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Elevation 66. El Cerrito, CAMatthew Wright • September 2, 2014
If our recent trip to the Beer Bloggers Conference taught us anything it’s that there’s an abundance of great beer being made in this country. Here in California there are over 300 breweries alone, both large and small, and we’ve managed to visit quite a few of them in the last year. Our only complaint is that if they have a kitchen, the food coming out of it is not especially good. There are exceptions, El Cerrito’s Elevation 66 being one of them, but overall “pub food” hasn’t grown up with the beer being served with it.
your Chef is as important as your Brewmaster
Wine and food have long enjoyed a symbiotic relationship. There’s an elegance to it. Elaborate meals are served with a different wine selected for each course. Too often we’ve had a delicious flight of exotic beers and the best choice for food was a basket of greasy, garlic bread knots. We love balls of dough as much as the next guy, but if you’re going to have 4 different varieties of an already obscure beer style, serving that with what may as well be a bag of pretzels is a huge missed opportunity.
Elevation 66 is one of the few breweries around we’ve found embracing the wine world’s brand of quality pairing. We’ve been a few times and always had a great eating experience. Of special note are the Sriracha Chicken Wings. We didn’t have them on our last trip, but they’re a messy must for a first time visit.
Brown Ale with something sweet
Our most recent dinner at Elevation 66 we started with their Two Beagle Brown Ale. We both are fans of the once ubiquitous style that’s gotten harder to find these days. When browns were more common they tended to be a little too sweet and not all that hoppy. When the IPA craze hit full force the demand must have dried up. Wicked shame. Elevation 66 seems to want to keep theirs around, so it’s dryer and hoppier than most old school browns.
I asked a winemaker recently his pairing philosophy and he preferred high contrast. After trying the Two Beagle we decided to go with a pair of sweet, but substantial small plates.
The pork belly tacos were treated to a generous brush of Stout BBQ sauce, topped with watermelon chunks that must have been pickled for days with jalapeños. Very spicy, but a great compliment to the sweet tang of the BBQ. A bit of lime, avocado, and micro-greens rounded it all out.
Next we had some herb-crusted sweet potato and corn cakes, which were very good. The fresh corn salsa on top was my favorite part of it all. I could have eaten a bowlful of just that with some chips. It was powerful, but didn’t cancel out the cakes. The sweet of the corn made the hops of the Two Beagle more pronounced and established that the overly sweet browns of the nineties may be long gone.
Elevation 66 has a rotating list of guest taps, and we enjoyed a local Gose between courses, but wanted to see 2 iconic things meet.
A burger and an IPA
Most places I hate splitting entrees. It makes restaurant staff prickly so I order my own even if I know I’ll walk out of the place stuffed beyond capacity. Our only way around this is to never utter the dreaded “split” word. Given all that it was nice to have our Wagyu burger split without us even asking. The extra plates and central placement of the burger let us know that the staff was cool with the size of our check.
The burger is one of our top fives in the area, but in all honesty the biggest treat are the house-made condiments for the fries. The curry aioli is the one we consistent ask for more of, but the other two are tomato based and plenty tasty. The resident East Bay IPA paired well with the burger, but was surprisingly even more of a friend to the curry and potato. The caramelized onions may have a little of their thunder stolen by the pairing, but were still a welcome addition to everything going on.
not just for locals wethinks
Elevation 66 just celebrated 3 years yesterday (Woo-hoo!). We hope they’re around for a lot more. The dining area is small and the bar is always packed, but it’s a palate and tummy pleaser. Really worth a trip to the understated El Cerrito. There’s a great movie theater, The Rialto, a few doors down too if you and yours want to make a night of it.
For Five Star dining I expected at least a little stuffiness, but it just isn’t what The White Barn Inn is about. It’s definitely luxurious, but it’s like a celebrity interview that leaves you thinking, “you know, that George Clooney is just an everyday guy.”
Little Star Pizza is one of our favorites and not just for the pizza. The decor in the Albany location is cozy and rustic, the draft selection is always good, and the staff is the best.