2322 K Street • Sacramento
In a city like Sacramento that is teeming with competing top-notch restaurants, it’s essential to their survival for restaurateurs to carve a niche—either by doing something completely different than anyone else, or by focusing on being the best at one aspect of what they offer.
Take, for example, Sticky Gator, a recently opened barbecue and soul food eatery on 24th and K streets next to Golden Bear. Throw a rock in any direction, and you’ll hit Sandra Dee’s, Tank House BBQ and Bar, T&R Taste of Texas or other barbecue spots that seem innumerable as the stars. It’s a sticky situation.
So what makes Sticky Gator stand out in a crowd? In this writer’s opinion, it is not that they have the best barbecue food available in the land (although it was good), but their speedy service, heaping portions and great location that shine.
Having recently visited New Orleans, I had the opportunity to try the best Louisiana Cajun, Creole and soul food in the world, so in fairness to Sticky Gator, their barbecue and soul food is delicious, but just doesn’t compare with Mr. B’s Bistro on Royal Street, or even locally, Tank House. But Sticky Gator does make for a good feast in Midtown where the parking is easy and your food is delivered almost instantly.
Additionally, what first struck me as expensive resulted in four filling meals, making for a good investment. I ordered the Lil Sticky Platter, which comes with two regular side choices and the daily special, which was chicken and sausage gumbo served with cornbread, totaling about $25. The initial sticker shock subsided when I quickly was served enough food to feed a family.
Although the ambiance is clean and comfortable, the plating of the food ain’t fancy. Everything is served in biodegradable to-go containers—no china for you—but that makes it all the more speedy to dip when you’ve had enough, without having to ask for a box, because chances are, you won’t be cleaning your “plate.”
Going back to the look and feel of Sticky Gator, the outside is garishly blanketed with bright, alarming colors (much like a restaurant in the French Quarter), and their mascot, Sticky (a gator), is painted on the front and the side of the building. Patrons can either sit inside at spacious booths amid a red, yellow and green color scheme and check out walls lined with photographs of blues singers and gig posters; or they can chill in the sunshine at patio tables between the sidewalk and bustling K Street, and people watch.
I sat down at a booth by a large sunlit window to go in on this massive mountain of grub. My Lil Sticky Platter choices were the barbecue tri-tip (ordered spicy), mashed potatoes with gravy and collard greens. The tri-tip was thinly sliced and a little fatty for my tastes, but juicy and flavorful, and the homemade spicy barbecue sauce wasn’t crazy-spicy, but had some kick and was well-balanced with tartness. Mashed potatoes with gravy is what I would want as my last meal before I went to jail or died, and I was happy with these—nice and lumpy, chunks of beef in the gravy, and savory without being overly salty. The collard greens were underwhelming, soaked in an oily liquid and seemingly only self-flavored, but I like my greens so I ate ‘em up.
Everyone does gumbo differently, and I did not prefer the Sticky Gator way. It was super chunky, with just a hint of broth, riddled with okra and also comprised of corn, celery, tomatoes, onions, chicken and sausage. The accompanying cornbread was again, a lion’s share, and was a bit dry.
Other entrée options include barbecue pulled pork, ribs, hot links, andouille sausage and fried chicken or catfish. Sticky Gator boasts a plethora of side choices from black-eyed peas to mac and cheese, and also offers a list of sandwiches.
And if your gut ain’t busted yet or you brought your sweet tooth along, there are a ton of dessert options in a display case just beyond the primary ordering counter. Like Sticky Gator’s predecessor, Rick’s Dessert Diner, which used to be housed in the same spot and has since changed locations, Sticky Gator attempts to lure you astray from your New Year’s resolutions with everything from chocolate mousse to French toast bread pudding, cookies to pies, cheesecakes, lemon bars, cakes…enough eye candy to give you diabetes just looking upon it. The desserts are made by Vesela Peneva, owner of Desserts by Vesela.
The owners of Sticky Gator, Lisa Nannini and Rodney Ray, are also its chefs, and are responsible for all of the cooking. Ray is also the owner of T&R Taste of Texas on Broadway, and Nannini, along with her husband, also owns Delta Restaurant Supply and Party Rentals, which provides catering services. The trio has know each other for a long time, has worked together in the past at catering events and decided to team up Nannini’s soul food skills with Ray’s barbecue expertise. Nannini also fell in love with soul food on a visit to New Orleans.
Says Nannini, “We consider our restaurant to be a fast casual place. Our customers are able to see all of the food and so they know exactly what they are getting. We also allow our customers to taste samples so they are sure to love their choices… I think what makes us different from other barbecue restaurants is the number of our home-cooked soul food sides. Many of our sides are recipes handed down from our families. We truly offer ultimate comfort food.”
I’m not sure if any of you readers noticed, but when the paint first went up at Sticky Gator, the painted-on signage above the entrance read, “Sticky Fingers.” Having a dirty mind and an eighth grade sense of humor, I immediately connoted the restaurant name with you-know-what. So I wondered, when I saw that they’d changed the name to Sticky Gator prior to their grand opening, did they do so because I wasn’t the only person whose mind went straight to the gutter?
But nah, I came to find out it was a cease and desist, as there is already a Sticky Fingers chain on the East Coast. Nannini looks on the bright side: “I worked on our alligator mascot, ‘Sticky’ for a long time to get him just right for our New Orleans, Louisiana swamp-themed restaurant, and so it actually worked out great because our customers love our alligator and our T-shirts.”
Sticky Gator is sure to stick around with its impossible-to-miss exterior in the heart of Midtown, and its daunting mounds of fast and hearty barbecue and soul food fare. And if you’re having a bad day, Sticky Gator is the perfect place to eat your feelings.
Sticky Gator is open Monday – Friday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from noon to 8 p.m. Visit Facebook.com/stickygator or call 382-9178 for more info.