By Marybeth Bizjak
With all the restaurants and bars opening Sacramento these days, how does a new place stand out from the pack? The folks behind Saddle Rock think they have the answer: While farm-to-fork restaurants are a dime a dozen, they’re betting that local diners will be intrigued by food inspired by Sacramento’s gold rush era.
It’s an unusual concept, to say the least. Owned by Broderick Roadhouse’s Chris Jarosz, Saddle Rock is an homage to Sacramento’s first restaurant. Located on 2nd Street in Old Sac, the original Saddle Rock opened soon after the 49ers arrived, using Sacramento as a pit stop on their way to and from the gold fields. With a saloon in front and a dining hall in back, it was a place where lucky miners went to spend their gold. It had a colorful history of murders, floods and fires; once, one of its owners tried to sell his wife for $40 to pay off a debt.
This Saddle Rock is on L Street in midtown, in the sleek space that once housed Capital Dime and L Wine Lounge. Heading up the kitchen: Matt Masera, a talented 31-year-old who worked at Tyler Florence’s Wayfare Tavern in San Francisco before moving to Mother and, later, Empress Tavern.
At vegetarian Mother, he worked under Michael Thiemann, first as pastry chef and later as co-executive chef at both Mother and meat-centric Empress. It was like a master class in cheffing: At Mother, he was often tasked to come up with the Chef’s 10 fixed-price menu, a nightly offering of 10 unique dishes that he says pushed him to his creative limits. But he yearned to run his own show, so earlier this year he left Thiemann’s employ without a plan.
Meanwhile, Jarosz found himself without an executive chef for Saddle Rock when Kevin O’Connor left the project. Masera was getting job feelers both here and in the Bay Area, but he liked the idea of a history-focused restaurant. “I thought it would be an interesting way to look at food in a different light,” he says. Plus, “I’m a history nerd.”