April 12-18, 2006

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First Bite

Sebastopol Brewing Co.

By Michael Shapiro

The good news: The Sebastopol Brewing Co., heir to the historic Powerhouse, is open, and Sebastopol once again has a thriving brewpub. The beer is good--especially the outstanding ESB--the food is flavorful and the portions are generous. And when this damned rains stops, West County beer lovers will once again be able to enjoy a cool pint and a hot plate of fries on the open-air deck overlooking the distant Laguna.

The bad news: There are no garlic fries, once the specialty of the Powerhouse, on the menu (although that void is filled with aromatic rosemary fries). And the service can be glitchy. On our first visit, we waited about five minutes for a hostess to notice us, and our waitress repeatedly said she'd be right with us and then disappeared for a while.

But these are mere trifles. A couple of years ago, the closure of the Powerhouse left a gaping hole in Sebastopol's dining scene. Sure, the West County burg has some nice affordable ethnic food--El Tarasco for Mexican, Peking Chef for Chinese and Zagat-rated cuisine at such establishments as K&L Bistro. And certainly Sushi Tozai rocks. But lacking has been the brewpub where you can get a hearty burger, a plate of fish and chips and a tasty pint in a convivial atmosphere. A place where you can get out the door for about $40, including a couple of pints.

On a recent weeknight, my wife ordered the grilled tri-tip shish kebobs with crimini mushrooms and garlic mashed potatoes ($15.95). The meat was flavorful, the locally grown veggies perfectly cooked and the potatoes hearty and satisfying. I went with the grilled chicken sandwich with caramelized onions and Asiago cheese ($8.95), and found the Asiago to be the ideal complement to the chicken. The fries could have been hotter and crisper.

We sampled the pub's four beers: a refreshing "beach blonde" ale, a tangy IPA and the hearty porter, but the star attraction was the ESB (Extra Special Bitter). Pints are $4, but there's a 10 ounce pour for just $2.50 and, as with all reputable brewpubs, Sebastopol offers a tasting menu of brews (cost varies).

We returned a couple of weeks later, not because we needed to for this review, but because we enjoyed ourselves so much on our first visit. The ESB tasted even richer, and the service felt a bit more in sync. My wife had a seared country meatloaf in a red-wine reduction ($14.95) that's a far cry from what your mom used to make. It looked like a slice of steak, perched on a hummock of veggies and nestled alongside a mountain of garlic mashed potatoes. I went with the brewhouse burger ($9.50), the black angus beef cooked to perfection and layered with sautéed mushrooms and onions. Shortly after our entrées arrived, a man in white came out of the kitchen to ask how everything was.

The Sebastopol Brewing Co. has retained the family atmosphere that helped mark the Powerhouse, and the kids' menu features burgers, grilled cheese and pasta plates for $5 to $7. Some may lament the installation of two TVs, but I'm thrilled to have a fine brewpub back in Sebastopol. The Powerhouse is dead. Long live the Sebastopol Brewing Co.!

The Sebastopol Brewing Co., 230 Petaluma Ave., Sebastopol. Open for lunch and dinner Tuesday-Sunday. 707.823.7837.

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Quick-and-dirty dashes through North Bay restaurants. These aren't your standard "bring five friends and order everything on the menu" dining reviews.