We are, I think, living in the golden age of beer in Los Angeles, an era when nearly any malty craving, no matter how recondite, can be satisfied. Are you partial to monk-made Trappist ales? In some parts of town they are easier to find than Miller Lite. Are you fond of bitter, obscure California IPAs? A snap. Is there that one beer you had in Berlin that time, which was slightly funky-tasting until the bartender poured raspberry syrup onto it, which seemed disgusting at the time but kind of wasn't? Not a problem. Would you like it in a bottle, or on draft? Hopheads, and they are legion, lurk among us, unseen and unnoticed, save for the faint whiff of malted barley that they wear like a favorite scarf.
Because as much as we would prefer to believe otherwise — at least those of us more interested in kitchens than in kegs — the gastropub thing has always been less about cured meats and goat cheese than about imperial stout, and no matter how fine an array of fried pig's ear, roast beets and organic butter lettuce with shaved asparagus may be on hand, or even a Father's Office cheeseburger, it is secondary to the noble produce of the taps.
Which brings us, I think, to Steingarten, the newest gastropub in L.A., a beer hall on a dry cleaner–intensive strip of Pico near Rancho Park, a dark-wood temple of hops in a big, clean space that used to house the restaurant Kay and Dave's.
Why is there a skylight? The better to admire the gleaming row of taps. There are long, wooden tables, a long bar and a quiet patio that fills up even when the rest of the restaurant is empty.
Why is there a bottle menu when everybody seems to be drinking draft beer? To display the kind of rarities and curiosities that make beer geeks swoon.
Open from lunch through dinner, pleasant for children, open very late on weekends, Steingarten is the kind of neighborhood bar that every neighborhood needs.
The first time I dropped into the restaurant, the patio seemed like a fine place to spend an afternoon: sunny but not too much, alive with the sound of burbling water, and relaxed, verging on sleepy. There were very good pretzels — warm, crackly, soft — served with hot mustard, pulled-pork sliders that tasted like pulled pork, and a Caesar salad that was of the pleasantly garlicky school rather than the animalistic anchovy bomb I prefer, but not bad.
I had a sandwich made with a dry, whitetail deer salami that tasted like the stuff Hickory Farms used to sell down at the mall, but was just fine on its slices of baguette. I had an IPA and a cold, sweet glass of Belgian ale. Conversation was good. There was a kind of cornmeal Hot Pocket stuffed with duck confit, and a big plate of what apple strudel would look like if it came in a flat pack from Ikea. Dusk came too soon.
Like most beer halls — or, more to the point, like Wurstküche downtown — Steingarten has a strong specialty in grilled sausages, the bratwurst and bockwurst and spicy Polish that ease down a strong, hoppy brew. Some of the odd sausages work — the duck and bacon is nice, and so is the wild boar — and others, like the mushy salmon sausage, do not. The lamb sausage, sort of a take on a merguez, is crisp-skinned and delicious; the bland Italian and dry rabbit sausages are beyond the abilities of even a high-alcohol barleywine to fix.
You can get three sausages to a platter if you want to share them with the table, or one in a bun if that's the way you roll. There are sauteed peppers with onions, a rather tart sauerkraut or sweet caramelized onions; sweet-potato fries or fries dusted with parmesan cheese; German potato salad or red cabbage slaw. As is standard at L.A. gastropubs, there is a maximalist burger, a half-pound of grass-fed beef on a big, soft bun, sluiced with things like charred tomatoes, caramelized onion and Brie.
Have a burger. But know that Steingarten exists mostly as a conduit between humanity and beer, at least to that slice of humanity for whom Pint Night exists as more than a concept, the people who become excited rather than terrified when they see the words Experimental Raspberry on a beer list.
Was I happy to fall into the restaurant on a night when the taps were taken over by New Belgium Brewing Company, to have the opportunity to taste rare and wondrous beverages called things like Ranger, Super Cru and Le Terroir? I was. But I'm not sure I was super-stoked to try the red, sour beer that tasted like the wringings of wet baby diapers. Even with an elk sausage in front of me, I have my limitations.
STEINGARTEN | 10543 W. Pico Blvd., West Los Angeles | (310) 441-0441 | steingartenla.com | Open Mon.-Wed., noon to 11 p.m.; Thurs., noon to mid.; Fri.-Sat., noon to 1 a.m.; Sun., noon to 10 p.m. | AE, MC, V | Full bar | Street parking | Small bites and salads, $9-$11; sausages, $6.50-$7.50; burgers and sandwiches, $11-$15.