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.


Anonymous said...

I'd just skip the beer place & go see International Noise Conspiracy.
Nothing like a sharp attitude to move sound around a room.
Maybe I'd ask to have a meeting with Norma Torres there.

Brother Seamus said...

I pretty much concur completely with your review, Meg.

The noise in there is deafening and they need some blinds to keep out the sun, but other than that the place is pretty swell.

I think the thing to do is go in the early afternoon or late at night. Next time do try the burger, though--it's super.

Anonymous said...

The sound system in there is not up to the conversation level on these busy opening-week nights. The staff seem very friendly and effective. The beer is delicious!

Anonymous said...

This is a good addition for the I.E. My only gripe is the place is very expensive. The food was good, actually very good, but I doubt I'll eat it again. $13 for a burger (where I could have ate 2) is just too expensive. For the food, they need to cut the price in half by least. For the beer, it's geared toward the beer snob which is much the trend these days. But, you can find the same beer, albiet you have to drive to LA/OC, for a few dollars cheaper a pour.

Also, i agree with the second comment. They need some blinds. I thought my back was going to catch fire when there. Some simple privacy blinds, well anything, would do to block that heat if you are sitting anywhere near the entrance door area.

Overall, nice, but small and expensive.

Anonymous said...

actually, that maudite label you are showing is canadian, NOT belgian...

meg said...

Oof, how embarrassing! Apologies for the lazy image search...

Anonymous said...

Let's talk about the food. The burger is definatly WORTH $13! You'll pay just as much at any gourmet burger place, and I spoke with the chef and she told me that ALL of the sauces are made on site. There are no microwaves and no freezers. Everything is fresh as you can get. Produce is organic as well as the bacon and beef!! I think she even said that the meat is fresh ground dry aged sirloin! WOW! "Everything is fresh everyday" She seemed rather prideful that the only sauces they purchase is their ketchup and mustard! "Every salad dressing is made from scratch as well as the soups and sauces." Complain about the price if you're ignorant. Knowing that there is not a microwave or freezer on site is huge!! See if Red Robin or Johnny Rockets uses fresh, homemade sauces. Oh and I promise they microwave your food and pour their soup from a bag!

Anonymous said...

Did I read the last post right....this beer joint has a "chef" who makes the burgers and the "sauces". Please. In Claremont everything seems to cost more when you figure in the "Pompous phoney baloney" factor. $13 for a hamburger is absurd and hiring a "chef" to flip a burger is ridiculous. This place needs to get over itself and invest in a real roof because that tin roof makes the sound level in there deafening.