914 E. Ojai Ave., Ojai
In my mind, Tony Yanow can do no wrong. The Golden Road co-founder, who made a pretty penny when the brewery was sold to AB InBev in 2015, is now part of the Artisanal Brewers Collective, making waves in the Los Angeles restaurant scene. Visiting one of the many restaurants with Yanow’s name on it brings me great joy. Mohawk Bend in Echo Park, Bluebird Brasserie in Sherman Oaks and Ojai Pub in… Ojai?
Finally, a Yanow project in our own backyard.
Considering my dietary choices (vegetarian; wife is vegan), Ojai Pub was a no-brainer to visit. Yanow’s other restaurants feature predominantly vegan cuisine, and I distinctly remember having the best vegan pizza I’ve ever had at Mohawk Bend several years ago. Ojai Pub had been opened a few weeks by the time we visited and the menu was decidedly restrained, offering standard pub fare rather than an eclectic variety.
There’s nothing wrong with that, of course. Its pub fare. It’s in the name.
For starters, there’s spicy fried chickpeas with a Nashville hot spice ($5), chili fries with a chipotle aioli ($8) and Buffalo cauliflower with a vegan blue cheese dressing ($8). We found a spot in the corner, sat elbow to elbow at a small table betwixt a family with several children and an older couple. The children played games while the diner to my left apparently kept looking at me oddly. Maybe he thought I was the waiter? But there is no actual waiter, this is an order-from-the-counter deal.
I think I may have had a head’s up to the reality of Ojai Pub, having regularly visited many of the great pubs of England. On my first visit to an English pub, I stood around looking like a lost tourist before it was pointed out to me that I order everything from the bar, including food. Ojai Pub, with its sleek, classic bar and book shelves on exposed brick lined with all manner of spirits, captures the old English atmosphere in spades.
I ordered the Buffalo cauliflower from the bar along with a pint of Alesmith’s nut brown ale ($7) and Russian River’s Blind Pig ($8). The pours were imperial — i.e., 20 ounces of beer goodness, just like the English do it.
For mains there were a few choices: two burgers, a classic variety with Double R Ranch Beef or an Impossible patty, house secret sauce, cheddar cheese and all of the classic accoutrements ($14) or the BBQ burger with a balsamic barbecue sauce, cheddar and crispy onions ($15). Both are served with fries. I went with the latter. For a restaurant that claims that “all dishes prepared vegan, unless marked otherwise,” there sure were a lot of “otherwise,” including the fish and chips ($16) and fried chicken sandwich ($13) making up two of the five entrée options. There’s really something for everyone.
We also ordered the winter bowl ($12): black rice, roasted cauliflower, heirloom carrots, squash, kale and a pepita pesto with an addition of hemp-seed crusted tofu ($4 extra).
Our food was brought to us as we sipped at our beers. Crispy and tart, the Buffalo cauliflower was excellent. Wherever the chef learned how to make cauliflower as tasty as this should be recognized with a plaque. When my burger arrived I was sad to find that the bun was too large, somewhat dry and crumbly. The sauce was spectacular; however, I just wish there had been more of it. There could definitely have been more crispy onions, too.
The winter bowl was good, the veggies fresh and the rice cooked nicely. It was far healthier than my plate and prettier, too.
We finished our pints and, having paid up at the bar, left. It was unlike any other Tony Yanow restaurant I’d had the pleasure of dining at. The food was good; the beer was above par; the atmosphere was mixed. I can’t tell if it wants to be a family restaurant or a casual dinner date hot spot like so many of Yanow’s LA restaurants are.
Regardless, I’ll return for a pint in the near future and pray that a new bun for the burger has been found.