Dining Reviews

Discreet Eats

DiningDiscretion Brewery’s menu offers inventive fair in an Old World pub atmosphere

When I realized that chef Santos Majano had once taken a turn in the kitchen at Artisan in Paso Robles, many things came into focus. Artisan is the top restaurant in its region, savvy about innovatively spiced, assertively combined ingredients. Well, Majano brought some of that background first to Soif Wine Bar, where he served as executive chef for five years, and now to the off-the-beaten-track Tap Room at Discretion Brewery.

The word “exciting” barely covers the flavor action Majano has brought to this tiny kitchen with his marriage of Old World pub atmosphere and the top level of California culinary creativity. Here is a menu that truly embraces robust artisanal beer. And, I’ve run into Majano at the farmers market, so I know he’s sourcing only the very organic and seasonal. An airy blend of workingman rustic and sleek industrial, the interior of the Tap Room offers a nifty view of the exhibition brewery behind the glass backbar. Long wooden refectory surfaces blend with vintage Formica-topped kitchen tables. Poured concrete and metal siding form the high walls, and a side patio with seating overlooks the spacious parking lot.

Majano’s chalkboard menu calls for attention, starting with a spin on the Ploughman’s lunch involving cheddar, crostini, pickles and boiled eggs—with designer orange marmalade—for 10 bucks. But my eyes locked onto the items featuring pork belly—a bowl of dashi loaded with slabs of braised bacon, fried egg, chimichurri, and pickles—for eight dollars! My companion went for the beer-braised pork belly sliders with purple slaw and pickled onions ($9). At midday, I opted for a 3-ounce tasting pour ($2) of the splendid Holler ale, sharp and bright with a nutty caramel finish that receded into that sacred sour flavor that makes beer so utterly its own thing. Jack was just fine with his 10-ounce Wisdom Wheat beer ($4)—light, earthy, unfiltered. Everything a wheat beer should be. The low hum of camaraderie hugged the front bar as we sipped beer and listened to ’80s pop classics trending a nice hit of nostalgia.

We just weren’t prepared for how gorgeous the dishes were. Continuing the focus on real materials, my dashi arrived in a large hand-friendly white bowl topped with ribbons of freshly made pickles, cilantro leaves, and a dusting of white coriander blossoms. A dollop of pea-green chimichurri topped the large fried egg inside the intensely bonito-flavored dashi. My spoon swirled the Argentine sauce — a brilliant puree of oregano, garlic, fresh parsley, probably cilantro, and red pepper flakes—into the broth. Argentine/Japanese fusion—at a micro-brewery! This is why I live in Santa Cruz!

Over on my partner’s side of the table, those fat little sliders, which arrived in a warm cast-iron pan, were disappearing. Quickly. So I made my move, reaching over a who’s who of handmade squash pickles, into a bite overflowing with rich shredded pork, purple shredded cabbage, pickled onions, and the whole thing pulled together with the hot-sweet of honey mustard. Did I mention that this food was positively spot on with the beer? I only wished I had a few more folks with me to sample the pozole (yes, with pork belly), or the chicken and waffles, or maybe the lamb ragu with housemade pappardelle, roasted fennel, toasted pecans, and chevre. Are you completely mad with desire for this food yet? The Tap Room has thoughtfully added a line-up of student budget-friendly “snacks” like Spanish chorizo, roasted potatoes, garlic noodles with Parmesan and bread crumbs (enlightened mac and cheese), $5 each. Just get over there!

Discretion Brewery is open daily from 11:30 a.m. – 9 p.m. 2703 41st Ave., Captiola. 316-0662. discretionbrewing.com. PHOTO: Chef Santos Majano has brought excitement to the kitchen at Discretionary Brewery. CHIP SCHEUER

Christina Waters was born in Santa Cruz and raised all over the world (thanks to an Air Force dad), with real-world training in painting, music, winetasting, trail running, organic gardening, and teaching. She has a PhD in Philosophy, teaches in the Arts at UCSC and sings with the UCSC Concert Choir. Look for her recent memoir “Inside the Flame” at bookstores everywhere.

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