3007 University Avenue, North Park
Since I live in the area and regularly “research” craft beer, I probably visit North Park’s Bottlecraft shop more than the average customer. While the Venissimo counter has been selling globally sourced cheeses out of the back of the shop for almost two years, for the most part I’ve managed to focus on browsing for brews.
However, if you’ve ever been to a Venissimo Cheese counter, you know this couldn’t last long. Venissimo (which added a fifth location when Liberty Public Market opened in March) doesn’t just sell a glorious curated selection of cheeses. It’s very friendly about allowing customers to try samples, with the hope that you’re going to find your dairy sweet spot and become hooked. Maybe it’ll be something delicious from the Basque region or sheep’s milk with a streak of mold. While its North Park kiosk may not offer as large a selection as its original Mission Hills location, there’s still plenty there for a thirsty beer writer to home in on and refine his palate.
Recently I walked into the shop as a hungry beer writer, and that’s when I finally took a shot at one of the counter’s grilled cheese offerings. Actually, its cheese sandwich offerings, as there’s an option to get a cold sandwich. I can’t imagine why someone would do that when grilling is an option.
Sandwiches cost eight bucks if you go with the standard offerings. For example, there’s brie with fig jam, cheddar with spicy apple jam, or alpine cheese with onion confit. Since the shop keeps cured meats around for its selection of cheese and charcuterie boards, there are also a couple of options with speck or soppressata. I opted for the latter, served with sweet Gouda.
For $1.50 you can upgrade to a premium cheese selection, and I imagine sorting through available alternatives for any of the above would be satisfying. Sadly, I was pressed for time, so settled on the stock Gouda, grilled on Bread & Cie sourdough.
Another Gouda might have been better, but I have zero complaints with the sandwich given to me. The cheese was gooey, the bread toasty, and the soppressata was savory and delicious. Nor can I fault the draft beer menu offered by Bottlecraft to accompany the sandwich — since you pay for your cheese at the beer counter, you may as well wash down your sandwich with a beverage. I went with an eight-ounce (half pour) of a passion fruit IPA. In the unlikely event one of the shop’s 12 taps doesn’t appeal to you, there are about 700 bottles to choose from with a small corkage fee.
Which means my beer runs may start taking a little longer. Properly pairing beer and cheese takes a little forethought and consideration. But pairing beer and cheese shops under one roof? That’s a no-brainer.