Wanted: A beer education

Oak Park Brewing Co.

Oak Park Brewing Co.

3514 Broadway
Sacramento, CA 95817

(916) 660-2723

Good for: outdoor eating, award-winning beer, upscale pub food

Notable dishes: Broadway Beetdown salad, Bacon Bleu Mac & Cheese, Hunter's Stew

It used to be that you’d go out for a bite and a beer and have lots of bites to choose from, but not much variety in the beer. In the last 10 years, we’ve gotten a slew of new breweries in Sacramento, seriously upping the suds quality. Finding good beer and food produced at the same location, though, still proves to be a bit challenging.

Oak Park Brewing Co. on Broadway opened last November after a long crowd-funding campaign. Owners Tom Karvonen and Dave Estis come from a homebrewing background and spent years testing beer recipes before deciding to open a brewery.

So the beers are the rightful stars here, and the location—in the rapidly gentrifying Oak Park neighborhood—is a great one. Situated in a 1925 building that once housed a grocery store, Estis’ influence shows in the industrial steampunk style of the expertly renovated interior. A huge patio extends along Broadway for a nice urban feel to the space.

Since the list of breweries with food onsite is limited, their decision to include a kitchen makes them stand out. Unfortunately, there have been some hiccups in the process.

The original chef left unceremoniously shortly before the brewery opened, but chef Steve Yarbrough has taken over. Formerly of Tuli Bistro and Magpie, Yarbrough aims to use the beer and spent grains in his take on farm-to-fork cuisine.

There are some great dishes already on the menu, most notably the Broadway Beetdown salad. This is no rabbit food. Mounds of baby arugula mingle with roasted golden beets, crumbled goat cheese and toasted pumpkin seeds. A brie vinaigrette is an unexpected but perfect complement to the greens.

Every eatery seemingly has to offer mac ’n’ cheese on its menu, and Yarbrough’s is a great one. Twisty gemelli pasta grab onto shreds of sweet caramelized onion and a rich blue-cheese sauce. It’s not too heavy, though, and a great foil for one of the hoppy beers.

Which one, though? Since they’re new on the scene and intend to connect the food and beer, it would be great to include pairing ideas with each menu item. Recommendations from the servers would also be helpful.

The Irish Fries make for another interesting dish. They’re described on the menu as “chips,” which are thick-cut fries topped, surprisingly, with a rabbit gravy and provolone cheese. It turns out they’re delicious. You don’t see rabbit much on menus, but it can be sourced locally and sustainably, and makes a savory sauce that doesn’t overwhelm the fries.

The Hunter’s Stew boasts beef, pork and wild game with root vegetables. If the intent is to use lesser-known meats, the servers should point out daily additions to highlight this unusual take on pub food. The stew is flavorful, but a bit scanty on the meat, and the sauce is too thin.

One of the weak links here seems to be server education. Except for one waitress, who we recognized from lots of Midtown restaurants, the servers seem a little untrained and vague on ingredients. When we ordered the Sausage Board, the waitress couldn’t tell us what the sausages were, and then returned with the news that they were “Italian and brat.” Any details on meat or spices were unavailable.

The sausages themselves were snappy and well cooked, but seem a bit too lean. They don’t have much juiciness to them. Served with sides of caramelized onions and lightly pickled peppers, they make a nice appetizer or light meal, smeared with a grainy mustard. (Beer incorporated? Who knows?)

With the warm spring we’re having, Oak Park Brewing’s patio will surely be packed with drinkers and their dogs. Whether they stay for a meal or not depends on whether the kitchen can find its footing with consistent cooking and enough enticing details that customers order more than beer.