When asked what inspired San Diego’s most successful restaurateurs to take over Mission Beach’s Coaster Saloon, reps from the Cohn Restaurant Group reply, “Location, location, location.” Not only did CRG nab an indoor-outdoor bar and resto adjacent to the beach, boardwalk, and Belmont Park (as well as three upstairs suites), they also inherited 40 taps ripe for dispensing craft beer.
A mainstay on Ventura Place for roughly three-and-a-half decades, beer in great abundance has been the venue’s calling card for many years. Early on, its suds-saturation was a bit gimmicky, driving patrons to check out a variety of microbrews and imports a la The Yard House, but in recent years, former co-owner Darren Renna went all-in with draft craft offerings, reaching out to local breweries to showcase their wares.
Under CRG, San Diego craft remains at the forefront, including a number of independent operations intermingled with macro-owned brands and a few American-adjunct offerings for the non-artisanal minded. Though some tourists order one of the latter for their first drink, after having the lore of local brewing shared with them, they tend to switch over to a pint or flight of something from San Diego.
Beverage manager Sabrina Nowatnick sees having a variety of offerings—everything from kettle-sours and blondes to IPAs, ambers and brown ales—as a key to conversion. Expecting craft beer first-timers to latch on to a hometown hop-bomb is a bit far-fetched, so gateway beers play a big role. And so does those beers’ compatibility with down-home barbecue, which is the name of the game at CRG’s reimagined version of the Coaster.
Executive chef Tim Eylens presents a menu stocked to the gills with slow-smoked meats like classic Texas beef brisket, pulled pork, or baby back ribs (and sides of spare ribs at a discount on Thursday nights). Some of those succulent proteins find their way onto appetizers like garbage fries with pulled pork, pickled veg, and barbecue sauce, or sandwiches like the “Big O’” with brisket, caramelized onions, whole-grain mustard aioli, Havarti and Swiss cheese on thick, golden-brown Texas toast.
With the savory meatiness of the above offerings, coupled with earthy spices, chilis, and barbecue-sauce sweetness, red ales like Karl Strauss’ time-tested Red Trolley Ale, or roasty selections like New English’s Brewer’s Special Brown Ale are couplings you can count on. For those looking to counter the fatty, sugary aspects of those dishes or amplify their spiciness, a dry, heavily-hopped West Coast IPA is the way to go.
And like any BBQ joint worth its salt (or custom dry-rub blend), Coaster Saloon features a host of diverse yet equally decadent sides, from bacon-studded potato salad to creamy macaroni and cheese with a crispy Panko crust, coleslaw, baked beans, and some of the best stewed collard greens on this side of the Mississippi.
Chef Eylens has shared the recipe for two of these supporting cast members, as well as his smoked baby back ribs, but also invites you to save some work by coming straight to the source where you can ride the Giant Dipper or take a dip in the Pacific before dipping some slow-smoked meats in a cup of his special barbecue sauce.
Baby Back Ribs
Yield: 6 to 8 servings
Paired with Karl Strauss Red Trolley Ale
½ lb brown sugar
2 oz chili powder
2 oz granulated garlic
2 oz paprika
1 oz black pepper
1 oz cumin
1 oz onion powder
1 oz salt
½ oz cayenne pepper
2 racks baby back pork ribs, membrane removed from backside
Bacon Potato Salad (recipe follows)
Collard Greens (recipe follows)
Combine the spices and coat the ribs with the spice rub. Wrap the ribs in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1-2 hours. Prepare an outdoor or stovetop smoker per manufacturer’s specifications and smoke using your favorite wood or pellets until the meat begins to pull back from the rib bones, 4½-5 hours. Place on a platter with potato salad and collard greens, and serve immediately.
Bacon Potato Salad
Paired with New English Brewing Brewers Special Brown Ale
2 lbs Yukon gold potatoes
½ lb bacon, cooked until crispy
1 bunch scallions, thinly sliced
1 cup celery, finely diced
1 cup sour cream
½ cup mayonnaise
salt and pepper to taste
Place the potatoes in a medium-sized pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil and cook until fork-tender, about 20 minutes. Drain and let cool to room temperature. Cut into 1-inch pieces and place in a large mixing bowl. Add the other ingredients and combine until thoroughly incorporated. Serve or set aside.
Paired with Societe Brewing The Apprentice IPA
½ lb bacon
1 yellow onion, cut into 1-inch thick pieces
2 qts low-sodium beef broth
3 Tbsp red wine vinegar
2 Tbsp soy sauce
2 Tbsp brown sugar
1 Tbsp black pepper
4 bunches collard greens, stems removed and chopped
salt to taste
In a large pot over medium-high heat, sauté the bacon until it is crispy, about 8 minutes. Add the onions and cook for two minutes. Add the broth, vinegar, soy sauce, sugar and pepper, and bring the mixture to a simmer. Add the collard greens, then simmer until they are tender, about 1 hour. Season with salt as needed. Serve immediately.
—Recipes courtesy Tim Eylens, Executive Chef, Coaster Saloon