Sometimes a great restaurant experience is all about the venue. Certain settings encourage an easygoing, unhurried time. Such is the case at the Pub at Golden Road Brewing.
People come here to hang out and drink fresh-brewed beer. They bring their dogs. They bring babies. They celebrate birthdays. They catch up after work. It's as comfortable as your dad's garage, but cleaner. So if the food is not knock-your-socks-off caliber, it's OK; the beer is.
One can't help but be impressed by the beer-centric empire that Tony Yanow (of Tony's Darts Away fame) and Yale grad Meg Gill have built. A compound of three large brightly painted warehouses just off the 134 freeway on San Fernando Road is home to an ambitious microbrewing, canning, storage and serving facility.
For the Record: An earlier version of this story incorrectly spelled Tony Yanow's name.
But even with the magnitude of it all, it's easy to recognize the eco-awareness that is important to Yanow and Gill. Beers come in washable glasses or recycling- and flavor-friendly cans. Much of the food is vegan, local and organic. Even the to-go containers are made from recycled materials.
A casual party-like atmosphere prevails. Long wooden tables (and of course, beer) engender conversation. Metal walls and high ceilings dotted with workshop lights exaggerate the noise level, but not annoyingly so. There's no table service, so folks are constantly meandering back and forth to the bar and the food line. The hearty rumble of a freight train rolls by every now and then.
By and large, the people behind the counter are more than willing to help you find just what your taste buds are hankering for. I requested an amber ale on the sweet side with a touch of unexpected flavor. My bartender didn't flinch but went straight to the tap and poured me a couple of samples of guest beers, meaning selections from their friends in the craft beer world.
They were both too bitter for me so he poured samples of the house brews — Golden Road's Point the Way IPA and Hefeweizen. Both hit the spot but I chose the sprightly, easy-to-drink Hefeweizen. My dining partner picked the house-brewed Schwartz Stout, a creamy, thick brew with a finish like chocolate milk.
The prices are great. Pints of Golden Road beers are generally $4 to $5. Guest beers are slightly more, and wines hover around $9 a glass. True beer lovers will appreciate the posting of ABV (alcohol by volume) levels on the giant chalkboard with some of the stronger guest taps like AleSmith Wee Heavy clocking in at 10%.
Strong, hoppy flavors go well with food of equal strength, like spicy Mexican food. That's not the tack they take here at Golden Road, where the food is more sophisticated but generally lacks complexity and punch.
For instance, the vegan Cheesy Potato Sandwich ($8) is bursting with crisp, tender sauteed peppers and onions, and the French roll is light and airy, but the Yukon Gold potatoes and arugula get lost, and the pimento cheese sauce fails to pull the sandwich flavors together. The accompanying four-bean salad has nice toothsome black, red, Northern white and garbanzo beans but the vinaigrette is so light as to be a whisper.
If the Sloppy Joseph ($9) had an amazing barbecue sauce, it would've been great with the stout. But instead it was just a pleasant sandwich of shredded braised short rib on a poppy seed bun. The red cabbage slaw was uniquely tasty, though, with capers and sauerkraut spices. If you're with a group, I recommend the yam fritters with their super spicy agave mustard sauce ($4) or the soft pretzel the size of Bavaria ($7, with Dijon dipping sauce).
But really, it's all about the cold beer and the cool location. This is a great place to take out-of-towners for a long Southern California afternoon.
LISA DUPUY has written about food, travel and entertainment for 25 years. She welcomes comments at LDupuy@aol.com.
The Pub at Golden Road Brewing
Where: 5410 West San Fernando Road, Los Angeles
When: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., 7 days a week
Prices: House-brewed and “guest tap” pints $4 to $7; snacks, salads and sandwiches $4 to $12; entrees $12 to $16
Contact: (213) 373-HOPS; www.goldenroad.la