By Frank Sabatini Jr.
If there is one commonality between Bankers Hill and North Park, it’s that the former embraces a serious beer bar.
The Corner Drafthouse, which sits at the prime intersection of Fifth Avenue and Laurel Street, rivals North Park’s most popular watering holes in terms of the number of craft drafts it offers — more than what you’ll find at Toronado, Waypoint Public, Beerfish and the like.
With 70 taps in all, beer aficionados can loll over brews in an urban setting that feels less rambunctious and a little more gentrified in comparison.
This isn’t to suggest the place is stuffy. It isn’t. But if you’re traversing between Downtown, Hillcrest and the airport while hankering for a creamy stout on nitro, and perhaps a flame-broiled burger or blackened mahi sandwich in a smartly designed space, The Corner Drafthouse has you conveniently covered.
The L-shaped layout features a large bar, multiple indoor-outdoor seating areas, natural textures and windows that look out to these tidy streets. Yes, there is Edison-style lighting, but it doesn’t send the design into a generic abyss.
In a visit shortly after the establishment opened three years ago, I drank a lot and ate a little. House-made beer cheese served with pretzel bites, I recall, proved a delicious stabilizer to my enthusiastic beer intake. This time around, a friend and I delved into both the lunch and brunch menus on a Sunday afternoon, and washed down our chow with a customized beer flight.
Guests can choose as many 4-ounce tasters as they prefer from the entire beer selection, which hails 100% from California breweries. They cost $3 apiece. We chose four.
Among them was a stunning blonde coffee stout by North Brewing Company. We would have never guessed from its light-gold color that the alluring flavor of coffee, as though milk and a touch of sugar were mixed in, would be so evident.
A dark porter on nitro, also by North Brewing, was semi-bitter and less creamy while a couple of blonde ales by Latitude 33 and Harland breweries were the kind of light and refreshing beers you could drink all day at a pool party.
Executive chef Ruben Zamarripa oversees lunch, brunch and dinner menus featuring dishes that are a few cuts above the food you’d find at a corner bar. It more resembles the fare seen at modern gastropubs.
For example, he does wonders with chicken drumettes by frenching the meat so that the exposed bone in each serves as a petite handle—thus the name “chicken lollipops.” We chose Buffalo-style sauce, which met my native Buffalo, New York standards, as did the robust house-made bleu cheese dipping sauce served alongside.
A hefty Reuben sandwich on marble rye sourced from locally based St. Tropez Baking & Beyond came with an appealing twist. Zamarripa gives the house-roasted corned beef a faint brown-sugar glaze, which results in a hint of sweetness that plays into the sauerkraut and Thousand Island-type sauce inside the sandwich.
A few different flame-broiled burgers are in the offing. We chose the basic “Drafthouse” burger with cheddar, lettuce, tomato, raw onions and “secret sauce.” It completely sated the burger craving I had for weeks.
As for the french fries that came with it, we became quickly obsessed. The medium-cut spuds receive a light dusting of corn starch, which imparts a thin veneer of crispiness that doesn’t fade even after the fries cool down. For dipping, we asked for a side of house-made ranch dressing, which was excellent.
As if our meal couldn’t get any naughtier, we turned to the brunch menu that was still in effect and ordered the chef’s latest creation for dessert — bananas Foster French toast.
Beer suddenly becomes a footnote in the face of puffy egg-battered bread slices drenched in buttery bacon-rum syrup and topped with candied pecans and whipped cream. It was as though a sugar angel descended on our table and said, “Put down the beer and come with me.”
We basically did while forgetting for a moment that we were in one of Uptown’s finest tap houses.
— Frank Sabatini Jr. is the author of ‘Secret San Diego’ (ECW Press) and began his local writing career more than two decades ago as a staffer for the former San Diego Tribune. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.