Epicurious Eating: Blind Lady Ale House
Awash in suds
Published Thursday, 25-Jun-2009 in issue 1122
For decades the world’s perception of San Diego has been based on our temperate climate, beach tacos and zoo critters. Yet as of late, the list has grown to include an unlikely attention getter – craft beer.
There are currently more than 30 breweries operating throughout San Diego County, many of them earning accolades across the globe for the pure and luscious beers they produce. So what if microbrew cities like Seattle and Portland come to hate us – we could stand to lose our reputation for being the nation’s most inexhaustible guzzlers of Corona Light (aka water flavored with beer).
Providing a ringside seat to all of this sudsy sophistication is Blind Lady Ale House, a brick-and-mortar haunt in Normal Heights where social mingling occurs as fluidly as a glass of fruity Mission Hefeweizen sliding down the throat.
Blind Lady, however, isn’t a brewer, at least not until it obtains a fermentation license to start making beer in small batches. But the rotating beer list bubbles with about 20 different varieties on any given day, most hailing from notable San Diego County producers.
The choices are scribbled in eye-squinting fashion on a chalkboard that hangs over a row of stainless steel taps. They are part of an expensive draft system that prevents the beer from touching anything other than steel from brewery to your glass. Highlighted in pink are beers containing less than 8 percent alcohol, a helpful warning to ravenously thirsty customers “so that they don’t spill out of the place,” says co-owner and brewing consultant Lee Chase, formerly of Stone Brewing.
Should you acquire a swerve, your antidotes are appetizers, salads and 12-inch Neapolitan-style pizzas. The menu also features kid friendly pizzas made with mild tomato sauce. Yes, the environment is conducive to tots, as my companion’s toddler demonstrated when ripping into his six-inch pizza pie while freely adding to the din rounds of animated baby talk. The airy atmosphere is comfortable and so highly jovial with its communal layout that adults can do the same if they so choose – and probably nobody will blink an eye.
Noteworthy menu starters include “lil’ bowl of olives,” a colorful mix of meaty gems that revealed hints of coriander, fennel and lemon peel in the brine. The steamed mussels were dandy, too, if mainly because of the big puddle of snappy salsa verde filling the bottom of their bowl. Of those gnawed pizza crusts you might normally leave for dead, this is where you re-hydrate them and take joy. As for the Caesar salad, it was thoughtfully draped with white anchovies, but the thick, creamy dressing lacked tang and tasted to me strangely like puréed cottage cheese.
In journeying down a board of six taster beers ranging from Kool-Aid-like raspberry Framboisse to dangerously delicious coffee-infused Speedway Stout (12.6 percent alcohol), we encountered a couple of pizzas.
The kitchen adheres to many of the strict standards required for making authentic Neapolitan pies, with the exception that it doesn’t use a brick oven. Yet the pizza dough is made with requisite finely ground flour, imported from Italy and prepared three days ahead to allow for more rise and yeast flavor. Canned tomatoes used for the sauce are also imported. And in the case of the Bianca al Prosciutto pizza, it’s topped with authentic prosciutto di Parma. (Other brands are sacrilege in this established academy of pizza making.)
Our choices were Salsiccia pizza topped with rapini, oregano, mozzarella, tomato sauce and clusters of Italian sausage that were rather salty, though an overall perfect come-on to light and refreshing Victory Whirlwind Belgian-style wheat beer.
We liked much better the mushroom pizza abloom with five different types of fresh fungi, including morels and enokis. It was crowned also with spring leeks and Fontina and Pecorino Romano cheeses. A little dry since it’s sauceless, but rich in flavor. In either case, the crusts sported the right amount of “chew” that was neither doughy nor crackery. Only at Ciro’s in Hillcrest have I encountered this crafty balance.
The menu features several salads and about nine other types of pizza. Where the imported products leave off, fresh regional ingredients come in. There is an obvious creed built into Blind Lady’s concept: “Keep it pure and keep it simple.”
The ale house takes it name from a business that resided here long ago, known as the Automatic Venetian Blind Lady. In her day, the building’s big front windows probably defined the place with copious louvers. Now, the façade affords pedestrians a clear view into the open space, appointed by brick walls, large murals and lots of sturdy wood tables that demand diving into San Diego’s newest liquid asset.