There are American gastropubs that feel like an Anglo-themed T.G.I. Friday’s, corporate-souled and dumbed down, with faux British ephemera plastered on the walls and the menu.
Kings Row Gastropub doesn’t go in for the Brit ballyhoo. Its owners seem to realize they’re in Pasadena, not Pudsey. Instead of fake Manchester United jerseys and portraits of Elizabeth II, the restaurant proudly displays a Gladiators pinball machine whose golden warrioress looks like the love child of Barbarella and C3PO. But the spot does hold with the public-house tradition of ordering at the bar. No one’s going to come to your table and ask if you’re thirsty. Show a little initiative, will you? You’ll carry your drinks away and find a seat, or not, and a member of the wait staff will hunt you down to deliver plates if you’ve ordered food.
You’ve a choice of hanging your hat in the bar area, where in hotter months ceiling fans push around warm air, or the dining room, where you’ve got the air-conditioning (and the pinball machine), or spilling out down the steps onto the patio on an alley paralleling Colorado Boulevard, the tree border nearly obscuring the view of a looming parking garage. Inside, it’s all exposed and distressed brick and wood plank tables and floors. Menus are on blackboards, the food menu far more manageable than the mind-boggling choices of beer, or a nice ginger beer if you’re driving. At the bar, a ringer for Jimi Hendrix if he'd lived to 50 orders a beer and chats with a young couple, one guitar laid on the table behind him and the other slung across his back.
The food nods to pub fare, but it's a slight nod.
There are the fish and chips, great slabs of fish with better breading than the pieces you've had wrapped in newspaper. The fries aren't what you get from the corner shop either; fried twice, at least, they're crisp, flecked with parsley and sporting a mottled crust of shredded Parmesan. It's served with a strong tartar sauce.
To start, though, you'll want the sherry mushroom toastie: meaty strips of oyster and shiitake mushrooms sauteed and ladled on sourdough with a delicious, soupy gravy sprinkled with green onions and pepper and sopped up by the thick bread. Only complaint so far is that appetizer and meal were delivered at the same time.
Or you could opt for the portobello fries, crescent moons of mushrooms crisp in their almost tempura-like crust. Delicious, and perfect with one of the beers on tap, hailing from Bavaria to Buellton. There's even bottles of Delirium Tremens out of Atwater Village.
The aptly named crack mac could indeed create a dependency issue. Its sauce of fontina and Parmesan cheeses elevated with more than a hint of white chocolate, enveloping large ribbed chifferi pasta. It's a ridiculously rich dish, and even thought it's a small portion, more like a side than a main dish, it's worth sharing.
Duck sliders — ground duck patties served on tiny brioches — are topped with a shiitake relish tasting of hoisin and ginger with a hint of mustard.
For dessert, go to France and Scotland, cheesecake with goat cheese, served with a scotched blueberry compote. I did not care for the crushed almond crust, but who eats a cheesecake for the crust? It's like the wrapping on a present, tossed aside to get to the good stuff. And the goat cheese definitely fit the description of good stuff.
For a restaurant aiming to be the neighborhood go-to spot, Kings Row does so many things right. I can find only two small complaints. Our appetizers came out at the same time as the main dishes, making us rush through the first course so the second didn't get cold or soggy. And there's the music. I had songs from Duran Duran, Billy Idol and Cheap Trick running through my head for the rest of the day. That's a combination of music that you usually don't have to hear anywhere outside of ski resorts. If you're going to go to the trouble of treating guests to duck sliders, don't make them sit through Duran Duran while eating them.
REBECCA BRYANT is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and Caribbean Travel & Life.
What: Kings Row Gastropub
Where: 20 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena, (626) 793-3010
When: Monday through Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to midnight; Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 2 a.m.; Saturday, 10:30 a.m. to 2 a.m.; Sunday, 10:30 a.m. to midnight
How much: Starters and salads, $5-$13; sandwiches and signature dishes, $11-$14; desserts, $6 - $8