Thursday, June 12, 2008
back alley, um, abbey
Friends of our went to Back Abbey, the new beer joint in Claremont, on opening night. Not to be outdone -- and loving beer as we do -- K. and I had to try it the next night, which was yesterday.
Upshot: Good food, good service, good decor, bad crowds, bad noise abatement.
Back Abbey is behind the Laemmle theater, facing Oberlin Avenue. It has a very abbeyish (or at least European) feel both inside and out -- exposed beams, wooden ceiling, furniture that is rustic without being full of splinters.
For food, there's a fairly limited menu, most of it focused on mammals. Burgers, sausages, charcuterie, mussels, that sort of thing. There are two or three salads on the menu (which is displayed on a chalk board over the bar), but I didn't even bother reading them; salads go with wine better than beer, and we were there for the beer. (You can put that on my tombstone: I was here for the beer.)
Our pals praised the Abbey Burger and the vegetable burger. I ordered the Italian sausage sandwich, and K. got the bratwurst. Both were delicious, but I have a strong suspicion that we both got the bratwurst, as there was nothing Italian about my sausage. And yeah, we couldn't tell the difference between the two.
And then there's the fries. They are done Belgian style (I'll get to Belgium in a minute), served in a paper cone with three different accompaniments (American ketchup, an aioli-ish sauce, and a yogurt-chive sauce). I liked them very much, but K. was somewhat critical, insisting that they weren't as good as our favorite Belgian fritterij in San Francisco.
So why haven't I mentioned the beer already, huh?
Well, my feelings on the beer are mixed. On the one hand, they have 30 beers on tap (although they were out of a lot of them, and I suspect partial outages will be a feature of the place). On the other hand, there's no beer list, and it's impossible to read the taps from across the room. [As it turns out, the owner has a list to show his friends, but the servers don't have access to it.]
Also, despite or because of having lived in Belgium, I am not a big fan of the Belgian beers. Homebrewers usually cleave to the hops or the malt, and I'm definitely a hops girl -- while Belgium is a malt country. In fact, that was one of many breaths of fresh air we experienced in the Mountain Time Zone: Instead of going wild for Belgian beers the way that LA does, they are all about the Scotch ale.
In the event, K. got and loved a cherry lambic, which tastes to me like a kir royale (and ain't nothin' wrong with that!). K. was accusing me of being grumpy, so I just said "yes" when our server suggested a Maudité. It's much yeastier and maltier than I like, but it went down fine.
Why was I grumpy, you ask?
The place was a ZOO, I'm telling you. Every available seat was taken, every standing space filled, every oxygen molecule converted to CO2. And it was so noisy that K. and I had to shout into one another's ears to be heard. It was like being at club, and I'm not talking some piddly little Jonathan Richman show but a full-on International Noise Conspiracy performance. Without earplugs.
So don't say you haven't been warned. Until the place calms down some AND (not "or") they add some acoustic dampening, I can't recommend it for a fun evening with friends. It would, however, be a great place to take someone you don't really want to talk to.