El Toro: good beer but too much pub grease

Starting from the Bay Area’s microbrew epicenter in San Francisco, abundant beer taps are readily available to the east and to the north, but south of San Francisco is still something of a wasteland for craft beer lovers.
It’s not that people south of the airport aren’t thirsty for good beer. K and L Wine Merchants in Redwood City is doing such a brisk business with its expanded cold beer selection that it might soon become K and L Wine and Beer Merchants; it’s already arguably the best beer store on the Peninsula, with a very helpful beer manager. A few pubs around San Carlos and Redwood City serve good quality lagers and ales (and I’ll review some of them soon), but the options deteriorate significantly the farther south you go. By the time you reach Santa Clara County, buying craft beer usually means making a trip to Costco or BevMo. If you want to drink beer on the premises, you’ll have to settle for a brewpub chain like Gordon Biersch in San Jose or B.J.’s Brewhouse in San Jose and Cupertino.
Geno and Cindy Acevedo observed this vacuum back in 1992 when they conceived of El Toro Brewing. By November 2006, they had converted a former bank in Morgan Hill to the El Toro Brewpub. The brewpub’s 25 taps include an intriguing assortment of beers and handcrafted sodas. Food consists primarily of pub grub – burgers, greasy onion rings, fried food – and pizza from a wood-burning oven. Overall, the beer is more consistent than the food and a few of the brews are downright tasty.

Greasy, fatty food loves hops and pairing a good IPA with a prime rib sandwich and onion rings masks some of the more nefarious characteristics of each. The food tones down the hops a notch while the carbonation and bitterness of the beer cuts through the fat and the grease. A hoppy El Conejo Red IPA (6.7% abv) accomplished this feat admirably. But greasy, fatty food doesn’t make for the most inspired dining experience and smacks of culinary laziness.
El Toro is a good concept in a nice environment and the beer is actually pretty good. The food and service, however, seemed inconsistent for a brewpub that charges $13 for a sandwich. One prime rib sandwich was nicely cooked and tender while another was overcooked, dry and lacking in flavor. Consequently, the two-story building can be cavernously empty – a sure sign that something’s amiss.
El Toro is better in theory than in execution. The beer is good and probably better than most of the options in the area but the food and the service could stand some improvement. The beauty of craft beer is that it pairs well with a variety of foods, so it’s not necessary to cling to the pub grub playbook to create successful pairings. In other words, everything on the menu doesn’t have to be deep-fried. Also, the wood-fired pizza oven seems to take a back seat to the grease when it could be a star.

El Toro should break out of the pub grub box and try something fresh and different. How about a smaller menu using locally sourced, seasonal, fresh ingredients prepared by a chef who knows how to pair good beer with good food? They could even incorporate beer into some of the recipes. If people want lowest common denominator pub grub, they can always go to B.J.’s or Gordon Biersch.
Get as creative with the food as you are with the beer, El Toro. Thirsty South Bay beer drinkers deserve better.

El Toro Brewing Company Brewpub
17605 Monterey Road
Morgan Hill, CA 95037
Hours: Tues. through Sun. from 11:30 a.m. to 12 a.m. - Fri. and Sat. from 11:30 a.m. to 1 a.m.
HAPPY HOUR Tuesday-Thursday 3pm-5pm

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