Day Two – South Park, North Park, and Kenny?
Recharged yet from the sun and suds yesterday? Buckle up Bernie, you’re about to feel the bern today. If you thought yesterday was intense, you may want to stay in bed today. If not, you have earned a place on the continuation of this epic voyage through beer.
Today we hit up South Park and North Park, a three mile or so stretch of beer heaven to the east of the huge Balboa Park, where the zoo is located. You may not have time today with all of the beer, but you should definitely make time to visit this zoo, one of the most famous in the country, and one of the oldest. It’s immense, so be prepared for a lot of walking, or take advantage of the free buses and shuttles. Don’t miss the famous panda bears. They apparently hate Mondays as much as Garfield.
Pacing yourself is important, as is properly fueling up, just like a marathon. You don’t want to start too fast or you’ll fall apart at mile 18. Trust me, I know. Today’s Clif Bar (this metaphor is stretching more than Joan Rivers’ face) is some pre-exercise caffeine and nutrition in the form of coffee and donuts again.
It begins at Nomad Donuts, similar to Devil’s Dozen except these bad boys are your slightly tangier variety. The flavors are also a bit more out there with ones like custard thai peanut butter and candied ginger and bacon. As a huge fan of Elvis’s eating habits, I prefer the peanut butter and banana, but everything here is excellent.
Nomad essentially marks the northernmost point of our adventures along North Park. A bit to the south is Dark Horse coffee, a small space, but imposing presence in the coffee scene of San Diego. They make an amazing nitro cold brew that is not to be missed. If beard length is an indicator of good coffee, I give this place a ZZ Top rating. They even have large doors open in the day, so it sort of counts as being outside.
For a more leisurely breakfast that may even stretch into lunch, or what the kids these days are calling brunch, head over to Great Maple, an exquisite brunch spot for some reason next to the DMV. A wait for a table on the awesome shaded patio can stretch to DMV lengths later in the day, but we planned to get in early, didn’t we? The beer scene isn’t much here, so go for one of the awesome bloody marys instead. I suggest the one armed mary which comes with an enormous octopus tentacle on the side.
The drink is tasty as well. Dishes are incredible here; I love the scrambles which are a bit more restrained size-wize than other dishes. Everything here is great, especially under the palm trees outside. Remember, even standing inside waiting for a table counts as wasted outdoor time.
At this point you may be thinking, when do we get to the beer today? Well it’s your lucky day, because that time is now. Also, did you really not read this until you were actually following the schedule? That seems like terrible planning. Shame on you. What if I waited until the end to tell you this was all fake and none of these places existed and you’re now actually in Wisconsin? Wouldn’t you feel silly. Side-note: according to the director of Love Actually, Wisconsin is the funniest state. Do you agree? I thought maybe New Hampshire.
Even though you are a terrible planner, I’m going to proceed. Next up is South Park Brewing. No they don’t kill Kenny here, they just brew some good beer. As is the case pretty much everywhere on the West Coast, you’ll find a ton of hoppy IPAs on the menu, though there are a few good options with sub-70 IBU as well.
The eponymous IPA is a pretty tasty one, and if you are like me (except a terrible planner), you may find all this sun has given you a taste for hops. The saison was also excellent.
But for your first time here, the flight is definitely the best way to go. Since the menu is only 8 or so beers, it’s the perfect way to try the ones that sound good while eliminating two that don’t strike your fancy. And boy, are you fancy. I can just tell. Best of all, there is a great bench outside facing the street for consuming said flight.
Next up is less a brewery, and more a dive bar. Wait, don’t go anywhere, I promise it’s worth it. This bar often has Pliny the Elder on tap. This beer which I don’t personally much care for, is almost consistently rated the best beer in the world year after year. It is also fairly rare and I only know I don’t much care for it because I paid $50 for a glass of it in New York once. Toronado carries it if that floats your boat.
The rest of the beer menu is staggeringly good. I had a brief moment of total panic when I couldn’t decide which awesome beer to order. Instead of one of the many ones I knew I liked, I tried something new. Let that be a lesson to you. The inside is a bit dark and drab, but there is an outdoor patio deck in the back. Sadly it’s often swimming in cigarette smoke, so you may have to make an exception to the outside rule here.
Though you may not yet be ready to slow down on the libations (that’s beer, I thought you were fancy), one must also eat. Nearby is one of the better temples to meat in the region, Carnitas Snack Shack. You order at said shack and enjoy the open back area with picnic tables and lounge chairs. The carnitas tacos are the raison d’etre, but a rotating menu of daily specials is also worth reviewing. If you are lucky enough to visit on poutine day, do your neighbors to the north a solid and try out this version. It isn’t the most authentically Quebecois, but it’s darn tasty and heaped with meat and cheese. They also sport one of the better craft beer menus for a restaurant as well, focussed strongly on local crafts.
Let’s continue up the park as they say (no one says this) to Mike Hess brewing. Call me old fashioned, but I don’t usually approve of breweries named for a person. However, the second I first walked in to this brewery I knew I had judged it wrong. The entrance literally feels like a Star Wars catwalk (why were there so many catwalks in a galaxy far far away?) over a forest of brewing equipment.
Also there are several varieties of non-IPA beer here! Plus there is a German style food truck parked in the back, it’s dog friendly, and there is a small deck in front outside to enjoy a flight. It does not get any better. The sours are excellent and anything with rye in it is delicious if you enjoy a little tart.
Rip Current, a bit further up does not have an outside area. Thankfully, there are huge garage doors that open up and make the whole bar feel fresh and outside. The beer menu is pretty huge for a brewery and covers tons of styles. Flights are available as are tasters to try a bunch without getting too deep in the current.
The decor is nice and beachy as well and if you get overly drunk, they have life preservers for you. The beer is absolutely sublime here and a bit lighter which is nice after a long crawl or on a hot day in the sun which is nearly every day in San Diego.
Continuing up the street is Belching Beaver. Is it a bar that brews or a brewery with a bar? It’s hard to say for sure. The only thing one can be sure about is that Belching Beaver is that it is also my favorite minor league Ontario hockey team. Oh, and also they brew some unique and tasty beer. They not only make a peanut butter infused beer, one with honey, one with milk, and one with coconuts, but also make an interesting float out of several of these flavors.
A flight is the best way to experience them as full glasses can be a bit much. Each beer is tasty not just for the uniqueness of the ingredients, but would stand as an excellent version of each type without the ingredients as well. The peanut butter stout for instance is just a great stout that happens to taste a bit like peanut butter. Again, there is no outside area here, but seats by the large windows get a nice breeze.
It may be a good idea to wrap up the night now. Tomorrow involves a good amount of driving. And of course drinks in the sun.