Brewpubs are tricky things. They can bring you a crowd that might not normally be on the lookout for craft beer, but who, once they taste it, become devoted followers. On the other hand, if you don’t do your food well, people might stop caring about the beer, no matter how good it is.
Take Magnolia Brewery in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood of San Francisco, for example. A few times now, Joe and I have brought people to brunch on a Sunday morning there, and every single person loved it. There food is fresh and delicious. At the Commonwealth panel, I heard Dave McLean talk about how hard he works to use local ingredients and it shows. Occasionally the food walks a line of being too upscale – for example, at our last brunch, one of our friends ordered the flatbread. It was essentially a big cracker with cheese and mushrooms sprinkled on it. Delicious, but not exactly the kind of breakfast a person who is willing to order a beer alongside wants to eat. The pulled pork sandwich, and pretty much everything else, was amazing without being at all greasy, the kind of food you’d want to eat to cure a hangover–not that I’d ever have such a thing, of course!
Oh, and did we drink. February is strong beer month, so we had to try a few. Magnolia offers both half pints and 4 ounce tasters of all their beers which I love. I tried the Smokestack Lightning Imperial Stout, an excellent beer to follow your first cup of coffee in the morning. It was rich and fruity, but not too heavy on the chocolate notes or too thick to drink a lot of, like dark beers often are. According to the website, I’ll be able to try the cask-conditioned version soon. Joe tried the Promised Land Imperial IPA, among other things. It was bitter, but citrusy, with a very light aroma.
The other end of the brewpub spectrum is, for me, Thirsty Bear. There are quite a few beers of theirs that I have liked in the past (their Golden Vanilla comes to mind), but I’m always vaguely disappointed in the food. It’s not terrible, but it’s not great either. Maybe I’m just not into tapas. Supposedly they try to get as many local and organic ingredients as they can too. I will point out that other people I’ve dined with claim that Thirsty Bear has some of the best fried calamari they’ve ever tasted, but I don’t like calamari, so I can’t vouch for that. The fried potatoes are good but they’re kinda just…fried potatoes. With some spicy sauce. Too many dishes seem to hinge on either being fried or containing a lot of cheese. Overall I would still recommend stopping in for their beer, and maybe grabbing a snack on the side, but I’d skip dinner.