After work today, I stopped by a relatively new brewery in town. Saying “relatively new brewery” about Sacramento really means this — I picked one out of the twenty or so that seem to have opened in the last year or two. Seriously, they are cropping up everywhere around town. You can’t walk a block or two without running into a new brewery. I’m not complaining, but it’s somewhat amazing.
Most of these new breweries just brew beer. They don’t serve food of their own, but many of them have developed a relationship with food trucks so that there are always food trucks parked outside to feed hungry beer drinkers.
I went to one of the few that serves its own food. The Oak Park Brewery. So, a little bit about this place for those not familiar with Sacramento. Oak Park is a neighborhood that about 60 or 70 years ago was one of the prime new suburbs of Sacramento. A desirable place to live. Then, it regressed a bit and became one of the worst neighborhoods around. Which, of course, explains why I went to both high school and law school in Oak Park. OK. It doesn’t explain it, but still, I marvel at my connection this neighborhood that has been scuffing along for so many years.
There have been efforts over the last 10-20 years to improve the area. Kevin Johnson, formerly of the NBA and formerly of the high school I went to, returned to town towards the end of his NBA career and undertook efforts to improve Oak Park, where he grew up. One of those efforts involved revitalizing a short strip of Broadway, as it runs through Oak Park. He renovated a couple of buildings and a book store and a barber shop and a coffee shop and another business or two moved in and, for the most part, they have remained and thrived there. Those businesses have helped bring others in.
Which leads us to Oak Park Brewery … about a block down the street from Johnson’s first real Oak Park development, it’s a thriving little establishment. At least on a Friday evening in July. Inside and outside seating. Packed the entire time I was there. A huge beer selection. And a fascinating menu … not the usual pub grub.
When I go out for dinner I’m torn between having something that is safe, that I am comfortable with, and breaking out of that comfort zone and trying something new. OPB offered me choices in both categories. A piece of me wanted to just have a salad with chicken and be done with it. Or the burger. And be done with it. I was this close to the southwest caesar with chicken when I saw the dish I ordered. Cajun Shrimp and Grits.
So, let me back up and tell you something. As far as I know, I have never had grits, but it’s one of those things I see on cooking shows every once in awhile that I think I need to try. And this dish was advertised as including a spicy tomato sauce. So, yeah, cajun shrimp, spice tomato sauce, and grits. I’m there.
I started with the OPB brewed Pale Ale. Then, I moved on to the OPB brewed Porter. Then I had a sample of their Grapefruit double IPA — sad to say that the high alcohol content overpowered any hint of grapefruit. And I finished the evening with the OPB brewed ESB. And for a few minutes I worked on a story. And I had a house salad.
And then the cajun shrimp and grits arrived. I dove in. No, seriously, I did, you could bathe me in this stuff and I don’t think I would mind. After a few minutes, one of the bartenders asked me how I was doing. I just looked at her, gave her a thumbs up and said, “this is incredible.” The spice was of the kind that brings sweat to your forehead. The grits were creamy and soothing. The shrimp … well, they were good, but there needed to be a few more of them. But, let me go back to the spice of this dish. Far too many restaurants describe dishes as spicy and they simply aren’t, but OPB’s cajun shrimp and grits were the real deal. I told the bartender that I may come back every night just for that dish. It was just … so … incredible.
Time for me to teach myself the art of making grits, top them with a layer of onions, peppers and tomato sauce, and just enjoy.