North County’s Belching Beaver Brewery boasts five locations throughout San Diego County—a large production facility in Oceanside, an indoor-outdoor brewpub in Old Town Vista, tasting rooms in North Park and Ocean Beach, and its original Vista brewery. With so many properties and ownership’s eyes on potential future facilities north of San Diego, there were plans to let go of the latter, but an idea from creative employees of the five-year-old company to add an in-house food component to the spot where it all began for the Beav’ saved it from being sold. After eight months of design and construction, that concept, Pub980 (980 Park Center Drive, Vista) is set to debut to the public on Monday, January 15.
Much like when the company took over a former bank and converted it into Belching Beaver Brewery Tavern and Grill, one can’t help but speculate at how well an interest most known for fermentation will do with a restaurant concept. And much as with its first foray into food service, Belching Beaver has come through with flying colors with Pub980. What was once a single-suite combination brewery and tasting room now utilizes double the indoor square-footage to deliver a split concept that relies on a shared bar to deliver a choose-your-own-adventure experience.
Visitors to Pub980 who merely want to sample through Belching Beaver’s beers can do so in the original tasting room on the right side of the space, while those who wish to dine can head left where high-top wooden tables of varying sizes await, dressed with red, lumberjack flannel runners conveying a camping theme that’s driven home by numerous clever elements. Those include a beautiful living wall with a pair of tents pitched above it that hovers over a stone-enclosed fish pond, tree branches bundled into a wall in front of the restrooms and the pièce de résistance, a fully operational kitchen made to look like a towed-in trailer complete with white-wall tires. These elements mesh nicely with oak-occupied barrel racks, strands of hanging bulbs and a large Chuck E. Cheese-like beaver statue (the non-creepy audio-animatronic type).
Additionally, the Belching Beaver team has done a great job incorporating a pre-existing outdoor patio complete with fire-pits and Adirondack chairs (a design staple that can also be found at its original brewpub). To really bring home the camping motif, the kitchen offers hot-dog and s’mores kits complete with lengthy skewers so patrons can prepare their own vittles over open flames should the mood strike them. Those are offered on top of a robust menu of pub grub ranging from hot wings, cheese curds, fish tacos and sandwiches to a surprisingly wide array of salads. The menu isn’t a huge departure from the original pub (it was developed by the same chef), but it is intentionally different. Owner Tom Vogel and company aren’t naïve to the fact Belching Beaver’s pair of eateries are a mere six miles apart, and want to offer unique experiences at each.
On the food side, particularly impressive are the cheesesteaks, which are authentic in their use of shaved quality ribeye, but upgrade the fromage element, going with real cheese and “Beaver beer cheese” versus Philly-preferred Whiz. A Classic, SoCal (avocado, Swiss and jalapeño-avocado sauce) Hawaiian (Kalua pork, pineapple and teriyaki sauce) and chicken-bacon versions are available. Burgers, a Chicago dog, assorted wraps and Troy’s corn dog (named after brewmaster Troy Smith) round out the hand-held mains. The latter isn’t the only item named for someone. Vogel dug in his heels to get Tom’s fried clams on the menu. They can be had with a beer for a discounted price the Friday during week-long grand-opening festivities, January 15-20, when a different $9.80 food-and-drink deal will be offered each day.
Pub980 is very well done, especially given the relatively modest size of the project. Vogel says the new venue is all about family, and that creating a place where parents can bring their kids to do more than sit around while their parents drank beer was a big focus during the design phase. Having visited during a rehearsal dinner service where children were present (and having made s’mores with several of them outside) I can say with confidence they’ve come through in spades on this objective. Pub980 should serve those who venture to it, as well as the clientele lured from the many nearby business and industrial parks, quite well.
Pub980’s hours of operation will be 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Wednesday, 11 am. to 10 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sundays.