Julie Stalmer 5:30 p.m., Sept. 22
Pasaje Rodríguez: Papas & Beer & El Muertho
Mamut microbrewery is the scene for eats and arts
“I estimate we have 60 microbreweries in Tijuana now,” says Juan Jose Quesada. “And maybe 20 in Mexicali, and 30 in Ensenada. We’re happening.”
He’s happening too. We’re in the Pasaje Rodríguez, between 2nd and 3rd streets, and between Revolución and Constitución avenues, in downtown Tijuana. (Can’t seem to get enough of TJ these days!)
Actually came to see if my friend Willy Clauson the singer was at the Foreign Club where he holds court most days. But seems like I just missed him.
On the other hand – and this is about nine-o’clock at night – there’s a crowd outside what looks like a little eatery…
or is it a bar, ’cause they’re also drinking cerveza…
...and a guy dressed like KISS is singing deadpan songs like (National City’s own) Tom Waits, except in Spanish. People are laughing at every second line. I see people listening are eating too. Hamburgers, nachos, salad with chicken breast…
So I head in past “El Muertho”...
...to the little counter that’s like half under some stairs.
Mario Cano’s there making up some salad. His girlfriend sits on the stairs while he does his thing.
We’re right by El Muertho’s speakers, so no point in speaking. Mario nods over towards a little list.
“Mamut Cerveza Artesanal,” it says. Takes a moment for me to figure out what da heck "Mamut" means, until Mario turns his arms into long tusks, hunches his shoulders, and makes like an elephant.
So underneath, it lists things like hot dogs with papas, 30 pesos (say $2), hamburguesa con papas, (65, say $5), alitas (wings, 50/$4), and pechuga a la parrilla (grilled chicken breast 50/$4). Wow. Deal.
I point to that chicken breast. El Muertho finishes up his song. Lots of cheers, laughs, claps out in the pasaje.
“Papas o ensalada?” says Robert.
I have to go for the fries. Actually papas sounds better, because I see from someone else’s plate they are big and fat and savory, by the whiff I get.
“Soon we’re going to have beer-pairing meals,” says Mario. "Meals like paella, roast beef, lamb, pork ribs. They’ll come with the most suitable beer, included.”
“Talking of beer...” I say. Mario points me round the corner to a little pine-plank counter next to some large white plastic vats.
I can see yeast frothing away golden out of one of them. In front of me the baristas Liz and Robert are serving glass mugs of beer to the between-song crowd. Wow. Turns out this is the Mamut brewery (Pasaje Rodriguez #29, Zona Centro, Tijuana, 011.52.664.685-0137).
And Juan Jose Queseda, the guy pouring some fresh yeast (from San Diego’s White Labs, I notice)...
...turns out to be the founder, the guy who had the idea for this whole thing.
While I’m dithering between the choice of beers (they have American pale ale, India Pale Ale, amber and dry stout), he comes out.
“I’m an electrical engineer,” he says. “I started this for the love of beer. Soon I’m going to start creating wines here too. The great thing is the regulations haven’t caught up with us yet,” he says. “We can make it fresh, without having to pasteurize. It shows in the better flavors. The bad thing is beer giants like Modelo tell bars not to stock us little guys if they still want to get Modelo. But that’s breaking down now. There’s too many of us.”
And he says these craft guys are getting help from an unexpected ally: the giant Miller beer company. It’s brought a case to the Mexican Federal Competition Commission to ban these “monopolistic practices.” Because it wants to sell more American brands in Mexico too.
“Actually, most bars like this have some craft beer,” says Juan Jose. “They just keep it discreet. The Modelo guys know.”
I get a stout (about $2) and head out as Mario brings my chicken and papas, steaming. Just before El Muertho starts into his next story-song. Mmm. Stout’s dry but fruity. Interesting. And the chicken’s totally tasty. Italian herbs, says Mario. And the papas bravas are just so flavorful. Is that lime, or Tajin seasoning he’s put on there?
But too late to ask Mario. El Muertho has started up again. It’s a story-song everybody knows. The night’s full of whoops and cheers.
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