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Watering Holes

A Family-Owned Gastropub in Monterey Park Is Putting an Asian L.A. Twist on Classic Burgers and Brew

1:13 PM PST on November 14, 2018

[dropcap size=big]T[/dropcap]he Lieu siblings thought they were taking a gamble when they opened up Brew Kitchen Bar, their Garfield Avenue gastropub in Monterey Park.

In an area acclaimed for its wealth of delicious Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese, Armenian, Japanese, Italian, and Mexican cuisine, the Lieus wondered if the Monterey Park neighborhood they grew up visiting with family would take to their “new” concept — American pub favorites like burgers, wings, and fries –  “with some twists,” says sister Pamela Lieu.

They knew about locals’ loyalty to steadfast family favorite eateries such as Mama Lu’s Dumpling House, Shaka’s Hawai’ian, Taihei Sushi, Ordóñez Mexican Restaurant, the former Bollini’s (now Ravello Osteria), and many others. These places are “safe bets” for locals who might not want to change it up, head chef James Lieu acknowledges. “But we wanted to introduce a new cuisine to the area, a casual, American experience with some Asian-inspired twists.”

All photos by Melissa Mora Hidalgo.

In late October 2017, with their family’s support, Pamela, Patricia, and James went for it and opened the doors to their new establishment, Brew Kitchen Bar. The Lieus’ gamble seems to have paid off well. The neighborhood indeed digs Brew Kitchen, and the beer buzz is spreading.

Locals familiar with the area’s more established gastropubs such as 38 Degrees Ale House in Alhambra, Bottle Room in Uptown Whittier, King’s Row in Pasadena, and neighboring Spirit House Bar and Lounge in the Lincoln Hotel — a favorite among the Brew Kitchen crew — have found a new spot to watch the Dodgers and Lakers with flavorful food, good beer, and an easy-breezy vibe. “About a third of our daily customers are regulars or returning, which we love to see,” Pamela told L.A. Taco.

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The Drinks

[dropcap size=big]B[/dropcap]rew Kitchen serves specialty artisan burgers, savory salads, craft beer, and homemade soju cocktails in a fresh and modern gastropub setting. No exposed brick, heavy oak, or dim lighting here. Walking into Brew Kitchen from the afternoon bustle on Garfield Avenue is like walking into a nice backyard patio lined with fresh herbs, cut flowers, and sixteen taps of fresh California craft cerveza.

As in its name, the beer comes first at Brew Kitchen Bar. The pub proudly pours its namesake beverage on rotating taps, including the occasional cider and seasonal brew for good measure.

“Choosing the beer menu is a collaborative effort between my sisters and I,” James Lieu told L.A. Taco. We try to keep the beer menu diverse and serve a variety of lighter to darker beers to accommodate to everyone. To spice up the beer menu, we look to find special craft beers that are limited edition seasonal beers that might be difficult to find elsewhere,” he said.

James explained that he and his sisters wanted to create a relaxed environment, especially for first-time visitors to Brew Kitchen who may not know what to expect. Posted signs near the wine-bottle display invite patrons to “get buzzed” (responsibly, of course) and relax with a craft brew on nitro, an herbaceous soju cocktail, or glass of biodynamic Santa Maria white wine.

To the right of the tap display, jars of sage, mint, and rosemary line the counter, where Patricia Lieu chops fruit, herbs, and jalapeños. “These are for the mango soju-rita, our house specialty,” she says. She muddles raspberries and whips up egg whites with the Korean distilled spirit for any number of unique cocktails that can only be found at the Brew Kitchen Bar.

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The Eats

The Brew Kitchen Bar specializes in classic American pub favorites made with local, seasonal ingredients. The food’s pan-Asian flavor profiles appeal to the sophisticated Cali-ethnic palates of San Gabriel Valley diners.

“The Korean wings have a spicy, sweet, and savory twist from Korean dishes,” Chef James explains. “The spicy garlic wings have a Chinese twist with the subtle jalapeño, garlic, and green onions. The fish-n- chips were inspired by England’s [classic pub favorite]. The couscous salad has subtle curry flavor that was inspired by Indian curry dishes.”

Each of these dishes is pretty mouth-watering. The Korean wings are sweet and crunchy, and the generous portion of couscous salad satisfies with unctuous chewiness, balanced with crispy greens.

Other Brew Kitchen house favorites include the calamari, BKB burger, and fish-n-chips. Chef James says these happen to be his personal favorite menu items. “The Calamari is crispy on the outside and tender on the inside with a nice subtle flavor of the jalapeño, garlic, and green onions. It is great appetizer for any occasion and to me, just addictive.”

He also has much praise for the other house favorites. “What I like the most about the BKB burger is that you can really taste the individual ingredients, especially the ‘millionaires’ bacon, that all come together in the end to make a balanced burger. The fish-n-chips is one of the specialties that I enjoy the most because when you take a bite out of the fish-n-chips, you can just feel the crispiness of the batter and the buttery fish that just melts in your mouth.”

The buttery BKB fish-n-chips are about as good as any I’ve had in an Irish pub. The ones at BKB pair nicely with a crisp pint of Madewest (Ventura) Pale Ale. My other go-to pairing is the delicious hot fried chicken sandwich and a glass of Port (San Diego) Shark Bite Red. My grandpa, always an adventurous eater, enjoys the couscous salad with a Firestone (San Luis Obispo) Nitro Merlin Stout.

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Family Favorites

[dropcap size=big]O[/dropcap]ne of the first things I asked the Lieus was why they opted to open Brew Kitchen in Monterey Park.

Pamela explained that she and her family grew up taking car rides east to visit extended family in Monterey Park from their Koreatown home. “We ate at Mama Lu’s, a lot of Chinese places,” she said.

But now, as grownups who enjoy the good beer and food pairings to be found at any number of Koreatown gastropubs, the Lieus expressed a desire to bring a bit of K-Town to the Monterey Park area and offer something new to the food landscape of the area. They join the Korean fried chicken joint Bomb Chicken and Thai-inspired Spirit House Lounge – Monterey Park’s first gastropub – in bringing more food and drink choices for a new generation of diners.

Its prime location on Garfield Avenue just off the 60 freeway — a stone’s throw from the Venice Room and Ravello Trattoria — makes Brew Kitchen an appealing option for locals who don’t want to drive to Uptown Whittier, Alhambra, or Pasadena to get their craft beer, honey wings, and bacon burger fixes.

“Monterey Park is changing,” said brother James. “As part of that change, Brew Kitchen Bar is opening new doors, introducing more food and beer variety in Monterey Park.”

RELATED: Is This the End of the Venice Room as Locals Know It? ~ Venerable Bar Is Sold After Generations in Monterey Park

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