Head for Haven
Food and beverage aficionados gladly take shelter at Old Pasadena’s Haven Gastropub
By Erica Wayne 03/04/2014
Haven Gastropub has been in its Old Pasadena home for just more than two years. Its sister restaurant in Old Towne Orange is nearing 5 years old. Both are roaring successes, and it’s not difficult to see why once you’ve experienced their food, drink and ambiance.
Haven’s Web site details executive chef Greg Daniels’ career. A 2005 graduate of Pasadena’s California School of Culinary Arts, he honed his skills further at Pascal in Newport Beach and Napa Rose in Anaheim before meeting up with Wil Dee, who was working on the Haven concept of combining first class alcoholic beverages with exceptional gourmet cuisine.
Lucky for us he stayed local since, according to the site, “at the newest Haven outpost, Daniels continues to create dishes that push the boundaries of what is commonly known as pub food, making sure it pairs perfectly with the restaurant’s wide selection of craft beers and cocktails.”
We and another couple visited the Pasadena Haven a week ago and were pretty overwhelmed. Ordinarily, we would have ordered a la carte and selected one or two beers from the bazillion available (actually 40 on tap and 55 in varying sized bottles). But I had a Travelzoo coupon for a four-course dinner for four that predetermined our choices.
Our server (Ryan) did yeoman’s duty explaining the coupon’s requirements. First, we were entitled to flights of wine or four of the six Haven-brewed beers. The wine list is excellent, but we preferred to try the local brews: Rye Over Spilled Milk, Haven Blond Ale, Simcoded, Hops Inc, Dream of Wheat and El Barista Rojo (a coffee infused red ale). Among the four of us, we tried — and enjoyed — them all.
Once the beers had been selected, we each had to pick an appetizer from 21 items listed under Snacks, Soup, Meat and Cheese, Oven to Table, Ruffage, Vegetables, and Flatbread, many of which could serve as a complete meal, and all of which we wanted to share.
The menu featured beer-marinated pork-belly meatballs ($9), smoked baby back ribs with Dr. Pepper barbecue sauce ($9), and flatbread with roasted garlic and Parmesan puree, rapini, bacon, fontina, arugula, fennel and lemon ($13). There were also Brussels sprouts with prosciutto and lemon juice ($9), charcuterie ($10) or cheese ($12) plates with appropriate “accoutrements,” and arugula salad with persimmons, toasted pecans, pecorino and white balsamic vinaigrette ($7). Even with a quartet of diners, protracted negotiations had to be held.
We finally settled on mac n’ cheese with black truffles, gruyere, fontina and Parmesan ($10); shepherd’s pie with lamb, beef, root vegetables, cream, rosemary mashed potatoes and cheese ($14); deviled eggs with smoked Serrano powder, house bacon, house pickles and smoked salt ($6); and beet salad (roasted and raw golden and red) with burrata, mixed greens, toasted hazelnuts and honey thyme vinaigrette ($8).
Then it was on to (thank goodness only 10) Land and Sea and Burger Haven entrée categories. We tried jumbo prawns wrapped in applewood-smoked bacon with cheddar cheese grits, rustic tomato salsa and cilantro oil ($18). There was also beer grain gnocchi with duck confit, butternut squash puree, kale, pomegranate and maple brown butter ($12). And, after a long debate about the pulled pork on jalapeno bun with chipotle aioli and warm cabbage-apple slaw ($12), two irresistible McCormick Alley burgers ($10), named for the pathway north of the restaurant. The burger came with butter lettuce, 2-year aged cheddar and apricot-bacon-stout jam.
Finally and decidedly unnecessary: Sweets. There were cookies and milk ($12), housemade doughnuts with Jameson caramel and dark chocolate dipping sauces ($12), brioche bread pudding with bourbon ice cream ($9), and a nutella malt ball shake ($6). OMG – TDF!
So far, all I’ve done is list what we ate without any critique. But, our consensus was that absolutely nothing was less than excellent from first sip of signature brews to the last slurp of the milkshake. Flavors and textures were interesting and complex but harmonious (even the unexpected cheese topping on our shepherd’s pie). And small items, such as the clove-scented paper-thin pickle slices under the eggs, deserve special mention.
Portions were more than generous (except, perhaps, for the three miniature doughnut puffs). Our two-inch-high burgers came medium rare as specified, and each course arrived with perfect timing. Ryan stopped by several times to ask how everything was and to let us know he was in no hurry to rush us through our meal.
As for the setting, the huge horseshoe bar that winds its way around the central part of the mammoth front dining area is a welcoming place to sit and schmooze with the bartenders, watch the flat-screen TVs and admire the dazzling array of spirits. Surrounding it along the lateral walls are supremely comfortable and spacious booths.
The equally huge back room, separated from the front by four enormous metal brewing vats, is reserved for more tables and booths, with a view to the open kitchen along the south wall. Even though the general lighting in the wood and brick-clad structure is low, menus and platters can be easily seen because of the dependant fixtures over each table. And the instrumental rock background music is kept low enough to allow conversation to occur unimpeded.
In short, we had a stellar experience at Haven. Happy Hour is from 3 to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. Tuesday is “local” night when Pasadena-area residents get a 15 percent break on their bill, and Thursday is half-off whiskey day — a great time to splurge on those prestige bourbons, scotches and ryes you’ve wanted to try. But even if none of these discounts is available, prices are moderate, choices are mind-boggling and the atmosphere and service are welcoming.
Head for Haven ASAP! A great time is almost guaranteed.