In the cold winter months there is nothing better to cheer up a starving college student than a tall beer and a heaping platter of hot food. And while we all love Natty and takeout or an all-you-can-eat platter of wings from Dublin’s, sometimes we need to venture outside our comfortable Isla Vista bubble and into the real world of restaurant food and classy beer. For this week’s On the Menu, I did just that: traveled to a pub and two brewing companies in a couple of weekend excursions that left me full of good food and good feelings.
18 E. Ortega St.
Phone: (805) 568-0702
Hours: 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. daily; Dinner served until 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and until 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday
First, on Friday evening, a few friends and I ventured to Dargan’s Irish Pub. As soon as we walked in, we were greeted by authentic Irish tunes and the smell of great food. We took a seat in the dining room (though the bar is also quite expansive) and prepared to order up. I started off my meal with a Guinness, and to all those study abroad students who rant constantly about the American imported version, this was the real deal.
“Guinness, obviously, is one of our best [menu items],” General Manager Tom Donnelly told me later. “We take a lot of pride in the Guinness; it’s got to be the best around.”
Donnelly went on to describe to me in great detail the specific gas-mixing process they use to keep Ireland’s favorite beer so deliciously smooth, and while I did not understand half of it, I can assure you that it worked. The bottled cider and Harp on tap got solid reviews from my companions as well.
Moving on to the food, I felt compelled to order something from the other side of the pond, eventually choosing the always-satisfying fish and chips. Paired with the beef stroganoff and fried potato skins also on the table, our meals were about as delicious as they come (though the fish and chips was clearly the best).
“Our Irish fare is very good,” Donnelly said of the food, “but we also have really good steaks.” If I had known this before, my order might have been different (who can turn down a good steak?), but I cannot complain about the result.
We lingered for a while sipping on our drinks and eating very sweet desserts, all the while enjoying the music and boisterous atmosphere. While I am no connoisseur of scotch, I feel compelled to mention the extensive collection at Dargan’s. With scotch available starting at $8 and encompassing somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 well- aged options, the pub clearly takes pride there as well. In any case, I ordered one up and sipped on it through the closing stages of our visit.
“It’s a great atmosphere,” Donnelly said. “You can bring your families here; we have good entertainment, we have late night. It’s just a good place to relax.”
No arguments here.
Finally, with our wallets about $20 lighter each (more expensive than an I.V. dinner but hardly breaking the bank) we were ready to leave Dargan’s, having thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.
Telegraph Brewing Company
416 N. Salsipuedes St.
Phone: (805) 963-5018
Hours: 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday, 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. Friday, and 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday
Next up, we went straight to Telegraph Brewing Company. The owner and founder, Brian Thompson, had talked to me earlier in the day and told me to swing by for a tasting before closing at 8 p.m. Not knowing what to expect, the four of us ventured about a mile away to Salsipuedes Street and wandered inside. The result was an excellent experience unlike anything I was familiar with.
Telegraph does not resemble other local brewing companies like Hollister or Santa Barbara. It is not a family restaurant with HDTVs and a wait-staff on hand — there are no tables, and pretzels are the only food available. It is located in what appeared to be an oversized garage and has a grand total of four employees. Telegraph, it seems, is all about the beer. And that is something they do very well.
We opted for the four-beer tasting, sampling each of the local brewery’s fine concoctions while standing around talking with a brewer named Will. There were maybe 20 people hanging out around us, sipping beer and chatting it up in the main lobby area. Beside them was the bar (located underneath the very visible barley-storage area), and in the back was the actual brewing equipment, not separated in the slightest from Telegraph’s clients. Will gave us the low-down on their brewing technique and showed us the process that Telegraph goes through to create their beer. It was very cool.
As for the beer itself, the four options were each unique and appealing in their own ways. The California Ale — Telegraph’s most popular beer — was a solid choice, but my personal preference was the darker, heavier Stock Porter. The girls among us were fonder of the lighter Golden Wheat and the fruity Belgian White, which were both excellent options as well.
“We’re really focused on making beers that are as local as possible,” Thompson said of his brews. “We do try to use as many local ingredients as possible.”
Those ingredients, orange peels, chamomile and water, are all from Santa Barbara and all came through in the taste and adding a bit of character to the drinks. That is exactly how Thompson likes it.
“Our beers are pretty full-flavored and complex,” he said proudly.
After a delicious tasting and some friendly conversation, we were ready to head out (and maybe pick up a six-pack of Telegraph beer at K&B later). Our designated driver (thanks, Kris) took us home for the evening. But there was still one last place on our slate to be tackled on Saturday: the Brewhouse.
229 W. Montecito St.
Phone: (805) 884-4664
Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday – Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, brunch starting at 9 a.m. Saturday and Sunday
The Brewhouse was more of a restaurant than a brewery in appearance, but it certainly had a ton of chops in the beer department.
“We have a lot of them; you’re bound to find one you like,” head brewer and co-owner Pete Johnson told me of the beer. He was right.
After waiting for a table during the massively crowded Saturday happy hour, we ordered up some appetizers and beer to get us going. Chicken wings, calamari and homemade chips with gorgonzola were laid out before us, and we dug in. The sauce on the wings was amazing, but really the gorgonzola chips had to take the cake. It was something new, different and downright delicious.
We got a pitcher of an Apricot Ale, and I nabbed a pint of Imperial Stout. The Ale was light and tasty, while the stout was a hefty sipping beer — it weighed in at 9.5 percent alcohol. With 10-16 beers on tap (depending on the time of year), we clearly could not sample them all, but from what we had, it’s obvious the Brewhouse knows what it’s doing. Johnson told me the most popular beer is the IPA but had very positive things to say about all of his creations, which are brewed right on site.
The atmosphere was incredibly boisterous for the afternoon time slot at which we went, but I guess that is what a Saturday happy hour will do. Either way, it was obvious that everyone inside was having a fantastic time. The ever-jovial co-owner, Barbara Long, gave me the details on the Brewhouse’s history (it’s 12 years old and has gone through two expansions) as well as where it stands now.
“We have entertainment four nights a week, Wednesday through Saturday,” Long said. “And our clientele is very eclectic.”
As Long was clearly very proud of, the one thing unifying everyone inside was that they all were having a lot of fun. We certainly did too, and if I may leave you with a word of advice: Get the gorgonzola chips. Do it.