Rich's pastrami burger
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Bier Garden Eincinitas

641 S. Coast Highway 101, Encinitas

“Over there,” says the bouncer.

He points across Highway 101.

I’ve just asked him where the best happy hour is around this town.

I’m up in Encinitas (“Little Oaks”).

He’s nodding towards a low modern-looking building. Seems to go right through to a little plaza with seats and fountains.

Sign above it reads “Bier Garden, Encinitas, California.”

Thing that draws me to it this evening is that it’s woody, warm on the outside, golden in the clusters of lights that hang under the black awning.

So I cross the road and head inside. Now I’ve hoisted myself onto a tall bar-chair, facing Bobbi, the bartender gal with the flying hands.

And I find myself next to Rich, who’s about to take a chomp out of the burger a cook has just landed in front of him.

Bobbi’s busy because the place is, well, packed. This is around 6:30 at night. It’s a sports bar. Expense-account drinkers plus après-surf crowd, I'd say. So yes, I’m worried about prices. But I have my happy hour hopes wrapped around me like a protective blanket.

Bobbi

Bobbi

“Here’s what you need to have,” says Rich. He’s a regular, by the sound of his conversation with Bobbi. “The mussels, the Thai soup — awesome — the calamari, the ceviche, the fish taco. Oh, and this pastrami burger.”

Wow. And it’s a big burger. ’Course, he’s a big guy.

Problem: their prices ain’t that small. Like the pastrami burger with swiss, sauerkraut and mustard, runs $14. The mussels (cooked in white wine, fried shallots) are $13. But because they’re in “smalls” — read, appetizers — they’ll be $11. It's $2 off the smalls and drinks during happy hour.

Rich sees I’m aiming at the “smalls.”

“Did I mention nachos? The nachos are awesome. Mango, cheddar, veggies and short rib bits. They’re a meal.”

I check the menu again. Oh yeah. Short rib nachos, with mango salsa, chipotle aioli, cheddar and tortilla chips, $11. Couple of bucks off, $9. I order that, plus check over their draft beers. Huh. Bobbi says all 32 tap handles are from southern California. I end up taking a glass of Firestone’s Yard House Hefeweizen ($5, after $2 off). Hmm. That delicious first glug. Take a moment to look around.

My short rib nachos

My short rib nachos

I see now that they actually have a beer garden out across the bar. Rack of windows actually flaps right open to reveal a back patio of tables, trees, and an outside bar. Cool. And on the inside, a whole dead vine tree that climbs like an orgy of snakes up among old-looking exposed rafters.

“This Bier Garden is new this year,” says Paula. She’s the gal who brings my nachos. “But the building’s old. It goes back to the late 1940s. It was Tyler’s Steak House. We’ve kept the original floor and ceiling. Even the kitchen hood is original.”

The nachos? The surprise is how sweet they are. Chunks of mango, tomato, cucumber, onion, and short rib meat with lots of that chipotle aioli and big oozings of cheese. It’s a pretty sexy dish. Actually, the oval dish it’s in is pretty sexy too. Its base is canted so the bowl slopes towards you. Cooyool. Also, with all that meat and those tortilla chips, Rich is right: it’s filling.

“Next time,” says Rich, “ya gotta have one of their Bloody Marys here. They’re awesome. I like the ‘Hearty.’ It’s vodka they’ve infused with bacon and cheddar, and they add actual bacon and cheddar and beef stick and celery and stuff into the cocktail. And you get a chaser of any of their draft beers. In the price.”

The price is $12 for that baby. Sounds like a deal. Wish I knew more about cocktails. Maybe one afternoon with lots of time and plenty of lettuce in da pocket, I could start learning.

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