Cannery Row Brewing Company earns full houses with great tastes at fair prices.
Thursday, September 9, 2010
Who’d be crazy enough to open two restaurants in the same year? Robert Weakley and David Bernahl of Coastal Luxury Management – that’s who.
The buzz generated by their nascent Cannery Row Brewing Company is only outdone by the buzz surrounding their soon-to-debut 1833 in the former Stokes Restaurant.
CLM, founder of Pebble Beach Food & Wine and Harvest Carmel, is known for its high-end, cut-no-corners ethos. I hoped CLM noticed that dripping-with-luxury settings just aren’t as much fun as they used to be before the economy headed south. The Brewing Company is, of course, a brew pub, but that means little, since dining has followed the worlds of art and design in blurring the distinction between high and low. Even a hot dog can be elevated to gourmet status, served in a palatial setting, and priced like lobster.
But CLM got it right with the Brewing Company. Equal parts food emporium and watering hole, it’s contemporary and comfortable, and the vibe is fun. The music is in the foreground and the retro playlist had me singing along to Led Zeppelin, the Stones, Counting Crows, and Billy Idol.
The layout is smart and democratic. No tables banish customers from feeling central to the scene. The dining room has tangential views into the kitchen, there’s an outdoor patio with fire pits, a covered deck with heaters, and a large bar and lounge area.
An entryway floor of 43,000 pennies introduces the cool and playful décor. There’s a giant chandelier of beer bottles, beer-inspired art, and a long blackboard free-for-all. Flat panel screens provide the game du jour.
The sight at the bar of more than 75 tap handles featuring logos of draught beers can brighten any mood. Six house beers are made for the Brewing Company by a Modesto brewer, and a six-glass tasting selection is the best way to try them.
A friend and I ordered the house tasting and a “California” tasting of six IPAs for $8.50 each. How much fun is it to try 12 beers? There are two other tastings of Belgian beers and a “summertime” selection. Giving you my list of beer highlights would only fill you with preconceived notions and rob you of the joy of discovery, so let’s leave it at that.
Another rare specialty – thrilling, really – is 30 mostly small-batch offerings of bourbon and American whisky. Visits to the City (and one to Kentucky) have introduced me to small producers like Four Roses, Pappy Van Winkle and Buffalo Trace. The Brewing Company doesn’t offer a bourbon tasting (yet), so here’s a tip: My favorite sipping bourbon is Eagle Rare. I prefer the 18-year, but you can try the 10-year at CRBC.
I heard the service was slow and uneven, but that must have been during the initial ramp-up. On two visits, both waiters were very attentive, timely and friendly.
Everything except ketchup and mustard is made in house, overseen by Executive Chef Mark Ayers, who will also oversee 1833 and the many CLM food events. He honed his chops (literally) as executive chef of the Highlands Inn for eight years, and then two years ago took on the Hyatt Regency’s food operations, too.
In an unusual Caesar salad interpretation, the romaine was briefly grilled. The dressing was nicely finessed and rarely can croutons be called excellent, but these should be. I tried the Caesar on two occasions and the first was best – slightly lighter on cheese and stronger on garlic and anchovy – but both were exceptional. (Take note, QC Department.)
Last winter, leadership stated its intention to feature the area’s best burger, so I went for a streamlined “classic” burger with cheese ($9.50, with fries or salad) as a point of comparison. It’s a damn good burger. And a few others are as good. Some are better. But CRBC gets extra credit for having more add-ons and options than other candidates.
There’s a burger with brie, with Cajun spices, with chili, with peppers and onions. There’s a beefless bacon-and-egg burger and a salmon burger. Expect each to be done with care, with fine ingredients, like all of the dishes, no matter how pedestrian they may sound.
Some cases in point: pub fare like fish and chips, beer-braised bratwurst, and turkey pot pie; Southern classics like ribs, pork belly, and fried chicken; five pasta dishes. Most are $13 to $18, with steaks and pork chops in the $20s.
Fish stews like cioppino and bouillabaisse mostly dampen my spirits due to lackluster broth. The Brewing Company’s Monterey Bay Fisherman Stew aims higher and succeeds. Tiny Manila clams and calamari – easy to overcook – were succulent. The wine-infused broth hit multiple flavor notes – The garlicky toast was irresistible. A fair portion for only $16.50; recommended.
Nearly all of the 160 seats were full on Monday and Tuesday nights. The official closing time on weeknights is midnight, but if customers are there, they stay open later. VP of Operations Gary Obligacion said, “We haven’t closed before 2am yet.”
The food is very good, especially for the conscientious prices, the quality, and the tasty environment. My $58 was well spent for a half Caesar salad, a house salad, a burger, “fisherman’s stew,” and two beer tastings.
The Brewing Company is a nice first act for CLM’s foray into the restaurant business. It sounds, feels, smells – and tastes – like success.