The future has arrived at Brewport Tap House [RESTAURANT REVIEW]
by Richard Foss
Here’s a tip for your first trip to Brewport: take a jacket with you even if it’s a warm day. Not that you’ll want to wear it, but so you’ll have something to put over the back of your chair. You’ll be getting up a lot during your visit, and that way people will know the seat is taken.
You’ll be moving around frequently because a big attraction here is pouring your own samples and servings of beer, cider, mead, or wine from the rows of taps that stretches along two walls. For those who enjoy the equivalent of liquid grazing, it’s an unbeatable experience.
The system here takes only a moment to learn: as you enter the place you’ll see someone standing in a host stand made from an old jet engine cowling. (This place is aviation-themed hence the name that is a portmanteau of brewery and airport.) The person behind the stand will check your ID and give you a wristband with a chip in it, and if you put that chip next to the tap then it turns it on. Pour your sip, pint, or pitcher, and it logs you out as soon as you turn it off. You can get one eight ounce pour or eight one ounce pours, enjoy conversations with other experimenters and enthusiasts, and generally have a fine time. I wasn’t the only person who used their phone camera to get a shot of a tap label that I particularly liked. The system here is a remarkable use of technology, and unlike most such arrangements it actually works. Grab a seat somewhere (check the back patio if you like a quieter environment, or accept the noise inside) or just pick a place to stand next to one of the upturned kegs that serves as a table.
Along with that beer you’ll to want something to eat, and it’s here that Brewport does two unexpected things. Rather than extend the self-serve idea and put tablet computers at tables they have live human servers, and rather than deliver the standard beer snacks they offer an almost fantastically eclectic menu. They don’t have jalapeno poppers or the usual clichés, but you can get heirloom carrots with fennel and pistachio or a cocoa nib-crusted New York steak. Okay, they do serve some sandwiches and pizza, but your choice of pizzas are fig and cheese or speck ham with sunchokes and roasted garlic.
Among their starters I tried the crispy calamari tostada, lump crab hush puppies, a pound of Asian sauced wings, and a plate of organic baby beets with heirloom tomato, honey-ricotta, blood orange jam, and baguette. The beets were a small portion of very good quality food, the sauces a dab and a drizzle. There was one medium size beet cut in quarters and three slices of tomato. It’s a nice nibble, but for nine bucks I would have liked a bit more of it.
As for the calamari tostada, I’m still trying to figure out whether it was more good than weird or more weird than good. It was a pile of well-fried calamari topped with green chile queso on top of a crisped blue corn tortilla, with some pickled corn on one side and some chili sauce on the other. It was several ingredients short of a typical tostada, and some chopped lettuce or slaw would have helped introduce the ingredients to each other. I liked all the flavors, and I might even order another one to see if my opinion of it is different next time, but I’d count this as an interesting near miss.
The hush puppies were a much more interesting proposition: three large balls of crabmeat mixed with corn, rolled in a light herbed batter and fried, then put over dabs of saffron sauce. They were fragrant and perfectly done, and I can’t imagine not getting these on every return visit, because they were amazing. There is nothing more to say except that if you like crab at all then get them, and if you’re not sure then get them anyway and find out.
The wings were the only somewhat conventional starter on the menu, and they’re expertly done, fried crisp and then tossed in a spicy sauce that had hints of Korean inspiation. Some sweet mustard was provided on the side, but these didn’t need it. An order is a meal for one along with a starter or side vegetable or a good beer snack for a few people.
Of the larger items, we have tried three: seafood in Italian-style broth, a fried chicken sandwich, and a sous vide pork chop that came with purple cabbage compote, onion rings and a dab of balsamic vinegar. They frequently run out of the pork chops and on the evening I tried one the server advised that only two were left. Since that was at about 7 p.m., I presume a lot of people who ordered after I did didn’t get one. They missed out on something wonderful, a big, incredibly tender piece of meat that had spent a little quality time on the grill before that long, slow cook to finish it. The red cabbage had been cooked in a German style with what might have been some currants, which gave it a fruitiness that paired well with the meat, and the fried onions… I’ll just say that if they were offered as a side, I’d get those all by themselves. It’s seriously good cooking in a casual space.
The seafood in broth hit all the right notes too, a mix of local halibut, diver scallops, and tiger prawns in an aromatic broth with a little salsa verde. I might have liked some vegetables in there for nutritional balance, but it had a superb flavor just as it was. As for the fried chicken sandwich, that item that looked like the most normal thing on the menu had its own charms. It was available on a brioche or a biscuit, and if you like flaky Southern style biscuits, that’s the way to go. These are obviously fresh, and good enough that we chased the crumbs. The only thing between those biscuit halves was a big piece of tasty chicken, a little slaw, and just enough pimento cheese so you got a little tang and creaminess, but tart housemade pickles were on the side. It would be an A-plus dish in any contemporary restaurant, and it’s mind-blowing in a beer themed place.
Naturally I can’t review a place like this without mentioning my favorite tipples. Moylan’s Kilt Lifter Scotch Ale was an old acquaintance that I liked just as much on reintroduction, the Anthem pear cider and Festoon hibiscus mead were pleasant and refreshing, but the winner was a Belgian dark called Executioner’s Daughter. I tried a few others, and at the end of the process braced myself for the beer bill, but it was surprisingly low. Evenings of sipping and sampling run less here than times when there’s a pitcher on the table with everyone drinking just because it’s there.
Brewport is startlingly successful at what they do, and it won’t surprise me if others try copying the idea. The technology won’t be difficult because it’s commercially available, but this food has rare character. Not everything is perfect after two months in business, but there are ideas aplenty and they’re executing them with flair.
Brewport Tap House is at 204 Main Street in El Segundo. Closed Mo-Tu, Open We-Thu 4 p.m. – 10 p.m., Fr 4 p.m. – 11 p.m., Sa 10 a.m. – 11 p.m., Su 10 a.m. -10 p.m., street parking or nearby lots. Some vegetarian items. Brunch and dinner menus at brewporttaphouse.com, phone 310-648-8972.
by Richard Foss