When I hear the word “farm” in a restaurant’s name, I associate that place with an emphasis on local products. The trend has shown itself over and over, and proves no different with new Farmers Union Pour House, which focuses on regional beer and wine.
Besides, it’s named for the farmers group that used to gather inside back around 1895 when the building was built. So the Pour House unites the extensive agricultural history of Salinas with its burgeoning downtown foodie scene, in part by leaving the brick walls and hardwood floors intact and making itself a welcoming home for everyone, from high-fashion hipsters to modern farmers.
High ceilings, rustic light fixtures and lime green accent walls lend coolness to a place that’s got the coolest new menu in town. Well, drink menu that is. Wanting to keep the focus on their passion – beer and wine – owners Lauren and Colin Hattersley offer a cheese or charcuterie plate and a small menu from Giorgio’s right next door (who deliver). Alternately, guests can bring takeout from any other Oldtown location. They also host food trucks in the back parking lot regularly.
On a thirsty Thursday double date, we swiped the last four-top in the large, lively establishment. The enthusiastic list of California wines had me abuzz, yet I could also see why the artisan beer offerings stoke excitement. A long row of brew-drinkers sat happily watching the flatscreens at the sizeable bar, with a range of options at their fingertips and classic rock in the background.
All beer comes sample size so you can taste before deciding; they even have their first eight wines on tap for easy tasting and freshness preservation. After trying the Argyle Pinot Noir ($13) with sweet cherries and light spice, the Verdad Tempranillo ($11) with a strawberry scent and cocoa profile, and the fruity, oaky Alta Colina Rhone-style blend ($13), I landed on the Paul Dolan Cabernet ($13), an incredibly smooth ride with complex structure and gripping tannins.
I didn’t want to be that person standing at the counter trying every sample, so luckily my companions let me steal sips of their various beers (all beers on the menu ran $7-$7.50). Some IPAs showed nice nuances: The Green Flash Treasure Chest seemed the epitome of a good American IPA with its zesty, bitter hops, while the Hop Concept Citra and Azacca expressed a citrusy bounce and grassy undertones.
The Woodfour Morning Selfie was as unique as its name, a black lager with coffee that awakens with toasty goodness. Several swigs of the thick and chocolatey Double Nitro Shake Chocolate Porter, and I started to wish I hadn’t opted for wine.
Halfway through the first round we were calling Giorgio’s. A couple pizzas and apps were delivered soon enough, including crunchy Monterey Bay calamari ($13), decidedly spicy “sweet heat” wings ($12) and my personal favorite, the layered lobster nachos ($17) with flavorful Spanish rice and a creamy lobster bisque cheese sauce. The bacon ranch chicken pizza ($16) brought together a savory mix with a hint of sweet from the caramelized onions, while the Italian sausage pie ($14) featured sweet peppers and housemade sausage, a big plus in my cookbook.
On a Saturday night visit the House was bustling again. I had my hopes set on the chocolate porter, but to my surprise the menu had totally changed. Behind the bar, Lauren mentioned that the list will rotate often so there’s always something new to try. I figured it was fate for me to return to grapes, like the refreshing fruit-forward Halter Ranch Rosé ($9) and the well-balanced, brightly acidic Riverbench Bedrock Chardonnay ($10).
Though the pink and white samples promised great thirst-quenchers, I opted for something much warmer. I’d enjoyed their last Cabernet so much that I went with another, this time the Annabella ($12). Sadly, this Cab seemed a lot lighter than the first, the tannins milder, the structure a little loose.
I had six friends with six beers and plenty of opportunities to sip and talk hops (the latest beers ranged $7-$10). The Clown Shoes Evil Crawfish Red IPA was yeasty and bitter with a nutty aftertaste. I preferred the East Cliff Leanna Dearg Irish Red Ale, a darker drink with hints of malty spice. Other standouts: the wildly citrusy Tin City saison fruit cider, the crisp yet boozy Van Steenberge Piraat Belgian Golden Strong Ale and the lightly-cinnamony Logsdon Farmhouse Ales Szech n’ Brett, which elicited reactions such as “I wanna deck the halls” and “It tastes like I should be stringing lights right now.”
Many say that beer complements cheese better than wine, so I figured I’d try it all with the in-house cheese plate ($14). The Castello blue was robust yet mild enough for beginners, while the tender, not-quite-salty Schoch Junipero Swiss (a Salinas native) and the luxurious Fromager d’affinois double cream would make any cheese lover happy. With a handful of breadsticks and a bowl of olives to complete the plate, this dairy collection, much like the whole establishment, ended up matching beautifully with beer and wine alike.
FARMERS UNION POUR HOUSE 2-10pm Tue-Thu and Sun; 2pm-midnight Fri-Sat. 217 Main St., Salinas. 975-4890, www.facebook.com/farmersunionpourhouse