Beer Belly appeared on my gastronomic radar in 2012, which was the first time that I ate there. Situated in a bustling enclave of Koreatown, this urban-chic gastropub spoke my language. Uniquely elevated bar food, great craft beer selection, and a no-fuss atmosphere. I felt like I had discovered a gem in a city teeming with a plethora of hipster bars and pubs. It reminded me of when I first heard Coldplay’s debut album Parachutes, wishing that no one else would catch wind of them. For my own selfish reasons, I didn’t want them to become the victims of mass human consumption. However, we all know how that story ended. And like Coldplay, Beer Belly wasn’t my own little secret for very long. In 2013, the pub was featured on an episode of Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives, hosted by celebrity chef megastar Guy Fieri and as they say, the rest is history. Owned and operated by Jimmy Han and his wife Yume, Beer Belly has managed to capitalize on its good fortune, and continues to find new ways to innovate. On this visit Jimmy joined me for dinner, and our conversation revolved around one central theme, creativity. He expressed to me that genuine creativity is the driving force behind Beer Belly’s sustained success. That vision is perfectly executed by Wes Lieberher, a self taught chef, and former musician from Philadelphia. Says Jimmy, “Beer Belly is all about bringing creative people together to collaborate on honest products, and to provide a unique experience”.
Jimmy’s words ring true the minute you walk up to his establishment. Colorfully painted murals gracing the walls are there to greet you. Walking in, the space has the feel of a high-rise downtown loft; concrete floors, industrial lighting, and minimal style decor. As I alluded to before, the menu is littered with dishes that you won’t find at a typical beer bar. And there’s one glaring omission, no burgers - this is by design, and something I found to be quite refreshing actually. On the flip side, duck that they source from Maple Leaf Farms, is in your face front and center. The extensive craft beer selection, curated by Jimmy himself, is primarily comprised of small batch, independent breweries. I kicked things off with a beer flight that consisted of four different varieties. The selections were the Smog City Lil Bo Pils, the Manchester-er on nitro, the Kinetic Fusion Porter, and the Cuivre Anniversary Ale. I enjoyed them all, but the Cuivre was particularly noteworthy. This “good time in a glass” boasts an alcohol content of 16.2%, and is aged in ancient bourbon barrels, which imparts a flavor profile reminiscent to a combination of chocolate and coffee.
The food began to arrive like the perfectly timed waves gently rolling up onto the shore of a beach. First up; grilled broccoli with cheddar beer wiz, and chicken skin cracklings with buffalo blue sauce. Grilled veggies and perfectly seasoned, fried chicken skin are the perfect starters in my book. Next, deliciously moist lamb meatballs cooked in bacon fat and breadcrumbs, with feta cheese, Kalamata olives, and curry marinara served alongside, and the Death By Duck. A crowd favorite worth the price of admission, the Death By Duck are french fries cooked in duck fat, topped with duck skin cracklings, and duck confit. The raspberry mustard that accompanies it, provides a great balance to the richness of the fries. The main event featured two heavyweights; The duck French dip. Sage roasted duck breast, provolone cheese, horseradish aioli, and duck au jus. The bread was perfectly toasted, and when dipped in the jus, softened up the bread, and rounded out the dish superbly. And finally, the Beer Belly grilled cheese which features, well a symphony of cheese; Tillamook cheddar, asiago, gruyere, and goat cheese with Applewood smoked bacon, topped with a soft fried egg and maple syrup on the side. All I could do after eating the grilled cheese to end all grilled cheeses, was to genuflect in chef Wes’s direction, thank Jimmy for his hospitality, and walk out the door.
P.S. Burger lovers listen up! Remember I said that Beer Belly offers no burgers on their menu. Lucky for you Jimmy and Yume have opened Whiz, a take-out restaurant right around the corner which features a variety of incredible burgers, and cheesesteak sandwiches so be sure to check it out!