By Dr. Ink
It was a mellow afternoon at Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant, the international chain that rooted itself in San Diego’s beer culture more than a decade ago with German-style “biers” adhering to that country’s ancient purity laws.
There’s only one location in San Diego among nearly 30 others spread throughout the country, plus a few in Taiwan. I’ve been here often for full meals, combining them usually with the company’s smooth, malty Marzen, a Bavarian-style lager that offers a breather from our city’s glut of hoppy IPAs.
This visit, however, was different, quieter and cheaper. I came specifically for happy hour, held on weekdays in the spacious bar lounge, where tunes by U2, Steely Dan and Bob Dylan were playing at soft volume.
Though after hopping onto a raised, cushy banquette flanked by fellow customers collectively sipping the suds, I became the rogue customer in the room when the “handcrafted” grapefruit mule I ordered came to my table.
No doubt, everyone was smitten over the fact that a 21.5-ounce glass of beer from the Gordon lineup sells for only $4 during happy hour. The choices, which rotate periodically, included Mosaic Session IPA, Czech Pilsner, Dry Irish Stout and a few others.
Yet cocktails are an easy $6 from a rather lengthy list I’ve never given much attention in the face of the restaurant’s looming beer tanks. The mule, it turned out, proved that the combination of Skyy grapefruit-infused vodka, ginger beer and fresh lime triggers rapid sipping, and hence a quick buzz. Served in a customary copper mug, it was super refreshing and tasted terrific.
Sitting at my left were two middle-aged businessmen alternating between Polish and broken English in their conversation.
They had just ordered a second round of mini bratwurst sliders. When one of them caught me eavesdropping, he began chitchatting a bit, if only to relay his love for the brats. Coming from an Eastern European country, I was sold.
The sliders are $3 apiece during happy hour. They also include grass-fed beef and sliced roast beef, which is served French dip-style with au jus. I ordered the latter and enjoyed it. But not as much as the bratwurst, which was served on a small pretzel roll, and smothered in grainy mustard and braised onions. The casing was thin, almost undetectable, and the meat was ultra-lean and possessed the flavor of malt and hops.
When I asked one of the waitresses if beer goes into the sausage, she wasn’t sure, but said it’s definitely added into the mustard.
“Maybe the onions, too,” she said on second thought. “We actually put beer into a lot of things here.”
So without drinking it from a glass on this visit, I got my fix anyhow, and without complaint.
In addition to beers brewed onsite, such as a Bavarian lager, session IPA, Bohemian-style pilsner and a dry Irish stout, the drink list extends to global and domestic wines, plus a number of classic and specialty cocktails. The grapefruit mule is memorably refreshing.
A diverse selection of munchies falls into four price categories, ranging from $3 to $9. As a light snack, mini bratwurst and French dip sliders at the low end were remarkably tasty.
You can’t beat the $4 price tag for the company’s beers during happy hour, which are served in 21.5-ounce glasses. In addition, the cocktails are only $6 apiece.
Three different waitresses per table on a fairly quiet afternoon? I’m not sure if this is the norm, but it resulted in zero wait time when placing my order and requesting my bill.
For an international chain that aims for big spaces, the mix of wood, granite and brick is trendy yet warmly appealing. Happy hour is confined to the bar lounge, which offers ample, comfy seating.
Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant
5010 Mission Center Road (Mission Valley)
Happy hour: 3 to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday; and 10 p.m. to close, Sunday through Thursday