All Hopped Up
Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant, which opened on Brickell Avenue just two months ago, currently is hosting downtown's hottest Friday after-work party, drawing the same mass of young professionals as last season's sizzling Firehouse Four shindigs. This is the sixteenth such microbrewery/restaurant that founders Dan Gordon and Dean Biersch have launched since their first Palo Alto venture in 1988. Like the others it's a sprawling space with that corporate cookie-cutter design we've seen so many times before: a handsome contemporary décor of woods, glass, tile, and tasteful prints on taupe-color walls. Stainless-steel tanks of an on-premises brewery are visible through a glass partition behind the bar.
I found myself alternately staring at these tanks and at a set of dangling TVs during a recent Friday-afternoon visit. It all began pleasantly enough, with me sipping away at exceptional homemade lagers along with maybe 30 other patrons at the bar. By the time I left two hours later, all 250 indoor seats, 90 patio chairs, and 100 barstools were taken, a stand-up crowd was shoehorned into every corner, and the room became deafeningly loud with reverberating conversations, laughter, and rock music. Some people were dressed in formal work attire, others in chinos and polo shirts; many had teeny cell phones pressed to their ears. It's the sort of clientele that would feel comfortable comparing business-card fonts with Christian Bale in American Psycho.
Sitting amid a raucous, beer-imbued mob, upscale or not, isn't my favorite way to pass the time, but judging by the joviality of those around me, and the substantial number of people waiting to get in, it appears GB has a large enough market pool without me. While much of the appeal is fueled by the social scene, the superior beer no doubt is a strong draw as well. Most brewpubs produce ales, but Gordon Biersch makes a big deal out of exclusively brewing lagers, which are stored for longer periods of time and yield a smoother taste. The three flavors served here year-round -- pale Golden Export, auburn Märzen, and full-bodied, dark-brown Dunkles -- all follow a strict adherence to Reinheitsgobot, the 1516 German purity law that mandates the use of only malt, hops, water, and yeast. Specialty seasonal beers also are offered, currently a hopped-up pilsner and an Octoberfest lager called Festbier. Ten-ounce glasses cost $3, pints are $5, twenty-ounce steins are $8.50, but no need to gamble on which flavor you favor: The bartending crew, fast and friendly, freely proffers samples to the uninitiated.
The menu draws upon Asia, Europe, the Mediterranean, Latin America, New Orleans, and the Cheesecake Factory. Selections include predictable bar-food starters (beer-batter shrimp, fried calamari, potstickers), salads (caesar, cobb), pastas, stir-fries, and main courses such as Moroccan lamb chops, blackened ahi tuna, and old-fashioned meat loaf, which, take my word, is worse than your mother made. So is the hefty ten-ounce burger, the bland, mushy meat containing no seasoning, no taste of the grill, no textural crunch. It also was overcooked. Garlic fries on the side, a big hit at GB's concession at the PacBell baseball park in San Francisco, were overwhelmingly redolent of raw, or perhaps barely cooked, garlic. I thought they were awful.
Pizza didn't impress either, the flaccid dough devoid of any charred brick-oven flavor, the topping of arugula leaves, canned artichoke hearts, and balsamic-drenched portobello mushrooms not good enough to distract attention from the missing kalamata olives and sun-dried tomato pesto. Gumbo also was missing something, specifically okra, but was otherwise satisfactorily stocked with succulently grilled chicken breast, lots of spicy andouille sausage, and a full flavor.
In a beernut shell, dining at Gordon Biersch is a hit-or-miss-miss proposition. If you'd rather kiss the bull's-eye more consistently, aim for the brews.
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