Fresno-area gastropubs mix craft beer, specialty drinks, fine food

The Fresno BeeJuly 14, 2014 

What do you get when you combine a bar with a wide selection of craft beer and a chef that excels at creating top-notch food? It's called a gastropub and the concept is growing in the central San Joaquin Valley.

For several years, gastropubs have been carving out niches in cities from San Diego to Scottsdale with their unique brews and upscale cuisine.

Several Fresno-area restaurants, including Peeve's Public House, Eureka Burger and House of Juju, are considered gastropubs. Relatively recent additions are Southgate Brewing Company in Oakhurst and Pita Kabob & Grill in Visalia.

And soon to open is Guri's Grubhouse & Taps. The restaurant is moving into the former Fajita Fiesta site on Shaw Avenue, just west of Cedar. Guri's is named after Guri Bhangoo, a local farmer and entrepreneur investing in the restaurant.

"What you get at a gastropub is a fine dining experience, including great drinks, food and service," said Kelly Chandler, creator of the craft beer blog "People are really looking for that experience and with good reason."

Gastropubs are popular because they offer a fine-dining experience in a casual environment. Customers also can enjoy some of the best local craft beers and specialty drinks without having to go to a bar or brewery.

The restaurateurs piloting Fresno's new gastropub project are Michael and Gina Jew, owners of Swiggs, the popular beer and burger joint at Shaw Avenue and Sixth Street.

Michael Jew says he has been eager to try a new concept focusing on using fresh, seasonal and locally sourced ingredients. At the same time, Jew wants to spotlight the growing craft beer and cocktail movement. Jew says the 7,200-square-foot restaurant will combine the best of the craft drink trend with farm-to-table freshness.

Along with serving more than two dozen craft beers, the bar will have craft vodka, bourbon, scotch and whiskey available.

Jew expects the new restaurant to open in early August. It will seat about 150.

"We are trying to create that big city dining experience," Michael Jew says. "And we think this is a great opportunity to bring that to Fresno."

Creating the menu for Guri's will be Andy Hatcher, former chef at Parma and most recently The Grill on the Alley in San Jose.

"This is going to be tavern food with a twist," Hatcher says. "We are very fortunate to be in an area with so much fresh produce and our menus will change often as we look for seasonal items."

Hatcher plans to create as much as he can in his kitchen, including smoking, brining, pickling, blending spices and creating sauces.

Expected to be on the menu are gourmet sandwiches, burgers, thin crust pizzas, flat iron steaks and tri-tip.

"We know Fresno loves tri-tip, but we will do it our way," Hatcher says. "Our tri-tip will be marinated and smoked. (It) will have a chili rub and be charred on the outside."

Recently, Hatcher was in the kitchen at Swiggs working on sliders and his take on chicken and waffles. The sliders can be ordered in full versions as well. One of the sliders, called the Grub House burger, will have a handmade patty, aged cheddar cheese, house cured bacon and braised onions.

Hatcher's chicken and waffles is like no other. For starters, the waffle will be topped with pickled peppers, heirloom tomatoes and sweet onions. For the fried chicken, Hatcher will use Mary's Free Range chicken dipped in a polenta batter.

"I love chicken and waffles but they often don't have any color," he says. "This will have lots of colorful vegetables and chicken with extra crunch."

Chafic Dada, owner of the Pita Kebab & Grill in Visalia, expects more gastropubs to open in the Valley. His pub is a fusion between Mediterranean and American food and opened about a month ago.

Pita Kebab has one of the largest selections of beer in the area. Dada has 31 beers on tap and about 20 to 30 in bottles. A menu board lists the selections that include India pale ales, stouts, Belgians and sours.

The decor is a sort of industrial chic with an open, airy feeling.

"When people come in here they say this doesn't feel like we are in the Valley," Dada says. "I like hearing that. And once people start to take notice you will see more of these types of restaurants."

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6327, or @FresnoBeeBob on Twitter.

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