5.99, including an entree, side dish and drink).
PLUSES: A tasty and vibrant addition to the Bay Area's barbecue scene. Don't miss the "burnt-ends."
MINUSES: Off to a great start, but could benefit from adding another vegetarian offering and another healthier side.
DATE OPENED: April
Restaurant reviews are conducted anonymously. This newspaper pays for all meals.
Restaurants are rated on a scale of one to four, with four representing a truly extraordinary experience for that type of restaurant.
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