New brewery-restaurant grows from old roots
By Greg Sabin
You’d be forgiven if you couldn’t keep track of the multiple brewery and restaurant openings in Sacramento last year. The region is simply bristling with new places opening at a record pace. To complicate the mix, in the last few years, we’ve seen openings (and closings) of several Sacramento restaurants with similar-sounding names.
The Italian restaurant, Amaro, opened and closed on R Street. Another Italian spot, Adamo’s, opened and remains open at P and 21st. One of Sacramento’s finest dining establishments, Allora, opened in East Sacramento in 2017.
All of this is not to be confused with the focus of this piece—Alaro Craft Brewery.
Alaro is new, it’s true, but the hands that built it and make it run are steeped in the Sacramento brewing and dining scene. Owners Ray and Annette Ballastero had their hands in opening River City Brewing Company back in the 1990s. River City was a fixture at the Downtown mall, serving exceptional beer and putting out fine fare when it wasn’t common to do both well.
The hands in the kitchen belong to head chef Jason Azavedo. This tenured Sacramento chef has worked throughout the region’s culinary industry, helping craft the menu at places as diverse as Mighty Tavern in Fair Oaks, Paragary’s Hock Farm Craft & Provisions and Grange in The Citizen Hotel. Outside his restaurant duties, Azavedo is known throughout the industry as one of the most talented butchers and sausage-makers out there.
Take those seasoned professionals and put them in a location steeped with local history and you’ve really got something. You see, Alaro isn’t just another brewery tucked away in a former industrial space, or a beer-slinging establishment built out of shipping containers in an empty lot. Alaro took over the 2004 Capitol Ave. address formerly held by Rubicon Brewing Company, one of Sacramento’s most heralded breweries and a sorely missed presence in the local scene.
Head brewer Chris Keeton is a holdover from Rubicon and gives Alaro a tie to that much-loved entity.
His recipes pay homage to Rubicon while at the same time reaching for different flavors and updated styles. It’s a tribute to Keeton’s skill and the tutelage of Rubicon’s former brewmaster Scott Cramlet that, in his first year at Alaro, Keeton scored a gold medal at the Great American Beer Festival, the most prestigious beer fest in the United States.
So, while Alaro may be a new enterprise, it is really an all-star supergroup of industry veterans. And it’s easy to see why every person on the team is there. From the food to the beer, the vibe to the service, it’s a near-flawless expression of the best Sacramento has to offer.
The menu, playing on the Ballasteros’ roots and the passions of Chef Azavedo, plays primarily with Spanish recipes. Well beyond the burger and fries, or sandwiches and salads, of most brewpubs, Alaro pushes the boundaries of what one would expect from a local craft brewery.
You can find small plates and tapas like lamb meatballs with romesco and gremolata, mushrooms sautéed with sherry, and clams cooked with braised pork cheeks. Also expect to find salt-cod fritters and miso-glazed Brussel sprouts with Calabrian chili oil. This truly is something different from the pub grub at most brewery-restaurants we encounter.
One of the standouts is the gambas, a beautiful dish of head-on shrimp cooked with lemon, paprika and garlic. This Spanish favorite is treated with passion and gusto. The impressive shrimp require diners to sink their hands into the food and savor every finger-staining bite. The sauce is an intense play of Spanish flavors. Paired with a California common or blond ale, the dish sings even more.
A seafood paella, of course, is one of the crowning jewels of the menu. The Iberian classic really shines in Azavedo’s capable hands. It’s more than a simple rice dish. The generous infusion of seafood and bold flavors stands out when paired with a Czech pilsner or the award-winning Castillo, a classic IPA.
Despite being a “beer place,” Alaro has an impressive wine list featuring Spanish, Portuguese and California offerings chosen specifically to harmonize with the impressive menu.
Whether it’s in a glass or on the plate, everything that Alaro turns out speaks to the decades of experience and expert knowledge at every level. It’s a standout organization that does Sacramento proud.
Greg Sabin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org