First Street Ale House helps revitalize downtown Livermore

Beer drinkers in the Bay Area are spoiled. Wherever the discerning beer drinker looks there’s great beer from the immediate vicinity, as well as from all over California, the Northwest and Europe. The farther from the Bay Area beer epicenter you get, the harder you have to work to find great beer. It’s there, though; you just have to know where to find it.
Perry’s Liquors in Livermore is a good example, with wall-to-wall cold cases of some of the best beer you’ll find anywhere in the Golden State. Not far from Perry’s is First Street Ale House, which not long ago moved from a cramped pub space to more spacious surroundings next door in what had been a furniture store. The transition also seems to have marked a subtle change in emphasis. More room means that First Street Ale House is less of a “divey” pub and more of a family restaurant, although the pub still pours some very good beer from a couple of dozen taps. The transition seems to have been successful, and the high-ceilinged, bright, casual First Street Ale House has become a very popular hot spot in rejuvenated downtown Livermore.
First Street Ale House checks all the right boxes for this type of pub:
• Kid-friendly, check
• Plenty of TVs for watching sports, check
• Good beers on tap, check
• Friendly servers, check
• Decent burgers and pub food, check
It might seem a bit formulaic, but it’s a formula that has proved popular in many pub/restaurants, especially in the suburbs.

On a recent visit, I matched a sandwich piled high with pork carnitas, grilled onions and cheese, and crispy fries with a timeless classic, the lovely Paulener Hefeweizen, which isn’t on tap as often as it should be. Cloudy and subtly spicy, the lively, yeasty Paulener Hefeweizen wheat beer is assertive enough to stand up to Mexican-style food but without the bitter hops that might be overly jarring. Even if the carnitas had been a little spicier (as they should have been), the Paulener would have stood up well. Other good hefes include Weihenstaphener Heffeweissbeer, Hacker-Pschorr Heffe Weisse, Schneider Weisse, Ayinger Brau Weisse, Sierra Nevada Kellerweis and the ubiquitous Franziskaner Hefe-Weisse. A lot of places will serve refreshing, low alcohol, warm-weather hefes with a slice of lemon, which I don’t think adds a whole lot to the beer. Have it on the side and you can taste it both ways.
It’s a testimony to the conviviality of good beer that First Street Ale House has become an integral part of revitalized downtown Livermore and a local hot spot.

First Street Ale House
2086 1st St
(between K St & L St)
Livermore, CA 94550
(925) 371-6588

Sun-Wed: 11:00 AM – 11:30 PM
Thurs-Sat: 11:00 AM – Midnight
Kitchen closes a half an hour before restaurant closing

Perry’s Liquors
1522 Railroad Ave
Livermore, CA 94550
(925) 443-0550

Downtown Oakland leads the soul revolution with beer and vegan BBQ

In just a few months, Beer Revolution has become an essential East Bay beer destination. It’s also a place where Bay Area brewers show up to show off their beer. Last week’s featured brewer was Steve Altimari of Valley Brewing in Stockton. Valley makes a wide range of tasty beers, including a hoppy IPA and a very hoppy Uberhoppy. Valley’s London Tavern Ale, a 4.8% abv English-style mild ale, won the silver medal at this year’s World Beer Cup. Altimari, pictured with Arne Johnson of Marin Brewing, also brews some delicious strong beer, and Beer Revolution recently featured Valley’s Decadent Darkness, a potent (over 10% abv) blend of Valley’s barrel aged Imperial Stout, Old Inventory Barley Wine and its standard Black Cat Foreign Stout. As an extra treat, Altimari brought a big bottle filled with his Effin Guud, which he described as a 4-year-old American strong ale.
The potent beers featured at Beer Revolution would overwhelm a lot of foods. Fortunately, the vegan soul food at Souley Vegan, located right next door, has the toothsome substance to hold its own. Although you won’t find any meat on Souley’s menu, you probably won’t miss it when you tuck into the BBQ tofu and creamy mac ‘n cheese (pictured), red beans and rice, and fried okra.
The serious beer-drinking countries in Europe have been matching beer with food for centuries. Mussels and frites with Belgian ale, lagers with schnitzel, and fish and chips with English ale are classic combinations. American beer is based on European beer styles, but American brewers put their own twist on traditional recipes to create unique brews, some of which defy easy categorization. A lot of those experiments are being brewed right here in the Bay Area.
At the same time, the Bay Area is in the midst of a culinary revolution that integrates influences from a variety of cultures – Latin American, Middle Eastern and Asian – as well as classic American dishes like barbecue. The 21st century American culinary insurrection is on full display at 3rd and Broadway, where Souley Vegan and Beer Revolution intersect. You can have a lot of fun matching Souley Vegan’s brightly flavored soul food with American beers like Valley’s Decadent Darkness and Effin Guud, and the 30th anniversary collaboration stout between Ken Grossman of Sierra Nevada and Fritz Maytag of Anchor Brewing. Rich, opaque, potent brews are a delicious match with the darkly sweet richness of Souley Vegan’s BBQ tofu and accentuate the cheesiness of its mac ‘n cheese.
With all due respect to Tea Party activists nostalgic for the bygone era of the revered founding fathers, the real revolution is in looking forward and embracing what America can become rather than yearning for what it was when knee breeches and tricorner hats were in style. Beer Revolution and Souley Vegan are at the forefront of our current culinary insurgency, matching American beer with American food. To my mind, enjoying American craft beer and soul food on the sunny patio at Beer Revolution is a more patriotic and infinitely more enjoyable way to honor our country’s history over the Memorial Day weekend than reliving the Boston Tea Party.

Souley Vegan
301 Broadway
(at 3rd St)
Oakland, CA 94607
Neighborhood: Jack London Square
(510) 922-1615

Beer Revolution
464 3rd Street
(between Washington St & Broadway)
Oakland, CA 94607
Neighborhood: Jack London Square
(510) 452-2337

Valley Brewing
157 W Adams St
Stockton, CA 95204
(209) 464-2739

Cameron's brings a taste of England to the coastside

The San Mateo coastside has long been a haven for quirky iconoclasts not easily intimidated or influenced by convention. Prohibition brought out the bootleggers in the 1920s, when high-speed motorboats and skiffs would fetch cases of liquor from Canadian rumrunners waiting three miles offshore. They’d sequester their booty of 100-proof Canadian Club in basement hiding places for distribution in San Francisco.
Many years later, Pete Douglas christened his El Granada beach house The Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society, following a particularly raucous and explosive celebration at the beach. Douglas’ beach house now hosts intimate concerts featuring outstanding musicians on Sunday afternoons. More recently, the best-known expression of coastside personality has been the big wave surfing competition at Mavericks at Pillar Point, where swells as tall as four-story buildings threaten to crush wave-skimming specks propelled by a heady blend of moxie and ability, mingled with a tinge of madness.
Cameron’s Restaurant and Inn, a British-style pub in Half Moon Bay, fits right in. You know you’ve found owner Cameron Palmer’s somewhat daft tribute to the sceptered isle when you spot a red double-decker bus parked in a lot on the ocean side of Highway 1 in Half Moon Bay.

After you walk past the stocks (fortunately not in working order) and the red telephone box (no Doctor Who in sight), you find yourself inside a suitably dark and divey pub. Once your eyes adjust to the dim light, the owner’s whimsical sense of kitschy style becomes even more apparent. Decades before beer marketers got wise to a house built of Bud Lite tins, the 10-year-old Cameron Palmer had embarked upon his life’s quest of collecting all the cool beer cans he could find. The fruit of his labor –banished from the bedroom for the sake of domestic harmony – comprises a considerable portion of the pub’s wall space. (The publican has thoughtfully left a bit of shelf room for new contributions if they pass muster.)
Cameron’s seems determined to provide something for everybody. Several televisions scattered around the pub make it a suitable sports bar, and for more energetic patrons, a game room features shuffleboard, darts, foosball and pinball. A faux fireplace imparts the illusion of warmth. The establishment also functions as a general store for Brits, expats and anglophiles yearning for such English delicacies as HP Sauce and Marmite; Heinz canned goods (salad cream, baked beans, cucumber sandwich spread and puddings); marrowfat processed peas; Pataks sauces and pastes; and Sharwoods papadoms.
The “inn” part of the “Cameron’s Restaurant and Inn” equation refers to three “bed and beverage” rooms located above the pub and restaurant.
The fun continues outside, starting with the two buses. One is for kids to idle away their time while the adults indulge themselves in the pub; the other caters to smokers. “The World’s Only Double Decker Smoking Bus” is Palmer’s rejoinder to the county’s ban on smoking in restaurants and bars, and takes advantage of the statutory loophole that makes parking lots and vehicles fair game for lighting up a stogie or a fag. Drinkers are free to carry their pints aboard the stationary bus as they satisfy their craving for nicotine with their drinks. Just a few yards away is “Cameron’s Park,” a spacious beer garden, complete with a stage and a volleyball court, suitable for private parties. (It could stand a little sprucing up for summer.)
As befits an English-style public house, Cameron’s devotes several taps to British brews like Fullers, Newcastle and Bass, as well as some standout American versions of iconic British ale styles, including Bear Republic’s Racer 5 IPA and Deschutes Mirror Pond American Pale Ale and Obsidian Stout (a nice alternative to Boddington’s or Guinness). The menu tilts toward standard pub grub, with some predictable British touches: fish and chips, bangers and mash, Scottish beef pie, burgers, chili and the occasional special, like baby back ribs (pictured): half a slab of juicy pork ribs with coleslaw, chili, garlic bread and a little extra earthy barbecue sauce on the side (a bargain at $9.95).
Enjoying a pint of English ale with somewhat greasy food is a time-honored pub tradition, and Cameron’s certainly accommodates that course of least resistance. But Cameron’s also has the makings to support more transcultural fare. Pairing pork ribs with the Obsidian Stout, for instance, subtly exposes a palate-pleasing link between a quintessential British beer style and classic American soul food. The slightly burnt caramelized flavors of the toasty, pitch-black stout adroitly balance the earthy sweetness of the barbecue sauce and the smokiness of the meat. It’s the culinary equivalent of the Rolling Stones meeting Howlin’ Wolf.
Cameron’s has a lot going for it, not the least a quixotic publican eager to playfully integrate aspects of British culture into his coastside restaurant. But why stop with traditional British pub grub pairings when with a little more imagination Cameron’s could take advantage of the local culinary bounty and explore fresh combinations? Instead of adhering to the same old beer/food playbook, Cameron’s could advance it.
At the same time, Cameron’s beer should reflect the British tradition of naturally fermented brews hand-pumped from a cask, which has been enjoying a revival in England and the U.S. The British Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) has been advocating a return to cask ales as an alternative to mass-produced lagers since the 1970s. Several brewpubs and pubs in the Bay Area have also taken up the real ale gauntlet, including Magnolia, which brewed a cask-conditioned English bitter for the new Public House at AT&T Park; the Toronado on Haight; and Thirsty Bear in San Francisco, to name a few. Cameron’s, which bills itself as an English-style pub, also belongs on that list.
Cameron’s has a rare opportunity to bring together some of the best of both worlds, and with a little minor tinkering it could become an even better destination for coastside locals and seaside visitors. Half Moon Bay might not be Brighton or the Isle of Wight, but as you sip a cup of Tetley’s Tea or a pint of Bass Pale Ale at Cameron’s, you might find yourself musing about British seaside resorts.

Cameron’s Restaurant & Inn
1410 S Cabrillo Hwy
Half Moon Bay, CA 94019
(650) 726-5705

Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society
311 Mirada Rd
Half Moon Bay, CA 94019
(650) 726-4143

Gourmet Haus: German beer and hearty fare on the Peninsula

Gourmet Haus Staudt, a chummy, innocuous pub in Redwood City, has received a considerable amount of attention lately, and it hasn’t been for its outstanding selection of German lagers on tap or the homey food that’s on the menu at the end of the week.
In mid-March, an Apple employee, perhaps unaccustomed to the potency of German beer, misplaced a next-generation prototype iPhone at the bar while celebrating his 27th birthday. Weeks later, the test model turned up at technology site Gizmodo, generating a great deal of consternation at Citadel Apple. Gizmodo had paid $5,000 to the guy who ended up with the phone after the Apple engineer left it on a bar stool at Gourmet Haus.
“There was no doubt about it. It was the real thing, so we started to work on documenting it before returning it to Apple,” Gizmodo wrote on its site. At the behest of an apparently apoplectic Apple, police turned up with search warrants at the homes of the Gizmodo editor who had written about the top secret device and the guy who found it, confiscating computers.
Newsmedian Jon Stewart called out Apple, bemoaning that the erstwhile revolutionary company that had once challenged the establishment had itself become “the man,” or as The Daily Show put it, “Appholes.” Stewart shouldn’t have been surprised; Apple has been more paranoid than a roomful of tweakers for quite a while now.*

Unexpected notoriety aside, “Gourmet Haus Staudt: a German Beer Garden” deserves more attention not only from beer lovers on the beer-parched Peninsula, but from aficionados of German beer from all over. Tucked behind a Bavarian gift/bottle shop and deli, the small pub sports some of the best German beer taps in the Bay Area. Gourmet Haus recently featured lagers such as Innstadt Edelsud, Hofbrau Maibock, Konig Pils, Kostritzer Schwarzbier, Spaten Bock and Optimator, Aktien Hell and Bischofhof 1649, as well as the potent Belgian ale Klokke Roeland, the sublime Weheinstaphener Vitus weizenbock and Valley Brewing IPA, for West Coast hop heads. The constantly rotating taps are a testament to the taste of the pub’s beer-loving owner, Volker Staudt.

Volker took over the business from his parents, who nonetheless continue to help prepare the food that’s available Wednesday through Saturday. A recent Saturday brunch featured a hearty Jagerschnitzel -- breaded veal cutlet and mushroom gravy -- with mashed potatoes. Also on the menu were some brats, sandwiches, hotdogs and big, soft pretzels.
The hunter’s schnitzel called for a beer that could stand up to the richness of the brown gravy, like the malty Kostritzer Schwarzbier, a lager that’s dark in appearance yet surprisingly light in flavor. Germans have been enjoying such combinations for nearly 500 years; the first documented mention of Kostritzer Schwarzbier dates back to 1543. Light-colored pilsners didn’t appear until some 300 years later. (Gourmet Haus lists The German Beer Institute's site for more information about everything beer in Germany.)

Gourmet Haus’s food would best be described as hearty and filling rather than gourmet. The schnitzel could have been pounded thinner and the bread crumbs fried a little crispier, for example. But the brown gravy gave the dish a rustic flavor that the Schwarzbier balanced admirably. On a Saturday afternoon, Gourmet Haus is a family-style restaurant with a sun-splashed patio where you can take your 10-year-old for a bite after a soccer game or your parents or grandparents for a simple meal. When food isn’t on offer, Gourmet Haus is a pub: same great beer but without the food.
The gift shop is also worth more than a cursory glance as you enter and leave the pub, not only for its jaunty Bavarian-style hats and HB Munchen Das Boot beer glass, but for its extensive selection of excellent German beers.

*Regardless of how Apple and Gizmodo work out their dispute, the $5,000-richer guy who left the pub with the phone might be guilty of violating an unwritten code of pub ethics.

Among the rules: ladies sit first; don’t talk on your cell phone in a pub; tip your server; if there’s a coaster atop a glass, leave it alone; and if you find something unattended at the bar and cannot immediately find its owner, turn it over to the bartender.

Gourmet Haus Staudt Gifts & Cafe
2615 Broadway St
Redwood City, CA 94063
(650) 364-9232

Store hours:
Monday-Friday: 10 a.m.-6 p.m.

Saturday: 9 a.m.-5 p.m.

Beer garden hours
Monday and Tuesday: 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m.
Wednesday-Saturday: 10 a.m.-10 p.m.

11 a.m.-2 p.m.

5-8 p.m.