Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Black Pudding and Beer: Gastropubs Move West

Those that live in or frequent San Francisco's Marina District probably have noticed the line that forms outside the new gastropub, The Tipsy Pig, on weekend nights. Conceived by the Vintage 415 gang (Umami, Mamacitas, The Ambassador, et. al), the restaurant is well run and popular. While the food is decent pub food and the beer list thoughtful, the culinary offerings are tame by gastropub standards. For example, there's nothing obscure enough on the menu to make the average Marina denizen squeal. The pork sliders are one of the better menu options.

The Tipsy Pig is just one of several gastropubs to open in the Bay Area over the past few years, as part of a current broader movement. The term was originally coined in 1991 by David Eyre and Mike Belben who operated the Eagle Pub in Clerkenwell, London. A combination of "gastronomy" and "pub", their "gastropub" establishment was an attempt to combine quality dining in a pub environment, thus elevating British dining and pub culture. The movement jumped to New York City in late 2003 with the opening of The Spotted Pig. The general scene has exploded since then, helped by the current economic times as gastropub menus typically feature more reasonable prices and comforting food such as upscale hamburgers and mac and cheese (as well as more obscure Scottish and English specialties like blood pudding).

The Bay Area's gastropubs could be broken into two groups. The former includes classic pubs that have upgraded their culinary offerings, while the latter includes new arrivals such as the aforementioned Tipsy Pig. Good examples of the first group include classic pubs like Liverpool Lil's and The Pig & Whistle, founded in 1973 and 1991 respectively. The latter group is diverse with more traditional establishments with beer centric menus/pub decor like Monk's Kettle, Magnolia Pub, Martin's West, and Tipsy Pig, to ones that have more of a focus on lighter, more California influenced fare and decoration such as The Alembic, Urban Tavern, and the Grand Tavern in Oakland. In addition, one could argue that with the West Coast's focus on fresh and exciting food, many of our local microbrewery restaurants were essentially "gastropubs" before the name became trendy.

Your host recently had the opportunity to visit Martins West, a new gastropub that opened in May in the historic area of Redwood City. The founders include the husband and wife team of Moira Beveridge and Derek Smith, both active in the local restaurant and bar scene, as well as Michael Dotson, former Executive Chef at Evvia in Palo Alto. It's named after the Martins Restaurant in Edinburgh, Scotland, run by Martin Irons, a family friend of Ms. Beveridge.

Located in the old Alhambra Theater building constructed in 1896, the restaurant incorporates some of the original design elements of the building including a line of solid wood columns that extend down the middle of the room. Also notice the scorch marks on the back exposed brick walls, resulting from a fire in years past. The proprietors went through great lengths to use recycled materials during construction. The bar is made from an older wooden water tank, and many of the tables are made from old wine barrels.

The menu is adventurous with Scottish items such as black pudding (cow's blood mixed with flour), haggis (sheep's entrails), and herbed marrow bones featured prominently on the menu. This is in addition to friendlier fare like burgers and fish and chips, and several more California influenced dishes like tandoori roasted local halibut. The black pudding is excellent, and not too salty.

The beer selection is U.S. focused with several micro brews on tap, as well as bottled European beers. The cocktail list is thoughtful, and includes options made with rye whiskey and served in mason jars.


Gastropub Recommendations:

Martins West Pub
831 Main Street
Redwood City, CA 94063
(650) 366-4366

The Tipsy Pig
2231 Chestnut St
(between Pierce St & Avila St)
San Francisco, CA 94123
(415) 292-2300

Liverpool Lil's
2942 Lyon St
(between Greenwich St & Lombard St)
San Francisco, CA 94123
(415) 921-6664

The Pig & Whistle
2801 Geary Blvd
(between Collins St & Wood St)
San Francisco, CA 94118
(415) 885-4779

The Monk's Kettle
3141 16th St
(between Albion St & Valencia St)
San Francisco, CA 94103
(415) 865-9523

Magnolia Pub & Brewery
1398 Haight St
(between Central Ave & Masonic Ave)
San Francisco, CA 94117
(415) 864-7468

The Alembic
1725 Haight Street
(between Cole St & Shrader St)
San Francisco, CA 94117
(415) 666-0822

Urban Tavern
333 O'Farrell St
(between Mason St & Taylor St)
San Francisco, CA 94102
(415) 923-4400

The Grand Tavern
3601 Grand Ave
(between Davidson Way & Weldon Ave)
Oakland, CA 94610

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