Grapes and Hops
454 E. Main St. Ventura

I love roasted Brussels sprouts. In fact, I love all vegetables, so I was surprised, as was my “mostly-vegetarian” neighbor and dining companion, Mark, to discover that the rumored new range of additions to the menu of downtown Ventura’s very popular Grapes and Hops on Main Street included some vegetarian options. (I also love good wine.)

We popped in on a Friday night during happy hour (4-7, Tuesday-Friday), settled into a pair of comfy stuffed antique chairs in the front enclosed patio and looked over the menu. Our smallish table was made from wine-barrel staves, enhancing the wine theme. A gurgling fountain decorated with miscellaneous plants, vases and a red ribbon added to what Mark deemed the “modern steampunk” design. The patio was filled with couples, friends and a family chatting away over wine and panini sandwiches. Skateboarders, Main Street strollers and traffic passed by within view.

The wine and beer “speakeasy” has long been known for its wine and beer offerings accompanied by cheese and charcuterie plates, but now there are additions to the once-limited menu that include burgers (veggie and chicken), pulled-pork sliders with mushrooms and blue cheese, and an avocado shrimp stack.

Fresh housemade hummus for happy hour, $5.

Mark ordered the French happy hour red wine ($5); I splurged on an excellent glass of The Ojai Vineyard non-vintage white blend ($12), as I’ve never had a glass of wine from this vintner that I didn’t like. Nathan, our hardworking server, brought out two of the restaurant’s “new wine glasses” and our respective wines in small carafes. We also began with the hummus on the happy hour menu ($5) and were told it had just been made.

The garlicky homemade hummus was tasty with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar accompanied by baby carrots, celery stalks, thin slices of good French bread and cucumbers with a lemon pepper seasoning for dipping.

Happy hour red wine special.

I ordered the Harvest Salad (even though it was summer), which turned out to be a great choice. The salad was as delicious as it was beautiful with warm, roasted Brussels sprouts and squash atop a large bed of spinach. Dried cranberries and roasted pepitas added flavor and texture; the dressing was just right. Purple-leaf kale surrounding the salad was more decorative than edible, as kale needs massaging.

Mark’s veggie guacamole burger with a side spinach salad with Roma tomatoes and Parmesan cheese was a hearty burger “done to perfection” with ripe red tomato slices and a huge mound of guacamole on a fresh whole-wheat multiseed bun that had been lightly toasted. In fact, the burger was so hearty that he decided to “deconstruct” it for manageability. We ordered a side of the bet-you-can’t-eat-just-one truffle potato chips (not made in house, but tasty nonetheless).

The non-meat eater, who was raised on real burgers in the Midwest, claimed that this burger was “the most satisfying veggie burger, compared to a real meat burger.” I tasted a hint of chipotle flavor (unverified) but perhaps it was the chipotle chicken burger on the menu that swayed my observation.

This is a most congenial, casual and welcoming watering hole and dining spot. Inside, cozy seating areas, walls of wine, a long bar and bright paintings punctuate the dark interior. There’s an attractive stage where bluegrass, blues and jazz musicians perform. A back seating area has overstuffed couches to sink into.

The wine and beer list is long and deserving of a more in-depth report. Wines by the glass ($9-$17) range from an Argentinian malbec and Spanish grenache ($9) to Halter Ranch Rosé from Paso Robles ($12) and chardonnays from Napa ($17) and Sonoma ($12).

We popped by later in the evening to check out the music. Grapes and Hops was “hopping” — there was a cowboy at the bar flirting with a pretty girl, lots of folks enjoying the live music, and it appeared a good time was being had by all.

Grapes and Hops’ website could use some updating (as of this writing) as the entire menu is not online and it says they open at noon — which was not the case on another occasion when I stopped by. It was more like early afternoon. The most current “event” listed was last New Year’s Eve.

That aside, keep an eye on the music lineup (there’s a chalkboard kiosk out front or give them a call) and hop on by for a swell time, great wine and beer offerings and some tasty grub in the heart of downtown Ventura.