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The logical place to begin a review of Ocean Avenue Brewery is with the beer. But first let me rave about the panini. I like best the variation with grilled eggplant, sweet roasted red pepper, and Emmenthal cheese on its fabulous chewy bread. Then there is the grilled chicken panino mounded with mixed baby lettuces that give the sandwich snap and crunch…well, please don’t make me choose.

Now about the beer. Ocean Avenue Brewery is one of the many small brewpubs fizzing up around Southern California (there’s another, the Laguna Beach Brewing Co., just a few blocks away). Some of these establishments are behemoths–overgrown sports bars outfitted with wide-screen TVs and crowds of scrubbed college students. Ocean Avenue is no such giant, but rather more like a brew boutique; its single nar sauce is a mess of flavors that no beer can reorganize; the pappardelle with prosciutto is a simple dish that, with its topping of grated fresh apple, sounds intriguing but really doesn’t make sense in the eating. Ocean Avenue is, despite its cinematic scenery, still a brewery, and the best things on the menu turn out to be the appetizers and clever sandwiches, because they all go so swell with the beer.

See, I did finally get to the beer, and it is good. Understand, I am not a big beer drinker; my father always gave me a taste of his Coors way back when, and that did not convince me to pursue the beverage when I came of age. But at the Ocean Avenue, two house varieties make me a late-in-life convert. The honey-wheat beer is lovely, its honey sugar converted in the brewing process, leaving only a whiff of the outdoors and the flavor of freshly made bread. I especially like the Red Sunshine lager, with its astringent bitterness that is not too little, not too much; it’s a gently bracing beer that is also by the way, colored as if it too were part of the décor in a Merchant-Ivory movie. It’s one of Laguna’s best creations. After, of course, the panini.-

-Kitty Morgan

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