‘Yeah, some folks in San Diego gave us a hard time, but I think they’re over that now,” says Chris.
The grumbling? 10 Barrel Brewing, the new brew pub at 15th and E, had ridden into town announcing itself as a San Diego pub and brewery, when they’re from Bend, Oregon, and only came as part of a huge expansion paid for by their new owners, Anheuser-Busch InBev, the world’s largest brewer. Is this Big Beer, posing as one of the little guys? A Walmart setting up as a local mom-and-pop?
The questions buzz around you as you walk in to the new 10 Barrel stand-alone, but, you have to admit, it is kind of cool in here. Open floors built around shiny new brewing vats. Best thing about it is the upstairs deck bar. Okay, the view you get is over the scuzzy side of East Village. On the other hand, the surroundings help 10 Barrel’s “authentic” vibe.
Chris? He’s the bartender at the upstairs deck.
I know because this guy comes up and says, “Hey, Chris!”
“He-y, waddup?” Chris asks from behind the slick-surfaced concrete bar. He’s wearing a black tee like all the crew. It says “Drink It Forward.”
Yes, it’s all grays and browns and blacks, paintwise, but on the other hand, there’s that sloping sun making everything and everyone golden up here.
“Happy hour, foodwise?” I ask Chris.
“No happy hour,” he says. “But we do have daily specials.”
He shows me this specials page. First up: soup. Costs $4, or $6 for a large bowl. “Today’s is beef and barley,” he says. Then they have a shrimp roll, with “crispy Spanish chorizo, onions, red bell pepper” for $13. A Philly cheesesteak pizza that includes flat-iron steak meat, cream cheese, and mushrooms goes for $20. And a quinoa burger made basically of garbanzo beans with mushroom bacon, is the steal at $12.
So, no, this rooftop bar ain’t no bargain basement for food. On the other hand, when it comes to beers on tap, every one of them sells for $5. Wow. Figure this price makes the food cheaper. Chris says the IPA Apocalypse is their flagship, and I almost go for it till I see something called “Puff Puff Pass.” Smoked porter. “Crafted with smoked German hardwood malt.” I get that. And it is a nice, smokey dark ale. It may not be from here, but it tastes like real beer.
The beers with asterisks are “brewed in-house by our head brewer, Ben Shirley.” I see 11 brews with the asterisk. Next time I’ll go for one of them. Especially the Craft Heavy, a double IPA with 80 bitterness units.
Is the food predictable? Mostly. Pizzas start at $16 and go to $20. Wings are $7 and $14. But steak-and-gorgonzola nachos sound interesting. It’s got steak, bacon, and gorgonzola with “Cajun pub chips.” Costs $13. Fried pickles “served with whiskey habanero remoulade” are $7. Two fish tacos are $12, and fish and chips are, uh, $17. House salad’s $4 or $7. Actually, some of the salads look the most original items. The pork-belly-and-watermelon salad has “crispy Korean BBQ-glazed pork belly, compressed watermelon, sesame seeds, grapes, yuzu, tossed in lime juice and a sweet soy vinaigrette garnished with mint and Thai basil.” And only costs $10.
Or the spinach-and-Asian-pear salad. Has roasted peanuts, bacon, orange segments, and gorgonzola. Twelve bucks. Only problem? They recommend a protein. Chicken. Add $5.
In the end I go totally conventional and ask for a 10 Barrel burger. Costs $12. Reason: you get fries or chips with it, and for $1 extra you can get a house salad or a cup of soup. I ask for both. So, two more bucks and it’s starting to look like a deal.
While I’m waiting, I get chatting to Jen and Jay. They’ve got a 10-beer sampler ($11) and a plate of steak-and-gorgonzola nachos and another of about a dozen fried pickles. They let me take one. Ooh. Nice, hot, crunchy.
When my order comes it isn’t exactly what I ordered: the burger, a lot of salad, no fries, but a whole bowl — not a cup — of soup. Burger’s good, especially when I stuff the red onions and tomatoes and lettuce on top of the drooling cheese. Nice crispy skin to the burger patty, too. Goes great with the porter.
But actually, the champ of the meal is the soup. Thick and beef-tasty and filled with barley. It could be a filling meal in itself if you had a chunk of bread (and the crunchy-crusted bread here’s from Sadie Rose, local).
So straight up, I ask Chris. Has success spoiled what was real about 10 Barrel Brewing before AB InBev made them an offer they couldn’t refuse?
He shakes his head. Like he’s been asked this a zillion times before. “No,” he says. “It’s been good. We’ve been able to grow, and it helps with distribution.”
From the deck, you can see Monkey Paw, one block away, by the 5 freeway. I decide to go check out a real artisan brewery — small, local, uncompromised.
I head down and into its still-small bar, get a pint of Sweet Georgia Brown ($5.25).
Gal I get it from is Michelle.
“So, is everybody upset about 10 Barrel moving in with all their big bucks?” I ask.
“Oh, no,” she says. “It helps draw people to this part of town. And, besides, didn’t you hear? Monkey Paw has just been sold, too. We’re now part of Coronado Brewery.”
“Wow. What’s that going to do to you?”
“We’ll be able to grow,” says Michelle, “and it’ll help with distribution.”
1501 E Street, East Village
Hours: 11 a.m.–11 p.m. daily (till 12 a.m., Friday, Saturday)
Prices: Smoked corn off the cob, $7; wings, $7, $14; steak-and-gorgonzola nachos, $13; fried pickles, $7; pork-belly-and-watermelon salad, $10; spinach-and-Asian-pear salad, $12; 10 Barrel burger with cheese, $12, with bacon, $14; fish and chips, $17; shrimp po’ boy, $14; two fish tacos, $12; buffalo chicken pizza, $19; bánh mì sandwich with pork belly, $12
Nearest Bus Stop: Broadway and 15th