Secretly brilliant [restaurant review]

A celebrated chef elevates bar food at Hermosa Brewing

by Richard Foss

I was one of the first customers when Hermosa Brewing Company opened in 2018, though that was an accident. My brother and I were walking away from dinner elsewhere when we noticed that the lights were on, so we stopped in for a pint. We had more than that, not only because the beer was good, but because the fellow who served it was a pleasant host and a fountain of information about brewing.

It was the first of several visits, always after dinner somewhere else because their menu was limited and the environment usually loud and packed. Over time I heard from readers that I really should give the food a chance, and after they opened outdoor seating my main objection to the place went away. I scanned the online menu and was agreeably surprised. That kitchen was still turning out burgers and fries, but in several permutations, and they also had seafood pozole, cauliflower soup, sweet chili pork ribs, and much more. Something must have changed.

And indeed it had. The person now at the stove is Aaron DuBois, a chef who has appeared on the Chopped TV show and previously worked at Rustic Canyon and Melisse. I was wowed by Aaron’s food when he worked at The Slip on the Boardwalk, and looked forward to seeing what he was doing at Hermosa Brewing.

The outdoor dining space is pleasant and the tables well-spaced, so if you’re willing to dine out at places that are careful, this is a good place to start. And speaking of starters, the buffalo cauliflower had a feather-light tempura-style batter and a sauce that had some heat but wasn’t brutal. It’s great as a dine-in item but doesn’t travel well because between the steam from the vegetable and the sauce, that delicate batter goes soggy quickly.

The brussels sprouts survive well in a go box and are even better thanks to the addition of fried chickpeas and pomegranate seeds and the delicate rosemary gastrique. Every time I think I’ve had every version of brussels sprouts known to science and gastronomy somebody comes up with a new one, and this one is one of the best I can remember. It has an herbal tang and slight saltiness that goes great with a craft beer, which unsurprisingly is a specialty here.

Tacos are famously good companions to brew too, and Hermosa Brewing offers them with carnitas, poblano, chicken, soyrizo, and cauliflower. We tried the cauliflower, which is simmered in tomatillo sauce and topped with a flavorful mix of marinated purple onions, mango, and cilantro. There’s some spice and heat but it doesn’t obscure the vegetable flavors, and I’d happily have these again after I’ve tried the other varieties. The tacos arrived with three house-made sauces: a hot but flavorful red sauce, strongly herbal green sauce, and a very hot pineapple habanero.

I was glad I had a beer handy when that habanero kicked in, and the El Jefe tangerine wheat beer was just the thing for a respite. If you’re a white wine drinker who doesn’t usually like beer much this could be a fit for you, the floral and citrusy elements parallel the palate of a good Chardonnay. They sell wine and cider here too, but you’re at a brewery tasting room so go with the specialty. My wife is an avid cider fan and they had one she hadn’t tried, Wipeout from the Southern California Cider Company. It’s dry, crisp, and reminds me of a Sauvignon Blanc made with apples, with a very refreshing effect.

Pulled pork and fries at Hermosa Brewing Company. Photo by Richard Foss

Those beverage pairings with spiciness will be gratefully appreciated if you order their Nashville chicken sandwich, even though it is not the hottest I’ve tried. Granted, I ordered the medium rather than the spiciest version, but while it had plenty of chili flavor I did not break out in a sweat or temporarily lose the power of speech, and both have happened with the medium at other establishments. The sandwich was well balanced due to cole slaw that had creamy, slightly sweet sauce to balance the heat. The “Get Busy Living” red IPA also helped in this regard, herbal and spicy with just a bit of bitter hoppiness.

Chef Aaron has better things to do than sear your tongue, because his seafood pozole also uses chillies judiciously. Rather than the usual broth that is tart and heavily peppery, the one here is based on a Spanish salsa verde, which included pulverized parsley, cilantro, garlic, anchovy, and capers. There’s jalapeno in there too, and a few slices of the stuff decorating the top of the soup, but the herbal flavors are at least an equal partner. So are the shrimp, salmon, cod, scallops, and hominy, and it’s a harmonious blend. This is at least nominally a special, but it seems to always be available, and I’d advise that they keep it on the menu and you order it.

Other specials are more transitory – I wanted to try their chili ribs but they seem to have rotated off the menu, so I ordered a bacon-onion marmalade burger that was superb. I hope they bring that back, because the slight char on the meat was perfect with the tangy and smoky flavors of the toppings. Luckily the pulled pork is a regular item, because their version is a hit. The meat is chunky and while soft still has some texture, making it a cut above the mushy and over-sauced versions that are offered at many other places. The sauce has a little vinegary heat and isn’t oversweet, and it’s a keeper. Get it with their tater tots, because those are very good too. Their shape also makes it so they hold their heat and crispness better in a to-go order than fries. A word to the wise – check your to-go order before you leave, because on one trip I got the sauces and ketchup for the tots, but not the tots themselves.

Hermosa Brewing doesn’t offer dessert at the moment, though there is a tantalizing empty space in their online ordering system that suggests they may eventually do so. Until then, have another beer and more tater tots, or whatever else this talented chef is serving up at the moment.

 

Hermosa Brewing Company is at 1342 Hermosa Ave., Hermosa Beach. Open daily at Noon. Mon. – Thur. ‘til 8 p.m., Fri – Sun. ‘til 9 p.m. Several vegetarian options. Outdoor seating or to-go. Reservations recommended. (424) 398-0014. HermosaBrewingCo.com. ER

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Written by: Richard Foss

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