On the way to work the other day, I noticed a bench ad for a local restaurant. I've probably driven by it a dozen times without paying it much mind, but when you answer as much email as I do on the road, that's bound to happen. Anyway, I had an unimpeded view of The Chicago Kitchen touting "Local Micro-Brews On Tap!"—a phrase that always tantalizes me, even in the morning. Don't judge.
It's hardly a stretch to have a place that serves bratwurst and meatball sandwiches and also providing beer; doing so while featuring local craft beer was more than I would have expected from a strip-mall eatery in Rancho Bernardo.
The Chicago Kitchen is another inductee into the group I'm calling the "inbeertweeners"—restaurants that value craft brew without making it a pivotal part of the dining experience the way gastropubs do. I certainly don't have anything against gastropubs, but they aren't always optimal when I want an elegant night out with the missus or to throw a corndog at my kid so she'll stop yammering about My Little Pony for five blessed minutes.
Serving beer with The Chicago Kitchen's World's Driest Cheesesteak Sandwich is practically required. And, a citrusy hefeweizen is an entirely different experience alongside the succulent Fried Honey and Sriracha Pork Belly at Cusp, a new inbeertweener inside Hotel La Jolla. While Cusp dishes like Charred Octopus Panzanella align the place more with the wine and craft-cocktail crowd, Cusp general manager Mark Spears understands that San Diego and beer culture are inseparable. "Developing a beer program that features 90-percent local selections gives our guests a chance to live like a local without having to leave the bar," he said.
I'm not sure if inbeertweeners are a consequence of craft beer's embrace or if businesses are simply capitalizing on a trend, but I don't really care. Craft brew doesn't taste better when served with civic pride, no matter what the new-age gurus claim. Whether it's being driven by expanding palates or opportunism, it's encouraging that it may become as unthinkable to open a restaurant without a well-chosen local beer selection as without a dispenser of fizzy high-fructose corn syrup.