By Frank Sabatini Jr. | Restaurant Review
Since its humble beginnings in 1996 by a small group of homebrewers, Ballast Point Beer has become a goliath in the consumer market. And it just so happens to have an architecturally stunning bar and restaurant within its massive headquarters and production facility off Miramar Road.
Located deep inside a winding industrial park, a visit to the brewery is a refreshing departure from the sudsy hipster fest that is North Park. Perhaps it was just my imagination, but it felt more LGBT-friendly than I expected as I observed staffers and customers who were undoubtedly “family.”
The company moved here in 2014 after outgrowing its facilities in Scripps Ranch. Picture a 107,000-square-foot campus loaded with German-steel beer tanks, bottling lines and plenty of indoor-outdoor space for the public to eat and drink.
Our party of six, mostly gay and lesbian, started off in the bustling bar area, where high marble-top tables are crammed throughout. The elongated bar flaunts an eye-popping number of taps against steel plating, which contributes to a dramatic industrial design of glass, tile and angled wood beams.
While waiting for a table, which took about 30 minutes, we sipped on several house beers such as Dead Ringer, a Marzen-style brew typically enjoyed in Bavaria during Oktoberfest. It was dark-caramel in color and deliciously malty.
If you’re a freak for hops, the Brett Grunion pale ale should suffice with its pine-y flavor upfront and hints of bananas lurking in the backdrop. Although if you’re fond of high bitter notes, look no further than Ballast Point’s famous Grapefruit Sculpin IPA, which flows like a river around here.
We landed in a large, comfy booth along a decorative window that looks into the kitchen. The wait staff, mostly chipper guys in their 20s, tended quickly to our table.
A shareable plate of salmon poke kicked off the dinner and kept us merrily guzzling our brews. It wasn’t your everyday poke, but rather a distant cousin to nachos, minus the cheese.
The clean-tasting cubed salmon was strewn over a generous pile of tortilla chips, along with avocado, garlic and red Fresno chili peppers, which added a sassy spark to the dish. A tangle of shaved ginger kept the dish anchored to Asia.
I finally got to try the commercially distributed Impossible Burger, thanks to the vegetarian in our posse who ordered it with cheddar. The intricately engineered vegan burger, which “bleeds like beef” according to its commercial manufacturers, looked remarkably like a beef patty. She ordered it well-done and I have to say, the thing tasted close to the real deal. It’s made of textured wheat protein, coconut oil, potato starch and other plant-based ingredients that are better known to food scientists.
I ordered the San Diego cheesesteak. If you get it, take note that “Philly” isn’t in the title. The only similarity it has to the classic version is the prized Amoroso roll, which is imported from Philadelphia’s namesake bakery.
Otherwise, expect carne asada-style beef topped with spicy carrots, jalapenos, radishes and beer cheese made with Ballast Point’s famous Sculpin IPA—all edgy ingredients that would never pass muster with Philadelphians. I didn’t love it or hate it.
A trio of Baja-style fish tacos using yellowtail were enjoyed by two in our group who said the fish and shredded cabbage folded into them tasted fresh. Pickled onions and rich crema, they noted, added a pleasant tang.
Other food choices complementing the vast beer selection include lamb or wagyu beef burgers, steamed mussels, beer-braised short ribs, crispy-skin salmon, and more.
If you want a firsthand look at the making of what’s in your glass, daily tours of the adjoining 150-barrel brew house are conducted every 45 minutes. They start at $5 per person, which includes two sample “tasters” of beer, a commemorative glass and perhaps an appreciation for brews you normally don’t drink.
—Frank Sabatini Jr. is the author of ‘Secret San Diego’ (ECW Press) and began his local writing career more than two decades ago as a staffer for the former San Diego Tribune. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.