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REVIEW: Churchill's Pub and Grille

Churchill's Pub and Grille in San Marcos
Courtesy of Chris Roesink

Any brew enthusiast who’s ever been to Churchill’s Pub and Grille will see this article and wonder to themselves why any beer savvy writer would feel the need to turn in a critique of this venue. With the exception of a sticky door leading to the back patio, there’s pretty much nothing to knock, especially where beer is involved. Their 50-tap tower—as impressive for its sheer immensity as its selection of quality standards and one-offs—is enough to garner an A-plus rating all on its own. Who could offer a bad word about a place that’s devoted enough to install and so painstakingly stock that apparatus? Not this guy!

What prompted me to train a judgmental gaze on Churchill’s is Dave Adams, a certified Cicerone (beer sommelier) who is working with chef A.G. Warfield to bring beer-geared cuisine into the equation via regular beer and food pairing events. This duo teams up to prepare four-course beer-paired menus that can be enjoyed in their entirety for $33 or a la carte with dishes ranging from $3.99 to a little under $20 apiece.

A scan of Churchill’s everyday menu yields comfort-driven pub fare one would expect; tasty vittles like Scotch eggs, corned beef and cabbage and cottage pie (kudos for knowing the difference between a pie made with beef versus the lamb-driven Shepherd’s Pie). There’s even some items like chicken tikki masala and lamb madras (both available with tofu on request) that, unlike most pubs on this side of the pond, capture the Indian influence of public houses in the UK.

These are plenty appealing, but completely different from the more gourmet-style dishes being served up as part of Adams and Warfield’s one-night-only events. I was present at a winter iteration that took place in December and was centered around holiday beers. Given the complex flavor profiles of such beers, finding dishes that complement them can be a challenge, but this tandem did a job that ranged from decent on up to outstanding.

One of the better matches was the kick-off course, a ginger, carrot and parsnip soup accompanied by Deschutes Jubelale. At first ponder, the edible component seemed incapable of standing up to the dark and notably rich beer, but thanks to a plethora of sweet and earthy holiday spices, it held its own and made for a spoon-to-sip segue that was nearly seamless.

That same symbiosis was achieved in the course where most beer dinner’s finest colleagues find common ground—dessert. Warfield dished up a hefty slab of rum-raisin bread pudding that was every bit as sweetly decadent as the St. Bernardus Christmas Ale that helped close out the meal. A pumpkin spiced whipped cream added flavors that matched the beer and helped produce a coating mouthfeel which, given the deliciousness of the food and beer, was welcomed as it helped the flavors stick around beyond their normal finish.

But it wasn’t all simpatico. A baby spinach salad with crumbled goat cheese, apples and candied walnuts was heavy on the greens, which skewed the ideal ratio of the more vividly flavored ingredients and hindered their ability to sync with a tart, semi-spicy Noel de Calabaza from Jolly Pumpkin. In the correct proportions, the beer could have acted as almost its own vinaigrette, but even in such a case, it wouldn’t have been a perfect pairing. Even so, it was an idea backed by solid logic and perfectly passable on the plate.

The most lacking pairing came courtesy of the most surprising dish—Duck a’l’Orange. I can count on zero hands the number of times I’ve had the option of duck breast, much less a French classic preparation of it, in a neighborhood bar. The fact it was even on the menu—and under $18 no less—was wonderful and a prime indicator of the genuineness of Adams and Warfield’s program. They could use the same old playbook, but they’re not. They want to explore pairings that go beyond the norm and that is, arguably, the only reason to implement such a dining option in a place where beer is enough of a draw that a spot would do just as well to rest on its laurels.

As with the salad, the proportions of the dish’s individual components was a bit off. Specifically, there was too much of a slightly cloying brown sugar-infused sweet potato mash and roasted zucchini that did more to detract from the flavors on the plate than add to them due to their neutral profiles and the water-based nature of the vegetable. The duck breast was cooked just a little over, but still tasted quite good and did the best job of finding harmony with a goblet of Affligem Noel, which was mild enough to work rather than compete with this anything but paltry poultry (this was a filling dish that could have been served in smaller portions, making it a nice value).

While still in its early stages, the food-and-drink combos this series of events has yielded show great promise and are well worth the more-than-fair rates they’re being offered at. Certainly, sound minds and methodologies are at play and the fact that the property has taken the surprising step of installing its very own extensive vertical garden out back (long before even some of San Diego’s most noteworthy upscale eateries jumped on this emerging trend), is demonstrative of the authenticity of the food fervor at the core of this unassuming operation.

It’s nice to see a long-tenured star in San Diego County’s bar landscape pushing the envelope, flexing some culinary muscle and making it worth a lengthy drive to San Marcos for beer and food.

The next food and beer pairing event will take place on April 21.

Details »
  • City: San Marcos
  • Phone: 760.471.8773
  • Name: Churchill's Pub and Grille
  • Address: 887 West San Marcos Blvd.