Eclectic, delicious food and microbrews now playing at Broken Record

Broken Record, a relatively new restaurant in the Excelsior District in San Francisco, shows just how much a small restaurant can achieve with talented, imaginative chefs, an urban chic ambience and a handful of well-selected taps.
Formerly a Mexican restaurant called Mom is Cooking, the 7-month-old Broken Record seems out of place on Geneva Ave.; it feels as if it belongs in the Haight or amid the gastropubs on 16th Street in the Mission.
Broken Record is happily devoid of the pretensions and attitude that can plague pseudo-hip restaurants and pubs in the “cooler” neighborhoods, however, and it makes up in personality, charm and flavor what it lacks in amenities. Instead of menus, the few food choices are listed in the backroom restaurant. Service is rudimentary but friendly and courteous: You order drinks in the front of the restaurant at the bar and place your food order in the back. There’s a pool table and juke box in the bar section, but the music is more muted in the restaurant, where a large flat-screen TV (which was playing a kung-fu movie with the sound off) looms over a few booths and tables.
The kitchen is opposite the screen and is arguably more entertaining than the movie. The sparse, eclectic menu is a far cry from typical pub grub fare. Appetizers included crispy broccoli with chili flakes and parmesan and mac ‘n cheese made with bowtie rather than elbow noodles and topped with crispy corn bread (with or without bacon). They were both well-matched with a delicious pint of Green Flash IPA from San Diego
According to our friendly server, who also manned the kitchen and took our order, Broken Record’s extraordinary burger is made using brisket, aged cheese and bacon from Zoe in Petaluma (the optional avocado is highly recommended). Each bite of the perfectly cooked burger in a toasted bun was like a symphony of flavors that were further enhanced by a pint of Pranqster, a Belgian-style strong ale from North Coast Brewing in Ukiah. Pranqster was also refreshing complementing the Crispy Tiger Shrimp sandwich, served with crab mayo and avocado on a fresh baguette.  
Other options included pulled pork with cole slaw and spicy mayo; roasted Portobello mushroom with mozzarella, roasted red peppers, balsamic aioli and fresh basil; bacon French fries; duck confit potato skins; buttermilk biscuit; and chicken wings. The menu seems to rotate frequently.
We could not resist the dessert waffle: a crispy Belgian waffle served with a scoop of home-made roasted banana ice cream, drizzled with Nutella and sprinkled with powder sugar. Bliss.

The menu isn’t extensive and neither are the taps, but they don’t have to be when they’re as intelligently thought out and as well executed as they are at Broken Record. The two cooks and bartender who staffed Broken Record also belie the notion that you have to be aloof to be cool. They all seemed genuinely concerned that patrons have a good experience and sincerely grateful for their business and their compliments, of which there were many.

Broken Record
1166 Geneva Ave
(between Edinburgh St & Naples St)
San Francisco, CA 94112
(415) 963-171

Restaurant hours:
Sunday 6pm - 10pm
Monday-Saturday 6pm - 11pm
Bar hours:
Mon-Thu. 5pm - 12am
Fri-Sat. 5pm - 2am
Sun. 5pm - 12am

Reliable Chow, good craft beer

Chow has been serving hearty local food at reasonable prices since 1997, when it opened on Church Street near Market. In addition to its sister location on Ninth Avenue near Golden Gate Park, Chow has also expanded to Danville and Lafayette, with the latter location also offering a food market. All of the Chows have six well-thought-out taps that match their rustic comfort food.
The tap lists vary by location, and the restaurant seems to touch all the bases, more or less, with beers mostly from Bay Area breweries. At a recent visit to Chow on Church, the choices included Trumer Pils, Marin Brewing’s Tiburon Blonde Ale, Speakeasy’s Big Daddy IPA, Deschutes Green Lakes organic amber ale and the Sless Stimulating stout from Iron Springs. Each location also features a rotating tap (Anchor’s excellent Our Special Christmas Ale in this case), as well as nine bottled beers.
Deschutes, from Bend, Ore., makes consistently good beer and the Green Lakes amber was no exception. It was very tasty matched with a pinto bean and pancetta soup. Hearty soups like this are a natural with flavorful beer.

Chow is the kind of place you can pop into on a whim for a quick bite and beer. Or while strolling the neighborhood, you can have a beer and some grub while the kids have a milkshake and a burger or a pizza from the wood-fired oven. Service is friendly and the restaurant has a nice warm feeling. When well-run, family-style, neighborhood restaurants like Chow offer several good taps, you know that craft beer has become mainstream.
Chow somehow manages to have something for just about everybody while remaining true to its mission of locally sourced products. The beer and food might not be the most eclectic or challenging, but that’s really not the point. You come away from Chow feeling satisfied without leaving a gaping hole in your wallet.

If you haven’t entirely slaked your beer thirst at Chow, you can pop in next door at the Pilsner Inn, which features a cozy enclosed patio at the back of the bar. Pilsners have gotten a bad name as a result of American macro brewers, sometimes literally. Available on tap at the Pilsner Inn is a pilsner called “Czechvar,” which is actually a Czech pilsner named Budvar from Ceske Budejovice of the Czech Republic. As a result of nearly a century of litigation with Anheuser-Busch/Budweiser, Budvar is distributed in the U.S., ironically by Anheuser Busch, under the Czechvar name.
The name is just about the only similarity between America’s Bud and Czechvar/Budvar, however. Whereas Bud has been methodically and painstakingly stripped of it natural malt and hops flavor to appeal to American tastes, Czechvar/Budvar remains refreshingly flavorful, even with restrained noble hops (though Pilsner Inn serves it a little too cold for my taste, even for a pils). There’s really no comparison, and anyone who thinks that Bud is a “true” pilsner should give Budvar/Czechvar a try.

Chow Church
215 Church Street
San Francisco, CA 94114
(415) 552-2469

Park Chow
1240 9th Ave
San Francisco, CA 94122
(415) 665-9912

Chow Lafayette
53 Lafayette Circle
Lafayette, CA 94549
(925) 962-2469

Chow Danville
445 Railroad Ave
Danville, CA 94526
(925) 838-4510

Pilsner Inn
225 Church Street
San Francisco, CA 94114-1310
(415) 621-7058

Zeitgeist: great craft beer in The Mission, attitude optional

Having a bar named “Zeitgeist” carries with it a certain responsibility and attitude – even more so when it’s located in San Francisco’s Mission District, not far from the seedier side of Market Street. Zeitgeist, the German noun, means the spirit of the time, the general trend of thought or feeling characteristic of a particular period . Culturally, zeitgeist suggests “the general moral, intellectual and cultural climate of an era,” like the Victorians' faith in industrial progress and American settlers' belief in manifest destiny. The zeitgeist of the Zeitgeist Bar and Guesthouse has a rebellious urban edge, as befits a divey tavern, under the shadow of a freeway overpass, whose clientele mostly gets around on two wheels.
Several vehicles adorn one of the walls in the spacious beer garden (“Do not leave your bike here. It will be removed”). The tavern almost revels in being edgy, with kitschy bric a brac and copious signage, including notices about prohibiting videos or pictures next to a mural of pink elephants balancing on a motorcycle.
A certain amount of the attitude is cosmetic – the bartenders are no worse than, say, Toronado’s and the food server pandering for tips is more amusing than menacing. Part is real, though, manifested in a disdain for the proliferation of young “hipsters” who seem to have descended in great numbers upon the Mission and Zeitgeist in particular. (Several of the hipsters apparently are not very hip to craft beer, since there seemed to be as many people sipping PBR, Tecate and Pacifico as there were drinking microbrews.) It's as if the zeitgeist of gritty urban defiance is being undermined and threatened by the indifference of the Blackberry-wielding newcomers.
Some patrons have voiced their umbrage in response to rude treatment. One Yelp critic complained, “The bartenders are all despondent apathetic slugs that think their sh*t is ice cream,” yet concluded, “Just because I give this place one star does not mean you'll have great time, you will, in spite of the bar.” Last year, Esquire voted Zeitgeist one of the best bars in the U.S. This is because Zeitgeist offers excellent beer among its two dozen or so taps; pours a good, clean pint for a decent price; and has a nice, spacious patio where you can enjoy your brew with a good cheeseburger ($5, but don’t forget to tip) or a tamale from the Tamale Lady. They also make a mean Bloody Mary.
Among the brews on tap on a recent visit were a couple of dark beers from Moonlight Brewing Company in Santa Rosa. Although Moonlight’s Death and Taxes California black lager was listed, it wasn’t available. Instead, the bar was pouring Moonlight’s excellent dark lager called Toast and a dark ale that Zeitgeist had dubbed “xxxmas,” a beer I wasn’t familiar with. To clear up the details on the mystery beer, I contacted Moonlight owner and brewer (and just about everything else at the brewery) Brian Hunt, who explained: “Zeitgeist sometimes uses some creative license in naming beers, and last year or before they began calling the Tipple ‘Rated Xmas.’ I think they shortened the name this year and made it more ‘hard core!’"
Hunt described the dark ale (top, with a grilled cheese) as “porterish without going quite that dark. It is aged on wet/dry hops. These are the same hops that were picked at the brewery and put in the aging tanks and filled with Homegrown. The timing works just right so that when the Homegrown is all sold, I refill the tanks with Tipple. There is a resulting freshhop character that makes the dark ale more almost fruity, as opposed to hoppy. It is as if the dark malt flavor masks some of the grassier freshhop notes, and the richer notes are able to surface up with the malt flavors. It was at least three weeks old when first released, likely about five or six weeks old when the last keg went out the week before Christmas.”
He described Toast as a slightly burned strong lager, “an exercise in toasty flavor. I just used all the malts that I felt would make a beer that tasted like Toast. Hops were just minimal enough to round off the dry edges. This beer, however, was a year old. Last year I released two versions: a small amount 3 years old, and the bulk that was 4 weeks old. My intention from now on is to only release it at one year, except for a few extra-old kegs. All aging is in stainless. Both are 6.0% (abv).”
Needless to say, both were delicious and especially excellent sipping in the outdoor patio on a partially gray San Francisco afternoon.
My advice: ignore the attitude, bring a hoodie, buy a burger or tamale and enjoy some great beer.

199 Valencia at Duboce
(415) 255-7505