It’s been two and a half years now, since we first played hooky from jobs and hightailed it south on the I-5 to tour the still-squeaky-new brewery and bistro at Stone Brewing in Escondido. That was our man-cation in the vein of the movie “Sideways” but not winey. It was the same month we had made beer ice cream using their chocolate stout and barleywine, so the head chef, Carlton, was kind enough to give us a guided walk-through of their massive kitchen. When we finished at the gift shop bar, all we could think about was coming back when the restaurant was actually open for business.
Well, that sure came and went! Some 24 months after they opened, Evan finally had a reason to be near San Diego this week, so on a lunch break he slipped down Ciccada Parkway for a swig of tap beer and a nibble of the vegetarian pub grub they sling at the 300-seat outdoor bistro. So how’d the joint fare after such massive build-up?
Walking into this brewery is like seeing the future, or another dimension – one where rickety sets of bridge-playing grandparents take leisurely lunches at their local hard-ass brewing establishment. On a Tuesday late afternoon, country club ladies were daintily toasting stems of sour lambics and POW MIA grandpas were shuffling to the bathroom between sips of 10% ABV stouts. All the while, the brewery hands, mostly crusty SoCal punks with beer bomber tattoos and rastah-Jah soldiers, took their “lunch break” of double-oaked Arrogant Bastard. In fact, it’s a wonder these sleepy San Diego septogenarians can even decipher the beer-dude-ese of Stone’s written menu — one that boasts no fewer than ten dishes concocted with copious amounts of real, good beer and that waxes poetic about things like smoked porter barbeque sauce with trigger-happy exclamation points. Whoever writes the text for Stone’s beer bottles was clearly tapped for their food writing.
One more pleasant surprise that borders on “WTF-am-I?: More than half the menu is vegetarian with a smattering of vegan options (pale ale Brussels sprouts, roasted pepper and thyme tofu burgers, housemade kimchi with “doom sauce,” tempeh shepard’s pie). Come to think of it, two years ago when we first toured the ground with food honcho Carlton, he seemed amused at our own blog videos of us injecting beet “blood” into tofu slabs and rolling fake meat into roulade. We got the distinct impression he though we were wusses, actually. But in the meantime not only has Stone played with their own food vlogging, the menu is concrete evidence of vegetarian life on Planet Beer. We approve.
Evan showed his approval by personally scarfing a plate of “Buds Spuds,” which are fluffy balls of garlic-scallion mashed potatoes dipped in Arrogant Bastard beer batter and deep fried until they develop a thick funnel-cake dough skin. A dish that skirts the line between decadent and disturbing. It paired safely with a Deschutes Hop Trip Fresh ale, though the second round ruled harder — a Ballast Point Piper Down bourbon ale. Next came lunch — a homemade tempeh burger of pillowy fermented grains mixed with curlicue strands of red and green jalapenos. No 3pm lunch is complete without liquid desert, in this case it was a black and bubbly Ten-Fiddy stout from Oskar Blues.
Not one to miss the chance to snap beer porn on location, we actually toted the beer over to a large granite slab in the bistro’s garden, posed it caringly with the beer menu and leaned in for the shot. Just then Stone CEO and co-founder Greg Koch strolled by and shouted out “Hey, that looks like a great shot!” Yes, yes it was.
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