Kings Row photos by Christie Hemm

Perfect Pairing

Kings Row Gastropub’s fine food and drink feed well off each other

By Dan O'Heron 07/14/2011

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Pub hoppers in Pasadena are discovering a new crawl space with beverages and food so fascinating they’re stopping in their tracks and not moving on.
Called Kings Row, the new gastropub is inviting to both people who indulge in fine beers and those who cultivate the finer points of its marriage with food. “The bar focuses on domestic craft beers and Belgian ales,” but, said Rob Rice, managing partner and culinary director, “as a classic public house, our emphasis is on high quality food.”
I was glad to hear that: The most delicious of beers won’t be enjoyed as much if other elements of the drinking experience fall flat.
Some eight draft beers, two-dozen bottled beers, a dozen large-format bottles of beer, along with 10 suitable wines by the glass and some fancy cocktails, all come from a very attractive main bar layout. It heads up twin dining rooms that are coolly gracious without pretense. In one, a retractable roof keeps the sun at bay when it’s annoying, but extends a patio into the bar/lounge, letting the moon drop in when it’s time. 
The ambiance enhances the night-life expectancy in Old Pasadena of the company being kept: largely young people who know how to act. Looking over the crowd, I thought about Ray Oldenburg’s book, “The Great Third Place,” and some passages that idealized the local pub: “It is the great third place. The first is home. The second is the workplace. The third is the informal gathering place. ... Most people go as individuals, not groups, with the certain knowledge that their friends will be there.”
 But when no friends show, bull sessions with engaging bartenders like Sonny Turco, I’m told, will cheer up any evening.
While I was thinking about drinking a couple of Chimay Tripel White Belgium drafts ($9 each), before ordering food — a true Irishman never eats on an empty stomach — I knew a third glass, with its yeasty sweetness of creamy apricot, would sit well with a spicy bratwurst sausage.
Before committing, I noticed one well-dressed customer was swirling beer around in his mouth like it was wine. This is something I’ve never seen done next door at Freddy’s 35er. But Kings Row, among its ultra-exclusive beers, does serve Budweiser. Partner Rice said he respects the way it’s made and its taste.
Suddenly, shouts of glee from two young women shook me from my musings: In any place where liquor is served, startling outbursts often point to the likelihood something offensive being done in one’s elation. 
To my relief, the women were enthusing over the sight of a dinner being served, which I’d later learn is called a “Shepherd’s Stack.” Standing tall, in the shallows of a red wine beef gravy, are two inch-thick meatloaf patties four inches in diameter. Layered in between, mashed potatoes are lined with asparagus spears and pebbled with fresh corn. But it doesn’t stop there. Crowned with ravels of fried onion rings, the patties are banded in bacon strips. And it isn’t all show. The meatloaf — made from ground veal, beef and pork — is the best I’ve ever tasted. The patties were moist but still firm enough not to crumple under the fork. For $17, two people could dismantle the dish and enjoy a fine dinner.
Another dish that I sampled, “Crack Mac” ($11), should draw some noisy attention. Crusted golden brown, the interior of the pasta sponges is a melted mélange of creamy, nut-like Gouda, rich, sharp Parmesan and white chocolate, plus bacon and a couple of secret ingredients. For a mac and cheese dish, its got what it takes to reach a top shelf.
Many dishes like warm asparagus salad ($11), Alsatian Pizza ($13), and “bubble and squeak” ($9), are enhanced with a Lustenberger Gruyere. Made in Belgian, the cheese is highly prized for both its melting properties and for eating out-of-hand. 
In England and Scotland, the name “bubble and squeak” comes from the sound made when equal parts of mashed potatoes and cooked cabbage are fried until brown, but some critics say it comes from one’s stomach after eating. The Kings Row concoction, which involves fingerling potatoes, asparagus, smoked salmon, bacon, Gruyere and a fried duck egg, claims to turn a mere squeak into a skirl of celebrating bagpipes.
Corn dogs, the likes of which you won’t find in any mall, are made from Kobe beef or merguez sausage ($12 each for dinner). Root beer-corn battered, the local artisan-made merguez lamb link is likely spiked with chilies and mixed with fruity ground sumac berries, per a classic French/North African recipe. During Happy Hour, it goes for $5.
Happy Hour, 4 to 7 p.m. daily, 
10 p.m. until closing Sunday through Wednesday and all day Tuesdays features $3 Modelo and Budweiser drafts. You can get a pint of dry TAPS Irish Red for $5, plus $5 glasses of wine and $4.75 cocktails. Food items include fish and chips for $9. Live bands appear on Fridays and Saturdays, and there’s a prix fixe “County Line” bluegrass brunch with Southern-fired chicken and grass-fed rib-eye steaks.
Many will keep coming here for entertainments in an atmosphere surrounding good company, plus great beers and summer cooling cocktails like a cucumber infused vodka/strawberry cordial. But it’s the “Shepherd’s Stack” that will get me back. n


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