Lost in the sorrows and romantic dreams of my youth, I locked my bicycle outside and drifted alone into the door of the Iron Springs Pub and Brewery in Fairfax on a recent Saturday. It was my birthday. I was 28 and I was bummed. The bar was lined with beer-heavy men watching TV, and I asked for the Barstow-Lundy barleywine ($3.75 per pint for all beers). They were out, so I took the Maclean's Scotch ale instead. This very interesting 7 percent alcohol brew tasted like smoke and spicy Cajun catfish. I took my beer to a seat by the window, next to a bookshelf stacked with board games. The waiter briefed me on the daily specials. The sautéed Atlantic salmon salad ($12.99) took the man several decadent stanzas to describe and screamed to be eaten. I asked that he add avocado ($1.50), and it was a deal.
The open kitchen allowed me a view of the fine chefs at work. I admired them, artfully shaking the grease from the fries and sinking frozen onion rings into the hot oil.
"These," I thought to myself, "are clearly men who know and love food. They unmistakably revere fineness while adhering to the masters' philosophy of 'ingredient-driven cuisine.' I wonder which acclaimed institute they were recruited from?" Upon arrival, the salad looked awfully insubstantial, and there was no blue cheese as promised. But at least there were three or four slices of avocado, and the Atlantic salmon was as tasty as any wild varietal. They must have thrown some grade-A fodder into its pen. On the fish was a splendid squirt of mayonnaise.
Twelve beers were available, and I ordered a "paddle" of six three-ounce samplers ($6). My beers arrived on a wooden oar in adorable mini beer steins. The Honey Blonde ale had the foamiest head of the lineup and gave a long aftertaste of wheat. Next, I burned my mouth on the super-hopped IPA. The Imperial IPA was less bitter, with deeper flavors, and a bigger portion of alcohol. Comments elude me for the Epiphany ale, a sweet golden beer. The coffee porter delivered a dramatic absence of flavor after its initial kick of espresso. And the Sless stout was still and dark like the tannic backwaters of a Mississippi bayou.
For the road, I got the grilled tofu burger on dark rye ($7.99). I took the sandwich up Mt. Tamalpais on my bicycle. Twenty miles and 2,000 feet straight up will make anything on earth taste good, except for an Iron Springs tofu burger. The greasy patty had been frozen and preheated and tasted like camping food, and the chefs had deemed the dish too excellent for ketchup or mustard. Just pickles.
I ate it anyway, perched on a grassy knoll high above the ocean. Twenty-eight years, I wondered. So many regrets, so many mistakes. Was Iron Springs yet another? I'll wait to taste their barleywine to know.
Iron Springs Brewery, 765-A Center Blvd., Fairfax. Open 4pm to closing, Monday–Thursday; noon to close, Friday–Sunday. 415.485.1005.
Editor's note: Since Alastair's storied 28th, the tofu burger has been removed from the menu. Iron Springs agrees with his assessment and is looking for a better-quality veggie option to replace.
Quick-and-dirty dashes through North Bay restaurants. These aren't your standard "bring five friends and order everything on the menu" dining reviews.