Agree to disagree. The willingness to concede with an eye roll and a subject change is what keeps most families together—well, that and unconditional love. But what happens when a family shares the same passion? What if instead of changing the subject, a family bands together to change their community?
Five restaurants and counting—within a year, tally seven. Not just any restaurants—arguably Sacramento’s very best dining destinations. A movement. Not just any movement—the local farm-to-fork movement, which has helped reshape the way Sacramento thinks about its identity and the health, environmental and economic impacts of our respective food choices. Social and political change happens. Our culinary landscape shapeshifts. We clean our plates and feel truly satisfied.
“Our family is in the restaurant business, but we are really a family business, making it more of a lifestyle. When it’s part of how you live, it becomes less of a job and more of a passion,” explains Randall Selland, who has been steadfastly at the helm of the farm-to-fork movement in the Sacramento area for nearly the whole of his decorated career. But let’s take a step back.
Once a commissioned stained glass artist, food became another outlet of artistic expression for Randall after meeting, marrying and having children with the lovely and talented Nancy Zimmer. The Kitchen, now a Sacramento institution, was the brainchild of a mother/daughter dream team: Nancy and Tamera. Soon, the whole family rallied behind their efforts to join the family business that echoed their innermost values and would grow to challenge our thinking about ingredients and cooking.
Randall and Nancy’s son, Josh Nelson, is now co-owner and CEO of Selland Group, and developed the logo for Sacramento’s brand identity as America’s Farm-to-Fork Capital. Their daughter, Tamera Baker, is co-owner and chief brand officer of the Selland Group. They collectively own and operate Selland’s Market-Café (Sacramento and El Dorado Hills locations), Ella, The Kitchen, and now, OBO’—a top-notch Italian establishment in East Sacramento.
OBO’ is named after Josh’s son, Owen; Tamera’s kids, Ella and Jackson nicknamed him Obo. The Selland family wanted to create an Italian restaurant and menu that draws inspiration from the simple, nourishing flavors and seasonal cooking traditions of rustic Italy, in a casual atmosphere that is accessible to all. Speaking of accessibility, you can’t beat the pricing for the quality of food that is being served up at OBO’.
Inspired by many trips to Italy over the years, chef owner Nancy Zimmer spiritedly developed the OBO’ menu. “While the menu is made up of Italian dishes, it also features many local flavors including dishes such as the market veg pasta, market veg pizza, market veg focaccia, market veg melt, market veg and fresh mozzarella sandwich and roasted market vegetables. We butcher our own meats and make our own pancetta in-house as well,” she says. “Our pastas and pizza dough are also made in-house. OBO’ desserts are made fresh daily by our in-house bakery and delivered each day to the restaurant. We also make our own Amaro, featured in the OBO’ Amaro Cocktail!” All of their restaurants, including OBO’, are well-stocked with weekly farmers market trips and locally sourced ingredients. They even collaborated with New Glory Brewery to create an OBO’ Lemon Saison.
Tamera Baker led and managed the interior design process and creative direction for the brand identity. The design came from the inspiration of a midcentury Mediterranean, warm coastal feel. The bright and airy atmosphere echoes with conversation, a pizza paddle chandelier fills the center of the room, exposed brick and robin’s egg blue paint balance warm and cool tones. Inside OBO’, the vibe is casual, yet good design is in the details. Outside, an expansive patio circumnavigates the round building shape that once housed Andiamo and Good Eats. An eclectic staff is quick to help patrons—hot orders are taken on tablets by servers while a large deli case filled with a la carte side dishes beckons.
I went with my trusty team of foodie friends to maximize how many things I could try, because I pretty much wanted to try everything on the menu (guess I’ll have to return again and again!). We ordered a bottle of Meme Chianti, which was spicy sweet and affordably priced, and a Ferrari from the bar program. The ‘Rari is comprised of Campari, aged Luxardo black cherries and lemon zest, and is served chilled. It was a REALLY delicious cocktail. Soon enough, the plates started trickling out of the kitchen as they were ready.
All of the housemade pasta is cooked perfectly al dente. The tagliatelle with poached egg was citrusy, creamy, tangy and a bit sour, mixed with prosciutto and chives. The mac and cheese was chewy, mealy with lots of bread crumbs, super sharp and creamy. My favorite dish of the evening, the rigatoni Bolognese, was loaded with beef and pork, covered in shredded parmesan and parsley and doused with a delightfully oozy, melty red sauce that was sweet, sharp, tart and savory. Vegans! They will also accommodate you upon request, and our vegan photographer, Evan, ordered vegan pasta which was a cornucopia of farmers market finds.
Oh, I’m not done yet. We also ordered a couple sides from the case. The romaine heart was a wedge salad topped with gorgonzola, green onion and a creamy lemon parmesan dressing. The texture and flavor were wonderful—crispy, fresh, pungent, earthy and sour. The chili broccoli, slightly steamed and bright green, was spicy, savory and crunchy. The market veg pizza, topped with ricotta, parmesan and mozzarella cheese and a tangy, sweet housemade marinara, was a vivid display of seasonal veggies that included green onion, chili, zucchini, caramelized onions, heirloom tomatoes, and summer squash—all atop a perfectly executed, buttery, thin crust. Wash that all down with the best meatball sandwich I’ve ever sunk my teeth into, and I walked out of that place happily stuffed. The best part of all is that each hot menu item costs only about $10.
The Selland Family is currently working on the development of a third Selland’s Market-Café located on Broadway in Sacramento, as well as at the new sports entertainment complex, The Golden 1 Center. Selland’s Market-Café on Broadway is tentatively scheduled to open early next year, in 2017. I’m pretty stoked on this, since their original location deep in East Sac is pretty far off my beaten path albeit always worth the trek.
Selland family values go beyond supporting local farmers. “A core value of the Selland family is the appreciation of our community and a desire to give back. We have focused much of our philanthropy on public schools in our neighborhood as well as food literacy education for children, including The School Garden at Phoebe Hearst Elementary School in East Sacramento and The Food Literacy Center, also in Sacramento,” says Sheryl Trapani, Marketing Director for Selland Family Restaurants.
She continues, “Randall Selland has been successful in lobbying local and state legislators on the benefits of locally grown organic food and sustainability. In 2008, he received an award from the nonprofit Pesticide Watch for being instrumental in overturning the law that made it illegal for restaurants to shop farmers markets in California. In 2015 Selland Family Restaurants received the Clean Air Award from Breathe California in the leadership category for the zero waste pilot program at our restaurants.”
What are the greatest joys in life? It’s a bit different for everyone, but I would wager that universally, among them, are: family, giving back to your community, and good food. In everything we tried at OBO’, you could taste joy in every bite.
OBO’ Italian Table and Bar is located at 3145 Folsom Blvd. in Sacramento. For more info, go to Oboitalian.com or Facebook.com/oboitalian.