"We are at the beginning of the second annual Beer Week in Sacramento, and what better way to kick it off than to tell you about two places that not only serve good beer but are all about making sure you have a good time – time after time?
While Sacramento has many fine watering holes, de Vere's Irish Pub and Pangaea Two Brews Cafe are relatively new on the scene and, each in its own way, has elevated the pub experience in our area. Yes, they have raised the bar.
The ratings here take into account what these two establishments offer – both food and beverage selection. (For a full schedule of Beer Week events through March 6: http://sacramentobeer-week.com.)
PANGAEA TWO BREWS CAFE
3 1/2 stars
When we visited one weeknight, shortly after the end of happy hour, the room was full of life – groups of friends laughing and talking, couples enjoying beer and sandwiches, and a few beer aficionados standing near the bar, immersed in one very impressive list of brews.
The list is actually a large chalkboard on the side wall. It includes the name of the beer, the style, the price and, yes, the alcohol percentage.
That last detail is good to know if, for example, you feel like knocking back six pints of Allagash Curieux or Palo Santo because your boss hurt your feelings. Try that stunt and before you reach your goal, you will no longer have any feelings and you might wonder how Pangaea gets the ceiling to twist and turn like that. Those two beers have, respectively, 11 percent and 12 percent alcohol by volume.
The "two brews" in the cafe's name actually refer to coffee and beer – the yin and yang of clearheadedness.
Pangaea is a serious beer joint that doesn't take itself too seriously. You can be the biggest beer geek around and find plenty of styles of beer to enjoy and ponder, parsing flavor profiles and digging into regional history. Or you can be new to beer or shy about sampling the edgier offerings, and the folks at Pangaea will accommodate – without any attitude.
In fact, my companion one night has spent much of her adult life thinking she didn't like beer and was done with beer. Turns out, thanks to Pangaea, she now knows she was simply done with lousy beer.
When she mentioned her beer apprehension upon ordering, the fellow behind the counter couldn't have been more helpful. He asked a few questions, gave a couple of suggestions – and the reasons behind them – then offered a sample in a shot glass. She not only loved the beer, a Belgian red called Rodenbach, but she became an instant fan of Pangaea. We also had a Pliny the Elder, an excellent India pale ale – bold and balanced and pleasingly bitter.
The man behind this cool, inspiring and lively cafe is Rob Archie, who grew up in Woodland and turned a talent for basketball into a chance to live in Europe. That's where he experienced a very foreign and soulful way of looking at life.
After playing college ball and earning a degree, Archie signed with a pro team in Italy. While many American athletes go over there and fail to embrace the culture, Archie seemed to catch on intuitively. One thing he noticed was that unlike many Americans who race through life in cars, wolf down meals, then race somewhere else, Italians took their time. They ate, they drank, they talked. It was a way of life, a way to live.
"That's where I really discovered the life and discovered these third places, these cafes. That was the pulse of the community. It was where the community came to enjoy each other. It changed my life and redefined my definition of success," he said. His "third places," of course, refer to the destination when you are not at work or at home.
In 2008, Archie followed his dream and opened Pangaea in an eclectic section of Curtis Park near Oak Park. The mix of folks is an inspiration – many come for the great beer, others for good conversation. We left after having a very nice time.
The beer at Pangaea is sensational. Archie's newfound love for Belgian beer and the culture of Belgian brewing is on center stage. I look forward to returning and working my way through his list.
Those high-alcohol beers, of course, must be approached in moderation. For those, the pours at Pangaea are 8 to 10 ounces, and customers are told what they are getting into. Those beers are meant to be sipped and savored.
The food is also above average for such a place. The French dip roast beef was flavorful and hearty, as was the turkey sandwich. Both use high-quality ingredients and very good bread. We also enjoyed the sausage plate with a side of hot mustard, which paired nicely with our beers.
Archie also made me a nice espresso, using beans roasted by Temple Coffee. When it comes to coffee, we're not yet like Italy, where folks stand at the bar and down their espresso shots, chat a little and get on with their day.
But the way Pangaea serves beer and talks about beer makes this a real destination. Free of gimmicks and pretense, Pangaea is a model for the kind of cafe that feels like a home away from home.
DE VERE'S IRISH PUB
3 1/2 stars
It has been just two years since this pub opened in the heart of midtown and already I cannot imagine the Sacramento dining and night life scene without it.
Community spirit, wisdom, integrity, charm – de Vere's has all of that, along with excellent attention to detail when it comes to serving its beer.
People love the place and many have already become regulars. As someone with a mix of Irish and Scottish roots – and plenty of relatives who were fond of spirits and could roll their R's with the best of 'em – forgive me if I get goose bumps when I think of the tradition de Vere's is carrying on.
This is another business that doesn't resort to gimmicks. You want authentic? The interior of the pub itself was designed in Ireland, built in Ireland, packed in crates and then reassembled at the building near the corner of 16th and L streets.
Shamrocks plastered everywhere to insistently remind you of the Irish theme? Not here. Instead, those framed pictures on the walls are real family photos.
Run by brothers Simon and Henry de Vere White, the pub is a lively place to stop in for a pint after work, chat with friends and, as we have done several times now, stay for dinner.
De Vere's strives to elevate its food offerings above typical pub fare, and it is succeeding. The large hamburger is excellent, indulgent and one of the best in town. Same goes for the Irish stew. The fish and chips have that clean, crisp flavor that comes from emphasizing freshness.
The shepherd's pie was a delicious reminder of my childhood (I ate it weekly), though the traditional offering is made with ground lamb. This was ground beef, so the result technically could be called cottage pie.
We also loved the bangers and mash, with the bangers (sausage) covered in a delicious mushroom gravy. The pub also has developed a following for its weekend brunch.
De Vere's is taking its cooking a step further by planning beer-pairing dinners, even multicourse whiskey-pairing dinners. Very exciting.
The pub's approach to beers emphasizes traditional favorites done right. The black and tan, for instance, is served to perfection, allowing the ale and dark-beer flavors to unite on the palate. The Guinness is also meticulously poured – following Guinness protocol by taking a full two minutes for the rich, dark beer to settle before topping it off with just the right size head.
So yes, it's a wonderful place for good beer and good times. Then there's the whiskey. The selection is world-class – approximately 170 offerings and counting of whiskey, scotch and bourbon.
That list can be overwhelming, so de Vere's created a "whiskey club" to help patrons navigate it. A lifetime membership is $50. Every Tuesday night, members are introduced to a new flight of whiskeys. Some members come every week, some every so often.
This is an excellent way to educate yourself about a very complex beverage with plenty of history and passion behind it. It's also a way to make new friends and compare tasting notes as you work your way through de Vere's list.
When I talk about how de Vere's has changed the landscape, I refer to what it has done the past two years for St. Patrick's Day. It dreamed big: The brothers got permission from the city to close off this very busy block and throw a party. It not only drew thousands of patrons, it made the city come alive in a new and refreshing way, and it made other businesses see what could be done.
This year, the party has outgrown the location on the street and has moved to Cesar Chavez Plaza to accommodate more people. The money raised goes to charity.
This illustrates that Sacramentans are hungry for good ideas and want to be part of the new energy in downtown and midtown.
Bold strokes pay off, and de Vere's should be applauded for its leadership."