Wanderlust tempered by budget and time constraints means frequent staycations. OK, the word “staycation” is lame, but a close-to-home mini-getaway is really refreshing, so some friends and I decided to have lunch at Pizza Port in Carlsbad, traveling up by way of the Coaster so we could relax and have an on-board, pre-lunch picnic of cheese and beer (the train is alcohol-friendly). To renew our appetites, we walked around Carlsbad's quaint downtown district, stopping in a tea shop for British candy bars, browsing through antique stores and passing through the farmers market, now selling Carlsbad's famous strawberries, before we arrived at the restaurant, a large brick building with a casual, surf-centric theme and long picnic tables for seating.
Some of Port Brewing Company's beers are made on-site, and there's always a fantastic list of house beers and well-chosen guest brews. I wanted something crisp and drinkable with my lunch, so I tried the Twerp, a light Belgian ale, and the fun-to-say Party Pants Pilsner. The Freshy Margherita Classic, a simple pizza topped with fresh basil, chopped tomatoes and mozzarella, sounded good in theory but wasn't so hot in actuality. For such a basic pie to succeed, the ingredients have got to be first-rate—the tomatoes should be sweet and vibrant, the cheese creamy and rich and the olive oil fruity. This pizza was pretty dull, felled by its excessively doughy crust, which was somewhere between a thin pizza and Chicago-style in thickness. Pizzas are cooked in a large conveyor oven, which uses a belt to move each pie through a cooking cavity, where they're blasted on all sides by hot air. The pizza comes out the other end quickly, but lacking the flavor that you get with a traditional deck oven, which has a pizza stone or cooking surface that browns and crisps crusts so deliciously.
A much better choice, which can be substituted with any pizza, is the wholegrain beer crust, which tops the regular version in taste and texture. Hearty and nutty-sweet in flavor; the beer crust is a good base for the Pizza Roma, a meat-bonanza topped with Canadian bacon, pepperoni, sausage and salami. Pizza Port's sauce is tasty, if a tad sweet. We also shared a basket of spicy chicken wings, which I was pleased to find are baked, not fried, and the cayenne seasoning is applied as a dry rub, not a gloppy sauce. The whole menu is great for soaking up beer, which I suppose is the main intention, but the brews here definitely overshadow the food. For pizza that shines just as brightly as the beer selection, my choice is Normal Heights' Blind Lady Ale House.
Our return train wasn't due to leave for another hour, so we took advantage of our designated driver and indulged in one more beer. And just in case we got hungry on our trip home, I ordered a Portzel, a giant pretzel fashioned out of wholegrain beer dough mixed with bits of sun-dried tomato and herbs, with marinara and ranch dressing for dipping.Adjacent to the restaurant is an outdoor space where Pizza Port holds occasional beer festivals, including a Belgian Beer Party scheduled for March 28. Next to the patio is a bottle shop, filled with hundreds of beers that you can take home or drink there; I grabbed a few singles before we headed back to station. We all agreed that it'd been a thoroughly fantastic day and a completely different experience than if we'd just driven up in the car. The sun was just starting to dim as we boarded the train, and though it seemed like we were far away, it was nice to know that we'd be home in time for dinner.