If sometimes I've walked out of Magnolia Gastropub and Brewery smelling a little like beer -- not my breath, my entire person, because of the yeasty, malted air -- it's still a perennial favorite of the Haight. On-site beer production, outdoor seating, and that fantastic burger all contribute to one of the all-around best dining experiences in the city. And that's before the prescribed exercises to train your palate for good beers.
As Strong Beer Month (aka February) nears, Magnolia is bound to see a bump in patrons, clamoring for brown ales and IPAs. As it happens, they've got a new chef in Kevin Clancy, whose internal progression to his current gig means he knows the place inside and out, assuring a sensitivity to Magnolia's spirit. The menu's been thoroughly revamped, but with a light touch, reflecting a continuing effort to match excellent food with excellent beers. (Disclosure: excepting the gratuity, my meal was comped.)
An excellent linguisa combined three disparate textures: crumbly pepperonata sausage, corned-beef-like ham hock, and the love-it-or-hate-it pastiness of gigante beans. It works. A lamb meatball sandwich (with feta, tomato sauce, and arugula on ciabatta) was hearty without being overwhelming -- and, as with a lot of high-end gastropubs, the fries can't help but play second-string, although they're pretty much perfect. This onslaught of intense flavors needs a heavy-hitting beer, and a 20-oz. pour of Magnolia's Proving Ground IPA (7.0% ABV/100 BU's) is exactly right.
How can you eat at a pub and not eat pub food? Sadly, the chicken wings, thick with sauce though they were, were the lone disappointment, failing to carry much discernible flavor beyond the mild-moderate heat. But all was redeemed over dessert, with an English coffee cake served with Blue Bottle caramel sauce. It pulled the deft trick of being neither too sweet nor too large when all I wanted was to scratch the itch (and I was still drinking my second beer, a mellower, pleasant Big Cypress Brown). And I walked out odor-free. Magnolia is well-positioned for the Strong Beer hordes.
Magnolia Gastropub and Brewery, 1398 Haight St., (415) 864-7468