By Tanya Henry
When Alex and Lisa Stricker took over the Flatiron in 2013, the longtime watering hole received a major facelift. The San Rafael institution was transformed into a cleaner, brighter sports bar that maintained its convivial, inviting vibe but with better food and less grunginess. When the couple announced that they had bought the nearby Broken Drum on Fourth Street and planned to bring on both an accomplished chef and brewer, I had high hopes.
Though vestiges of the previous brewpub linger, State Room Brewery, Bar & Kitchen has enlivened this downtown spot with a sexy backlit bar, eclectic menu and a young, energetic waitstaff. Chairs painted Kelly green, high-top tables and grey fabric-clad booths are all part of the eatery’s newly modern sensibility. Music is loud and busy servers—clad in skinny black jeans and T-shirts emblazoned with the slogan, ‘In Beer We Trust’—are attentive and earnest.
More brewery/bar than restaurant, State Room, unsurprisingly, boasts beer that shines. I sampled their Franklins Tower IPA—a near perfect blend of malt, yeast and floral hops. All of the house-made beers are available in half pints, pints, flights and pitchers. An Altered State Triple also hit all the right notes. Again, not a surprise, as the brewer cut his teeth at places like Sierra Nevada and most recently, at Iron Springs.
I wanted to love the food as much as the beer—but I didn’t. Knowing chef Ed Vigil’s food well from his time at Vin Antico, I was surprised and confused by the offerings. A handful of starters that range from pork buns, cheesy pretzels and a couple of overcooked strips of Korean style skirt steak (meant to be rolled in lettuce leaves and doused with a five-spice sauce), to sashimi and deviled eggs had me scratching my head. Small plates feature meatballs, a generous portion of cubed, but not crispy potatoes slathered in a spicy harissa aioli, tempura crawfish and a few obligatory salads.
Hands down the best items on the menu are the blistered pizzas fresh from the newly installed wood-fire oven. A flawless Margarita Mezzo Secco showcased just the right amounts of san marzano tomatoes, basil, dry jack cheese, burrata and chili flakes. A Farmers’ Market option features seasonal offerings, and a house-made pesto with cippolini onions, fennel, sausage and arugula couldn’t have been better.
Considering that State Room has only been open for a month, it’s doing remarkably well. With a few tweaks to the menu (the Asian items are a disconnect at an American brewpub, and where’s the burger?) and a planned beer garden in the front of the brewery—I have little doubt that it will eventually hit its stride.
State Room Brewery, Bar & Kitchen, 1132 Fourth Street, San Rafael; 415/295-7929; stateroombrewery.com.