Snug pub, okay grub at Dunedin Brewery 

Food places a distant second to beer at Dunedin Brewery's casual pub.

There's something intoxicating about sitting down to live music and tasty food in the heart of one of the Bay area's best local breweries. I think it's the beer.

Dunedin Brewery has cooked up plenty of that liquid gold since it first combined barley and hops almost 15 years ago. If you're at all interested in local beer you've undoubtedly sampled their wares at your favorite bar, or even picked up a bottle at the store, but it's different when you get closer to the source and sit down for a pint in the brewery's quaint little "snug pub."

The pub has the atmosphere nailed, from decor to service. A rustic wooden bar extends the length of the room -- part of that directly adjacent to some of Dunedin's massive steel tanks -- and high-top tables are scattered about the floor. The bathrooms feature tap handles on the faucets and if you head the wrong direction down the hallway you can easily end up in one of the brewery's offices. It feels a bit impromptu, as if one of the brewery staff said, "Let's start a cafe in the old barn!" It's a reminder that you're sitting in a brewery first, and a pub second.

That aura only heightens when you come into contact with the exceedingly casual staff, who manage to combine a lack of traditional service practices with a neighborly camaraderie that turns first-timers into regulars with absurd ease. Are these guys really just brewery bottle washers and apprentice chemists making an extra buck after hours? I hope so.

Love the aura or hate it, once you down a few beers it all makes a lot more sense. That's also a prescription for making the most out of the pub's food options.

That amateur vibe that infects the pub loses a lot of luster once the food hits the table. The menu is simple and aims to do little more than provide a caloric accompaniment to Dunedin Brewery's finest, but even a part-time pub could do a little better.

Beer cheese dip is cold and odd, more flavored cream cheese than the gooey cheddar fondue you might find elsewhere. The kitchen makes a specialty hummus every night, but it's a bit bland and grainy. Tacos -- which take up a big portion of the menu -- are built on dry grocery store flour tortillas and stuffed with dry pork that will leave you grabbing the nearest glass of whatever.

Those dishes may be why I see mostly burgers and nachos topping the tables around me. The diner-style burgers are damn fine, salty and juicy even though the kitchen won't cook the meat to anything but medium-well. The nachos are built on thin bagged chips but topped with enough fixins to compensate. Best item on the pub's menu, however, are massive beer-battered onion rings that have more malty, alcoholic tang than most people can cram into a beer.

Which brings us back to the reason I'm here. Why everyone's here, if the constant stream of hefty mugs, pint glasses and sampling cups coming from the taps is any indication. Order a sampler and you get six surprisingly large 5-ounce pours -- your choice from the 10 or so regular and seasonal brews available. The wee heavy is outstanding, with malt up front and bourbon in the back, and the biere de cafe is almost tasty enough to pour into your morning mug in place of a daily latte.

Down one of each of those, banter with the staff, chair-dance to the nightly live music and take in the sights of gleaming steel and insulated pipes, and the humdrum food easily fades into the background.


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