The Bagby Beer Company is massive. It takes up nearly half a city block, which is impressive considering it's situated smack in the middle of the congested stretch of the Coast Highway that runs through the heart of Oceanside. Owners Jeff and Dande Bagby (Jeff is the former brewmaster at Pizza Port) should be applauded for their scale of vision: two stories of drinking and dining, including multiple patios and bars, a mellow upstairs dining space filled with cozy booths and sea breezes, not to mention the snug tasting room and actual brewery space.
Dive into the beer listings, dominated by Bagby's delicious house beers, complete with cheeky names. The Dork Squad is a rich and bitter IPA named for the, ahem, intense and serious passion local beer fans have for the hoppy brew. There's also one called Grief Counselor, brewed to soothe the sad drinkers who apparently lost their minds when Dork Squad was briefly out of stock.
But I was there for the food, and I couldn't pass up the pork belly sliders. Fatty slices of jiggly belly were sandwiched in one of my favorite processed wonders: Hawaiian rolls. A swipe of warm, nutty peanut butter graced the top bun and a thin glaze of hot pepper jelly soaked into the bottom, with a tangle of crispy leeks adding a delicate crunch. Light eaters could devour these three sammies with a cold beer and call it a meal. But why deny yourself more goodness?
The Belgian style frites are not the thin and crispy frites you may be used to at a typical French bistro; rather, they're thick cut, meaty and twice-fried. Although my personal preference runs to thin and crispy, these potatoes were quite yummy dipped in Bagby's addictive beer cheese.
The house burger was just plain terrific. The meat was tender, juicy and cooked to a pink medium—no overdone dryness that plagues many a restaurant burger. A dollop of tomato-bacon jam was sharper than I expected, tangy and sweet without moving into the sugary zone. Horseradish mayonnaise added heat and the pretzel bun, although chewy, was a nice way to keep all the juicy, wet components from turning into meaty mush. They grind the meat in-house (your choice of beef or turkey) and although the toppings make for a great version of a classic, they could serve this burger bare bones and it would still be good.
My only disappointment came from the fish tacos. The grilled tacos tasted fresh but bland, which is surprising considering how much fun the rest of the menu is having. The beer batter on the fried fish gave a much needed flavor kick, but these tacos felt like they were thrown on as a San Diego menu requirement.
Do try the fried peanut butter and jelly sandwich for dessert—it comes blazing hot to your table and is worth the burned fingertips.
The Bagbys should be proud, because they have built a jewel of a drinking and dining locale for the Oceanside community and for all of North County.