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RESTAURANT REVIEW : Where to Stop-and-Quaff in Pasadena

My critics say I’ll write about any brew pub that opens. Lies, typical election-year lies. Let me set the record straight: This is only the third brew pub I’ve written about, and the fact that it also happens to be the third beer-brewing bar/restaurant to open in these parts is coincidence, sheer coincidence.

As it happens, the Crown City Brewery is interesting on its own merits because it looks like somebody’s vision of paradise. One side of the room is dominated by nearly a full wall of beer bottles from around the world and the other by a stand of huge, gleaming copper brew kettles. Three big-screen TVs are constantly tuned to sports channels.

The beer list covers at least a hundred brews, including nearly a dozen (mostly English) on tap and the bottled product of most of the new American “boutique breweries,” to say nothing of Crown City’s own Pasadena brews. Its own product, incidentally, is pretty good in the old-fashioned quaffing style with creamy rather than sharp carbonation and relatively low alcohol. In order of increasing sweetness the available brews are likely to be wheat beer, rather hoppy pale ale, faintly sweet stout and dark porter. Needless to say, they all have a decidedly fresh flavor.

The food, served on a dining level that looks out over the bar, is eclectic and undemanding but better than it needs to be. Among the appetizers the calamari are surprisingly OK, very crisply breaded with a dipping sauce like eggless mayonnaise spiked with wholeseed mustard and horseradish. There’s a chili that looks like one of those dull, watery chili-contest losers made of hamburger meat and tomato sauce, but in fact it’s quite good, with a snappy, smoky flavor that must come from chipotle peppers.

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In fact a lot of things here are rather smoky. There are barbecue sandwiches (pork, beef, turkey) that come in a toasted bun with a particularly good barbecue sauce of the mild and sweet persuasion, together with rough-cut fries and a pasta salad with herbs and olive oil on the side. The best of the entrees is probably the smoked tenderloin of beef, a beefsteak that was apparently smoked--very thoroughly smoked--at some point in its life; it’s like a steak turning into a smoky sausage.

The smokiness doesn’t end there. The quesadilla can have smoked chicken in it, and the most spectacular appetizer, a sort of international pizza made with Armenian cracker bread and havarti cheese, can come with optional bacon. The bacon is thick and smoky, and one night one of the special entrees was a steak wrapped in the stuff.

Sauces, however, are not a strong point at Crown City. I’ve had an excellent fish called papua with light, almost puffy flesh, but it came with a rather insipid avocado butter sauce. I’m not wild about some of the sauces that taste like mayonnaise or hollandaise without eggs, either, such as the one that accompanied the bacon-wrapped steak. The decent if sloppy burger has the traditional Secret Sauce.

You might not go to a bar for the desserts, but Crown City has pretty good cheesecakes. They tend to be tart and definitely cheesey, and sometimes there’s one that’s addictively depth-charged with chocolate brownies. On the other hand, I’ve also had a so-called blueberry tart that was two thin pieces of sponge cake placed inside a blueberry cheesecake, rather a mess.

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Mark my words. This is the last brew pup I review for . . . well, I reserve the right to decide how long it is until I review another.

Crown City Brewery, 300 S. Raymond Ave., Pasadena; (818) 577-5548. Open for lunch and dinner Monday through Saturday. Beer and wine. Parking lot. MasterCard and Visa accepted. Dinner for two, food only, $19 to $45.


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