#213: The Monk’s Cellar Brewery & Public House

It’s been very quiet around here lately and the reason is that I was waiting for new places to open! Recently, a couple have done so. The Monk’s Cellar and Crawfish Factory have both opened within the last few weeks and had some time to get settled in. I’ll tackle Crawfish Factory next week.

Monk’s Cellar is a brewery and public house located on Vernon Street next door to Sammy’s Island Bar & Grill. If you have been to any of the downtown events over the summer you may have noticed them giving sneak peaks into the space as it was taking shape, or even sampling their beer at the recent Wednesdays On Tap events. They’ve definitely been putting their name out there for a while and it shows. I met my brother and his wife for dinner on Tuesday and the place was quite busy.

We arrived at 6PM and through the iconic wooden door (a similar door serves as their logo) we squeezed into a crowded entryway. Two groups were before us and soon a 3rd arrived behind us. The first was seated right away and the 2nd was told it would be about 15-20 minutes for a table, so I was ready to be told the same. Instead we were offered a hightop table that seated 6 (my brother and his wife also had their infant in his car seat). I guess the previous group wanted a normal table. We went ahead and took that and spread out with room to spare.

I always forget how far back the spaces on this side of the street go back. Inside it is a long and narrow with most of the normal tables in the back. Up front they have the bar and a mix of different small tables plus a counter/island that faces the main brewery room. Another brewing room is just past the bar where they have open fermentation tanks, although they weren’t using them at the time. As far as I’m aware, all the beer on the menu is brewed here, in house. Our high-top table and one other was directly across from the open-tank room. Past that is mostly normal seating, along with a kind of loungy looking corner with a couch and armchairs. This was filled for all but the moment in-between groups where I managed to snap a photo of it.

We had a little drink menu that was left with us and quickly our server introduced herself, then went off to get us water, a second drink menu and a regular menu as well.  Soon we ordered our beers.  There was a Bier Blanche (Belgian style white.  Light, citrus, fresh), an Abbey Ale (Belgian style dubbel.  Brown, raisin, full) and a London Porter (English style brown porter.  Dark, chocolate, balanced).  All were $5.  I’m guessing the “$3” on the menu refers to happy hour price, which had just ended when we arrived at 6, according to a sign outside.  All three were good.  The Abbey Ale was very flavorful without being overwhelming or having any one particularly potent note.  The Bier Blanche was nice and light with a very clear citrus aroma and flavor.  The London Porter was mine and tasty to the last sip.  It had a bit of a chocolate scent to it but I didn’t feel that carried through to the taste.  It was actually much less sweet than I would have guessed by the smell.  Very drinkable, especially with my fish and chips.

The food here seems like slightly upscale typical pub food.  I say that because I can’t say I’ve ever seen mussels or marinated olives in one before, at least not anywhere around here.  All the fries on the menu are duck fat fries, which I’ve usually only seen in gastropubs or food trucks.

We ordered the olives to start.  These came out in just over 5 minutes.  These were Crystal’s idea, I personally don’t care for olives like this.  I stick to plain old black olives.  These were very, very strong in flavor.  I had one each of the 4 types I saw in the jar and then decided I was done.  Branden & Crystal almost finished the rest and said they enjoyed them.

Our dinners came out less than 10 minutes after the olives, which was pretty quick from order time, less than 15 min total.  I had the Fish & Chips (ale battered, light & crispy, with duck fat fries and house-made tartar sauce)[$9].  Crystal ordered the Moules Frites appetizer (mussels & duck fat fires)[$10-half pound] and Branden got the Brewmaster Burger (spent grain, white bean & lentil burger, arugula, pickled onion, Gruyere, Russian dressing & garlic aioli, served with duck fat fries or salad)[$10].

Crystal enjoyed the mussels.  I didn’t even think to try one myself, I don’t think I’ve ever had one.  Her fries came with the same garlic aioli that came with Branden’s burger.  My fries didn’t so I shared hers.  Branden had actually ordered the salad with his burger but they mistakenly gave him fries.  He had wanted to try some of mine anyway so he just kept and ate those instead.  He said the burger, while obviously a big grainy, was pretty good closer to the center where he got a little bit of all the toppings in each bite.  Around the edges where it was more patty and bread was perhaps a little more boring, but he said that’s pretty normal for a veggie burger anywhere.

My fish was OK.  It was obviously right out of the frier because it was insanely hot and I had to pull it into a few pieces and let it cool off while I worked on some fries.  These duck fat fries are unlike any I’ve had before.  First off, they didn’t have the telltale aroma of duck, and were considerably less greasy than I expected (they’re still a little greasy like most fries, just not to the extreme levels of the duck fat fries I’ve had before).  The color was also very unique.  They were quite dark although not burnt or overcooked as far as I could tell, and the fact that all of ours looked the same seemed to indicate that this is how they make them here.  Flavor-wise they were fine, I honestly didn’t taste much if any duck flavor.  They were pretty good with the garlic aioli, and just fine by themselves.  The fish itself was also just OK.  It was as greasy as it was hot.  My cloth napkin was soaked with grease by the end of the meal.  Texture-wise it was perfect, very thin, crispy batter and buttery-smooth, melt-in-your mouth fish, but there wasn’t much flavor beyond the somewhat bland batter.  Honestly it was the house-made tartar sauce that stole the spotlight.  I don’t even really like tartar sauce that much, but when a restaurant makes their own it’s usually pretty good.  This was no exception.  It was thick and very flavorful.

The service was excellent. Our server came by at just the right moments when we needed something, like when we were ready to order or when we were ready for a 2nd round of beer.  Staff was constantly in motion, including the owners (not entirely sure if I recognized them both, but I definitely saw one of them there).  The noise level was pretty high, lots of hard surfaces for sound to bounce around on.  Overall I thought the food was fine.  The beer is the star here and it’s great that it’s from a local brewery right here on Vernon with a very nice place in which to sit and enjoy it.  I’m sure I’ll be back to try something else on the menu soon.

Website: http://monkscellar.com

#164: 2H at Bunz and Company (now Bunz Sports Pub & Grub)

Today I made plans to go watch the Sharks game at Bunz & Company (or 2H at Bunz and Company as it’s now called) (they changed the name sometime in late 2013 to Bunz Sports Pub & Grub).  I suspect I am in a tiny minority of Roseville residents that have never been here, and even more so, know barely anything about it.  I was aware that it was a sports bar and that it was somewhere in the vicinity of Vernon St, but that’s about it.  Some time ago I purchased a Groupon, or some similar deal, to Bunz and Co and they promptly went out of business.  This happens to me pretty regularly for some reason.  I got my refund and moved on, not giving it much thought.  A while later I read an article about Bunz being reopened by new owners.  That was about a year ago, and I’ve finally made it out here.

I was killing some time before heading over and checked out their Facebook page where I saw that they had a live band playing from 7-9.  I figured that was a guarantee that I would not be able to hear the game audio and decided to go early, eat and then just watch the game at home.  I arrived a little after 6:30 and took some time taking a photo outside before going in.  The building is pretty unique for Roseville, looking like it belongs more in a little mountain ski town or something.  It was much bigger than I had expected.  Based on a couple photos I had found online before driving over I thought it was a tiny bar with enough room to fit a small band.  Boy was I wrong.  It was easily 4-5 times larger than I anticipated.  The bar itself was pretty long and the space in front of it was big and full of places to sit.  Further towards the front of the building looked to be a separate room, though I did not make my way in there to get  better look.  From the front doors, if you turn away from the bar you’ll find yourself in another big room with more seating.  On top of all this (no pun intended) is the 2nd floor where you’ll find pool, foosball, arcades and more.  From here you can look down on the first floor.  Tonight this gave a good view of the band.

I walked up to the bar after entering and gave the drink situation a once over.  They appeared to have a full compliment of liquor and a decent amount of beers on tap.  Almost immediately I was greeted by the bartender, who asked me what I would like.  I took a moment to examine more closely the beers on tap.  There were a lot of very typical domestics, Bud, Bud Light, Coors Light, Miller Light, Rolling Rock and Blue Moon.  I noticed a couple smaller breweries there, Bear Republic and Anderson Valley.  In addition to these they have a small selection of bottles, but nothing much more exciting than what’s on tap.  I ended up going with their “Gusto” sized (27oz) glass with Blue Moon [$6].  With the beer she handed me a menu.  The place was moderately busy so I decided to just sit there at the bar.  The menu has a lot of the type of bar/pub food you might expect, Bacon & Cheese Skins, Mozzarella Cheese Sticks and Nachos Grande among others.  A good chunk of the menu is made up of burgers, and a note which I’m just now noticing on their website says that all their meat is provided by the Roseville Meat Market, which is pretty cool.  However, their website menu and the menu on Facebook seem to be out of date, as the burger I selected has a totally different description than what was on the menu there at the bar and the prices are different as well.  I went with the California Burger.  Their website says this has sauteed mushroom and pepperjack cheese.  The menu there in the bar said bacon, avocado and American cheese, and that’s exactly what I got.  I ordered it medium rare and opted for fries (choice of fries, salad, and something else that I can’t recall).

With my food ordered, I sat drinking my Blue Moon and watched a pretty spectacular end to the Carolina/Philadelphia game on the big screen in front of me.  Behind me, the band was setting up and getting in tune.  About 13 minutes after ordering, my burger arrived, and shortly after that the band started playing Country music.  They weren’t too bad either, and I really could not care less about Country.  As soon as the plate arrived I had noticed the big steak cut fries.  Usually I’m much into this type.  These were surprisingly good however.  Most were crisp and they all tasted good and were lightly coated with salt.  My burger had all the fixings on it.  Lettuce, several pickles, a lot of red onions, a big slice of tomato and the whole thing was topped off with a big cherry tomato skewered on top.  The American cheese, as well as the two big, crisscrossed strips of bacon, was thick.  Biting into this good sized burger I found the patty to be cooked perfectly with a warm pink center.  This was absolutely fantastic.  Everything about it.  The beef was delicious, there was a good amount of soft, tasty avocado slices under the bun, the cheese was flavorful and the bacon was quality.  This burger reminded me a lot of the Burgers & Brew in Midtown Sacramento, which is my favorite burger in the Sacramento area, and probably my #2 burger of all time behind Umami burger in SF.  This one gives it a serious run for that #2 spot.  The only thing I think I would give Burgers and Brew over this is that they have some amazingly good variations, including a ridiculously awesome spicy guacamole burger.

2H at Bunz and Company was a crazy revelation for me.  I was blown away by the size of the place.  How it remained hidden from me all this time despite being within walking distance is beyond me.  The bartender was friendly and attentive and from what I could tell the same was true of the rest of the staff.  I met, and spoke to very briefly, one of the owners who was very nice.  The prices seemed very reasonable for what you get (and the burger is several dollars cheaper than a comparable burger at Burgers & Brew).  I think the only thing I might do to improve Bunz is to put some more variety into their beer selection with some microbrews and definitely at least one stout.  Other than that this place is fantastic.

#155: Bar 101 Eats & Drinks

Last Friday I was planning on going to Bar 101 Eats & Drinks in Old Roseville to see a friend’s band play.  I had never been there so I took a look at their website to see what type of place it was.  They have a little video featuring the food and it made it look pretty solid, so I figured I’d do a post on it.  Bar 101 is located at the end of Main street near all the other bars and clubs.  I arrived pretty early, just after 6, for dinner.

The place was pretty quiet, a couple groups were seated and there were a few people at the bar.  The bar itself is on the small side given the size of the whole place.  Stick it on the opposite wall and it could have run the length of the room.  In the middle are regular tables and along the front wall some taller pub tables.  Past the bar is a somewhat separate room with a pool table, an arcade game and not much else.  TVs can be seen from most angles and a large projector screen hangs over what turns into the stage for live music at night.  I don’t recall if I was greeted when I walked in, if so it was a quick “how’s it going” type greeting and that’s it.  I took a seat at one of the tables by the front windows and sat for a few minutes, wondering if I should go to the bartender and ask for a menu.  Eventually he did come around and ask if I was going to be ordering food, then brought me a menu, silverware/napkin and a basket of condiments.

On the wall above the entrance to the pool table room is a big blackboard with the beer selection.  I’m not even remotely a beer guy, but I have to say I found it to be very standard.  There were a couple things that I don’t normally see, but all the typical domestic stuff was up there and nothing particularly noteworthy from the smaller breweries.  I settled on a Lost Coast Great White.  The bartender/server brought this out in a couple minutes.  He was the only guy working the front, though I did see another who was running food out from the kitchen now and then.  The menu was much more interesting than the beer list.  It starts off with appetizer/bar type items from wings and chicken strips to spicy panko calamari.  Some excellent sounding salads come up next, and finally the bulk of the menu, burgers, tacos sandwiches and a few other misc items.  Honestly, based on the descriptions, I think I would be down to order just about anything on this menu, which is rare I think.  I soon decided on The Package burger (Bacon wrapped, cheddar stuffed, topped with crispy onion strings and our house-made BBQ sauce on a toasted brioche bun)[$10.95].

I ordered it up and waited just a smidge over ten minutes for it to come out.  The other guy I saw running food brought it to me with the bartender just behind him, who then asked if I needed anything else.  I almost said ketchup but realized it was in the basket he set on the table earlier.  With that he turned his attention back to the bar and the other customers.  My burger was served in a largish metal pan with a light-brown paper liner.  It was presented open, showing off most of the ingredients.  The pile of onion strings was enough that I thought I would have a hard time keeping them in the burger.  A lot of it was small broken up pieces.  They sat atop the burger patty with a glob of BBQ sauce in between.  A couple slices of medium-thick bacon was visible curled around on one side.  There was a lot more there underneath the BBQ and onions.  On the top slice of bun was lettuce, red onion and a slice of tomato.  I didn’t realize how much onion there was until I assembled the burger.  It was a solid slice, which I thought might be a bit much, so I pulled a few rings off to thin it out.

Once I put it together I think I looked at it for a minute or so wondering how to go about starting to eat it.  It was a very sizable burger.  I snacked on the fries a bit while I considered this.  The fries were thin, shoestring cut, and they were pretty good on their own.  I had no desire to add ketchup to them at all.  They were crispy and had little salt, which they didn’t really need.  Finally I took the plunge, picked up the massive burger and started eating.  The first bite was a lot of bun, onion, BBQ sauce and one of the thick sliced pickles that was hiding under the patty.  I hit the bacon wrapped patty next.  It was pretty damn good.  The bacon was crisp and flavorful and the patty was full of flavor itself.  I had picked medium rare when he asked earlier.  The beef seemed to be cooked more medium as I didn’t really see any pink.  It was still very good though and plenty juicy, I’m not sure if medium rare would have even been the much of an improvement.  I didn’t really notice the “cheddar stuffed” part of this burger.  I didn’t hit an obvious cheesy pocket or even see bits here or there.  Either they forgot the cheese in this or it’s so well blended in with the patty that it simply enhances the beef without being it’s own discrete thing.  Despite this, it was still a really great burger.  Excellent, crispy bacon was in just about every single bite.  I’ve had many bacon-wrapped things, but this was my first bacon-wrapped burger, and I liked it.

The service left something to be desired.  Granted, it was just the one bartender.  They weren’t all that busy though.  He seemed somewhat disinterested in our interactions.  He did apologize for the lack of service to an extent at the end, but this might just have been because he had guessed earlier that I was doing some kind of blog/review.  I left for a while and had drinks elsewhere until the show was about to start.  When I came back it was much busier and he had another server or two helping out.  I stood at the bar for a bit scoping out the small section of liquor.  In their video they claim to have “whatever your hearts desire”.  My heart desired a decent bourbon selection, but all they had was Makers Mark.  The same bartender served that to me, again, seeming very disinterested in either me or his work in general.

While the service I received could have used some major improvement, the food was almost good enough to overlook it.  As I said the entire menu looked pretty good and I wouldn’t be surprised if I find myself back here eventually to try some other things, particularly the carnitas fries (French fries topped with carnitas, melted jack and cheddar cheese, homemade guac, sour cream, pico de gallo, jalapenos and green onions)[$7.95].