(Published by South Bay Accent magazine in February 2018.)
Rebirth is a popular theme in books and films but a recently born-again restaurant in downtown Palo Alto has also been making diners smile — particularly those picky about their brews and ‘cue. The former Gordon Biersch brewpub that was launched in 1988 has now gone full circle, reopening last year after an interior renovation as Dan Gordon’s, whose eponymous owner was the gifted brewmaster half of the original team and now wants his new brewery-restaurant to have an enticing 21st century vibe. That means a farm-to-table approach in the kitchen, serious smoked meats, extensive whiskey selection, beer-inspired cocktails, even more fresh beers on tap, industrial chic decor and sports playing on the giant tv screens. Alas, the resounding noise level is also in keeping with modern trends.
This is a homecoming of sorts for Dan Gordon, who sold the restaurant side of his business (which now numbers about 30 Gordon Biersch locations) in 1999 but kept the brewery due to a then newly minted law prohibiting ownership of both. Right after that law was rescinded last year, he plotted his return to the Palo Alto spot. And none too soon, given the slow decline of the original restaurant over the years.
With its focus on tasty microbrews, Dan Gordon’s picked contemporary barbecue as the prime culinary mate, slow-smoking brisket, pork shoulder, wings, turkey, ribs, sausages and even prime rib (available on weekends only). The brisket is the star with its moist smokiness while the pull-apart pork, garlicky sausages, juicy ribs and delightfully tart chicken wings (brined in pickle juice) are irresistible. Less so the dry turkey breast. Various combo plates are offered that come with sides or salads, including the famous garlic fries that Gordon perfected while studying beer-making in Germany decades ago.
Beer is king at Dan Gordon’s — although wines are available, too. Close to a dozen beers are on tap, including some of the Gordon Biersch “flagship” brews, which are German-style beers like Märzen, Pilsner, Blonde Bock, Hefeweizen, Golden Ecport and Dunklewiezen. A new offering in this new spot are four “Dan Gordon-line” brews that are more American-style craft ales like an IPA, pale ale and brown ale. Beer lovers who can’t decide might try a set of tiny steins with tastes of several beers.
This is not an optimum dining choice for dieters given the rib-sticking nature of not just all those smoked meats but the indulgent line-up of comfort food on the menu. “Burnt-ends” of the marvelous brisket are strewn through a pile of garlic fries, cheesy, creamy gravy and pickled vegetables, with those same succulent bits of meat sometimes showing up in chili slathered with cheddar and served with chips. Or try the fat, juicy burger topped with a chunk of brisket or have more of that great brisket on top of roasted sweet potatoes with all the fixings. Naturally, the mac ‘n cheese is super-rich from four cheeses and has a crunchy panko top. Or try the crisp-fried Brussels sprouts given a sweet-tart edge from raisins and vinegar.
Fried chicken here is a fever-dream version, with an impossibly crunchy exterior amped up with honey and rosemary that encases exceedingly moist meat. Fluffy, rich biscuits can be ordered on the side and are wonderful with the accompanying maple butter. But there are a few less guilt-inducing choices for the steadfast, such as hamachi crudo tossed in lemon with cilantro oil and micro greens or several salads such as fresh greens with apples, dried fruit and candied walnuts in vinaigrette. Of course, there are other salads featuring bacon, cheeses and other indulgent ingredients that can have some smoked meats added for good measure.
In keeping with the comforting theme are updated classic desserts such as a giant chocolate-chip cookie with ice cream, chocolate mousse, apple bread pudding and pear cobbler. Or dive into warm house-made donuts draped with fudge sauce. While the calorie count might be high at Dan Gordon’s, the prices are attractively modest compared to the norm in this wealthy town.
The large original space has been reconfigured so that the bar runs down one side and tables in various heights are scattered throughout, including some on the in-demand sidewalk in front that come equipped with heaters for cool evenings. Close to a dozen beers are on tap, including a few interesting experiments made in the tank visible in back, with another new Dan Gordon offering being tart, bright Wildcide apple cider. This reborn restaurant is as popular as in the earliest days of Gordon Biersch so many patrons are hoping the Dan Gordon’s concept might subsume more restaurants in the aging chain.
Dan Gordon’s, 640 Emerson St., Palo Alto; (650) 324-1960. http://www.dangordons.com
HOURS: Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday,11a.m.-midnight; Monday, 4 p.m.-midnight; Thursday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-1 a.m. Reservations suggested.
PRICES: Snacks/sides/salads: $7-15. BBQ plates: $11-26. Dessert: $5-9.