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Napa County Brewpub Guide

Napa Valley Brewing Co.
Michael Amsler

Al Fresco: Dining at the Napa Valley Brewing Company is an outdoor experience until late October.

Napa Valley Brewing Company
The Calistoga Inn
1250 Lincoln Ave., Calistoga
942-4101

Hours: Daily, from 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Credit Cards: Visa, MasterCard, American Express
Parking: On the street (good luck)

Beer
SAMPLES OF BEER are expensive at $1 per 4 oz. serving. Of the Calistoga Wheat, Calistoga Pilsner, Calistoga Red Ale, and the Calistoga Porter available, we liked the Pilsner best for its clean crispness. Pints are $3.50; half-pints $2.50; pitchers $13. Made with the local water--perhaps you've heard of it.

Seasonal: Barley wine.

Brewmaster: Randy Gremp.

Take-out/Keg Availability: 22-oz. bottles, $5.25; 1-gallon beer boxes, $17; half-kegs, $62.50; kegs, $135.

Food
THIS IS A RESTAURANT, make no mistake about it. The fact that they make their own beer is a lovely extra, not the raison d'être. During the warm months, the European-style dining room--beautifully decorated with old window frames and doors, antique table clothes, and platters--is closed, reopening again around the end of October. Otherwise, meals are served on the covered, flagstoned, creekside patio, dominated to one side by the outdoor grill upon which most cooked food is created.

Lunch on a recent afternoon began with the day's special appetizer (none of these specials are now available), the bruschetta, a lovely, large, grilled wedge of fresh local bread topped with end-of-the-season tomatoes that had been bathed in a basil vinaigrette. This was fork-and-knife food, the dressing seducing the bread. The grumpy child on the table's dark west face scowled over his perfectly good spicy Mexi-Cal quesadilla ($5.95) served without the serrano or chipotle chilies in a vain attempt to tempt the little bugger into opening his mouth for something other than Sugar Babies. Served with fresh salsa and guacamole on a steaming flour tortilla, this is a good companion to beer, but had become unpardonably (to the child) blackened during the open-fire grilling process. Unfortunately, there was little to eat for children who have not yet developed adult palates, other than the quesadilla.

The house greens ($4.25), a salad composed of organically grown Forni-Brown-Welsh lettuces, was clean and fresh tasting, full of gorgonzola surprises and two large, perfectly peppery, herbed croutons. Another special, the smoked pork chop with mashed potatoes and homemade applesauce, was grilled still-tender and jealously hoarded by the lucky soul who ordered it. In the special sandwich of the day, pork on a potato bun, the meat was tender and flavorful but lost in the floury bun. It made a much better open-faced sandwich and was served with delicious homemade potato chips.

Service
THIS IS THE KIND OF PLACE where the good-looking young waitstaff would clearly rather be flirting with each other than attending to tourists, unless the table is composed of elderly, wealthy-looking people, in which case the servers' tones tended to be of the unctuous, heir-apparent grandchild variety. Aside from the sense that one was a bother for needing things, food arrived hot and cold as it should, dessert was offered, and the bill was promptly tendered.

Ambiance
THIS IS A LOVELY SETTING: outdoors under a shaded patio in downtown Calistoga--and located in the proximity of the town's celebrated spas--next to an ivy-choked creek. The inside, as mentioned above, is magnificent. There is a small (six-stool) outdoor bar for beers and glasses of wine, some 10 of which are uncorked each day. But this is no microbrew pub. Rather, the Napa Valley Brewing Co. is a restaurant with an excellent wine list (ask to see the swoon-over port and dessert wines selection) that just happens to make beer. The long wait at peak hours attests to return customers and happy patrons.

Din: That of an ordinary, creekside restaurant. No rowdy schooner parties here.

Restrooms: The Calistoga Inn, which houses the Napa Valley Brewing Co., is well over 100 years old. At the beginning, bathrooms were a handy modern indoor convenience; suffice it to say these haven't changed much since then.

Non-drinkers: This country-elegant restaurant offers as much for the abstainer as any other eating establishment.

Fizz
GORGEOUS FOOD, gorgeous setting, excellent wine list, good beer.

Flat
SERVERS who are burned-out on tourists; there is little to tempt children who don't yet eat with an adult palate.
--G.G.

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From the Oct. 16-22, 1997 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.

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