Mussels and garlic bread (tasty soup below)
Brrrr. Cold night. Babycakes or brewery? I’m standing on Seacoast Drive in I.B., not far from the Babycakes Bake Shop, but also looking across at, well, the best brewery in the world.
170 Orange Avenue, Coronado
Seriously. Coronado Brewing Co. They got this accolade at the 2014 World Beer Cup, the “Olympics” of beer contests. Best mid-size brewery. Beat out contestants from 58 countries.
And now they have this satellite bar/eatery down here in I.B. I’m kinda tempted. I know I could go cheaper. But how can I resist the best beer in the world?
I cross Seacoast and head in through their parking lot. Inside’s modern-blond-woody. Half the windows turn out to be big flat screens or photo art. Or company logos with the redhead mermaid holding a stein that froths discreetly in front of her.
“Happy hour?” I ask the gal.
“Two to six,” she says. “Two bucks off appetizers, beer, wine.”
Good enough. I squeeze between two guys onto the last free stool at the wood bar.
Maybe it’s the Christmas season in the air. Christmas and Kwanzaa and Hanukkah and Eid. Not to mention mid-winter solstice. Whatever. Here, tonight, there’s a kind of warm feeling. It’s easy to get talking.
“Name’s Ken,” says the guy on the right. “As in ‘Ken, still looking for Barbie.’” We laugh. He has a kind of Friar Tuck thing about him. Or that quirky, independent I.B. personality you see a lot of down here.
I say something about that.
“I.B.?” says Ken. “I’d give it ten more years. Look already. That hotel, the condos, next up, high-rise apartments. Everybody’s holding on to their property till the price is right, then, boom! We’re Huntington Beach.”
Chicken tenders: huge crunch, spicy ranch
Mark, guy on the left, reckons Stupid Stout is one of the better ones here. And “better” at the best mid-size brewery in the galaxy has to mean something. Costs six bucks, happy hour. I order it.
And now I’m staring at “Seaside Snacks,” the appetizer list on the menu. Cheapest at the top, most expensive at the bottom. With the $2 off, chips and dips with salsa and guac is $4. Buffalo chicken tenders with a spicy ranch, $5. Roasted garlic tots, $6; spinach and artichoke dip’s $6; scallop ceviche’s $8; calamari strips, $8; a pound of steamed mussels with andouille sausage, pico de gallo, and Cajun cream and garlic bread is $10; and fish (cod) and chips with garlic fries goes for $11.
Outside HH, two-taco plates run from $8 to $13 and so do the salads. Sandwiches, burgers, and pasta (“Pasta la Vista”) go mostly for $12.
Ken sits up. Gal brings him a plate of three totally battered chicken breasts with some celery and a bowl of spicy ranch. So, okay, got to have that buffalo chicken. And that would be enough, except now I have the hots for the “Ale-House Mussels,” normally $12. Still not cheap at $10. But it’s the idea of that andouille sausage and Cajun cream that hooks me. I order that as well.
Stout comes. Dark. Ooh, yes. Enough hoppiness to cut the sweetness, but it’s the sweetness that seduces you. Almost like a dessert wine. I take it slow because it’s, like, 9 percent alcohol.
Chicken doesn’t let me down. Huge crunch, and the spicy ranch (I asked for it hot) reminds me where my gills were, back when great-grandpa was a fish (heh-heh). And the celery provides the refresh.
But it is really all about the mussels. A pound is a lot. Especially because of the totally tasty soup below. That, plus the long wedges of garlic toast. I can see it’s going to be too much.
“How come the flavor’s so rich?” I ask Sean, who’s in charge of the bar.
Sean, the cicerone
“We have a white wine garlic sauce in there,” he says, “and the andouille sausage.”
Man. Love it. But losing the space battle. I should have eased up on the chicken. Or decided between the two.
“Have to help me out here,” I say to Mark and Ken. They’re good enough to dip in.
We talk about I.B. and Broken Fin, the humpback whale who always scared the bejeebers out of guys surfing the break at Boca Rio, just a mile from here, where he hung around. And about the great white shark that came in south of the pier four years ago and freaked out a pod of dolphins feeding on a bait ball of anchovy.
“Eighteen feet long! Twenty yards beyond the surfline,” says Mark. “It was wild.”
And we talk about the glory of these guys being named the best mid-size brewery in the world a little while back. “Japan, U.K., Belgium...I mean, these guys beat them all,” says Mark. It hits me that the arrival of this place tells you I.B. is already heading upmarket.
“You guys are awesome, with that prize and all,” I say to Sean when he comes back. “Although you don’t have the cheapest happy-hour food.”
“We’re middle tier,” Sean says. “But we make sure you get lots of food on your plate.”
Have to say amen to that.
And turns out Sean’s pretty awesome, too. He’s a bona fide cicerone — like, a sommelier, but for beer (named after Cicero, the Roman philosopher). You have to pass exams to become one. “We learn everything about beer, from malt to hops to color to taste to temperatures in the brewing process, to pairings with food to the history of beer. It’s getting really big now,” says Sean.
Dang. Now there’s a lot of things I want to know. Like, the make-up of these 16 beers listed on the wall, for starters. Going to have to come back.
And guess I’d better make it soon, while I.B. is still I.B. and not Huntington Beach South.
170 Orange Avenue, Coronado
Happy Hour Prices: Chips and dips (salsa, guacamole), $4; buffalo chicken tenders (spicy ranch), $5; roasted garlic tots, $6; spinach, artichoke dip, $6; scallop ceviche, $8; calamari strips, $8; 1 lb steamed mussels, andouille sausage, garlic bread, $10; fish and chips, garlic fries, $11
Hours: 11 a.m.–10 p.m., daily
Happy Hour: 2–6 p.m., Monday–Friday
Buses: 33, 34
Nearest bus stop: Seacoast and Evergreen