Have Brew, Will Travel

Posted on February 2, 2011 – 11:30 AM | by OldManFoster
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By Becky Grunewald   Photos by Scott Duncan

Unlike wine, which is almost always better when paired with a complementary dish, beer can stand alone.  Ask any wine professional what they drink when it’s time to loosen the tie and kick off the heels, and they’ll answer time and again that they reach for a brew. However, there are times when you need some starchy, meaty substances to take the edge off the beer buzz, so I investigated what’s on offer at two of the area’s most buzzed-about beer spots.

Samuel Horne’s Tavern in Old Town Folsom is designed for comfortable, informed beer quaffing.  It’s a small, rectangular room with taps and bottles against the back wall.  There are high-walled booths against the wall, narrow communal tables in the middle, and, if you’re lucky enough to snag ‘em, a couple of comfy armchairs in the window.  The golden, soothing lighting plays softly off the pressed tin ceiling and illuminates the vintage beer signs (including a totally killer Mr. Boh), which gives the space an appropriately old-timey vibe.  There is nothing old-timey about the beer list, though.  It contains a well-curated selection of the cutting edge of American craft brewing.

The fact that the 100-deep bottle selection is so lovingly illuminated against a backdrop of red velvet is a clue to how serious Samuel Horne’s is about beer.  Another sign is the chalk board tap list for the 16 rotating taps, which is absolutely up-to-date and lists styles, alcoholic strengths, and even the IBUs (international bitterness units) of their hoppier brews.  The servers are knowledgeable, and can steer the beginning craft beer fan towards a drink that will fit his/her tastes.

Samuel Horne’s has a menu of heavy “American classics”, including a burger with a fried egg on top called the Cootie burger.  Of course I had to order it, but sadly, not everything is better with a fried egg on top – just most things.  The Cootie burger bun couldn’t withstand the onslaught of yolk and chili-laced mayo.  It fell apart and I was left picking at it with my fork.  The meat was tough and had nary a hint of pink.  Far more enjoyable was the floral, fruity, crisply-hopped Sculpin IPA from Ballast Point Brewing in San Diego and the Deschutes Brewery’s seasonal stout The Abyss, which was super strong, dark and creamy, with a roasted overtone that evoked chocolate and molasses.

The turkey burger patty was pale with a slightly funky taste, but the classic and well-proportioned mayo/pickle/onion topping improved it.  (Paragary should really patent his Café Bernardo turkey burger recipe and sell it – it’s so moist and tasty I always suspect he’s sneaking beef in.  It’s the turkey burger ne plus ultra and others suffer in comparison.)

The food disappointed but the beer list never does.  Samuel Horne’s is a serious beer geek destination and the best place to drink a beer without having to drive to Oakland to visit The Trappist.

Also a trek from downtown (both spots are bikeable for the truly commited) is the Flaming Grill.  It’s much more utilitarian than Samuel Horne’s – there is no indoor seating, just a covered outdoor area with heat lamps.  The 17 taps are lined up against the window of the interior, and there’s a wide variety of self-pick bottles refrigerated inside.

Oh Danny boy, the hops, the hops were calling on the day I visited, and the Victory Brewing Hop Wallop was served nice and cold in a tall mug.  It was refreshing, with a pilsner-like profile and no lingering finish.  The BPA (Belgian Pale Ale), from Allagash Brewing, was also hoppy but had a fruity aroma and a little funk-it’s brewed with Belgian yeast.

Unlike Samuel Horne’s the focus at Flaming Grill rests equally on the food and the beer.  Flamin’ Grille is known for its exotic meats.  The elk burger was very lightly gamey and smoky, and dry (as most game is.)  The sirloin “café burger” was like a Frankenstein assemblage of the Squeeze Inn’s cheese skirt with the Muzio-type bun of Nationwide freezer meats, and was topped with red onion, tomato, and a tangy mayo-based sauce.  The sirloin patty was deeply beefy with a light char, but lacked the melting juiciness of a truly exceptional burger. The fries come standard laced with seasoned salt.  I prefer my fries sans powdered garlic and onions, thanks.

Owner Jose Silva opened The Flaming Grill over three years ago as a breakfast spot and switched to burgers and beers about two years ago. He said that since the concept was “unique meats, we might as well have unique beers, too.”  Silva is new to the craft beer world, and said that “all I used to drink was Corona.”  His tastes have been shaped by his beer reps, and by conducting tastings, and he currently has plans to expand his tap offerings to 24.

Sure, it’s probably clear that I enjoyed the exquisite American craft brews more than the burgers at both these spots, but hey – burgers don’t get ya drunk.

Samuel Horne’s Tavern, 719 Sutter Street, Folsom, (916) 293-8207

Flaming Grill, 2319 El Camino Avenue, (916) 359-0840

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