I think so.
I've eaten at a good fraction of the brewpubs in Northern California and a sprinkling of others along the west coast. The menus are almost always the same, though some places (e.g., Gordon Biersch, Tied House, and yes, 21st Amendment) veer into the more upscale or multicultural. The quality almost always ranges from poor to acceptable.
But occasionally I'll run across food that makes me think there's not just a cook, but a true chef in the kitchen. When it's on, Thirsty Bear's Spanish food falls into that group. Magnolia comes close, and until last night was my favorite for more traditional pub grub. 21st Amendment is now my favorite.
The burgers are made with Niman Ranch meat, I had the Classic with cheddar cheese and grilled onions. The meat was served medium rare, was properly salted, and juicy enough to produce a 3mm deep pink stain in the bun. The cheese was a thick slab of sharp cheddar, the tiny pile of onions added just a touch of sweetness. The bun was a sourdough roll with a crunchy crust and chewy (rather than spongy) texture. No condiments required. A small side of greens were very fresh and dressed with a wonderfully simple, tangy vinaigrette.
The accompanying fries were fantastic. They are large and thick with a pale color; visually they did not leave a good first impression. However, the thin veneer of crispy, tasty crust gave way to creamy, almost mashed-potato-like insides with plenty of pure potato flavor. The hands of a master were clearly at work.
Other standouts were: beet and goat cheese salad (the arugula casted a plume of peppery fragrance over the whole table) and the quesedillas (which I did not try, but were deemed very good by my companions; note they are baked and not grilled, a frightening trend that I have noticed lately).
The sweet potato straws, a jumble of orange shoestring spears, looked better than they tasted. The sweet potato flavor was good, but they were baked (I assumed they were fried but was wrong) and seasoned with just salt and parsley. If you're a big lover of sweet potatoes, you may really like them; one of my dining companions was and did. But I thought they just needed different seasonings; I'd be happy to snack on them if they were provided as free bar snacks, but I wouldn't pay another $4 for them.
The beers are all good too. Seven were on tap, I tried them all and would certainly order pints of each one. My favorites were the cloudy, hoppy Harvest Ale and the smooth Cask ale.
Prices are a little high (e.g., $9 for the burger) but worth the premium. Wine and a few spirits are also served. At 7pm on a Wednesday, the place was about half full, by 8:30pm it crested at about 75% and started to slowly thin out. On a previous visit on a Saturday night it was nearly empty.
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