The Bay Area comes alive as the weather gets warmer, making it the perfect time to step out of town for a food and brews weekend away. Concord is a longstanding foodie town, and its annual Spring Brews Festival and first ever two-day Concord Oktoberfest, organized by the Brewing Network, highlight the city’s emerging Concord Beer Trail. The lure of the great outdoors at nearby Mount Diablo State Park balances an otherwise full weekend of tasting.
HIKING TRAILS TO ALE TRAILS
My wife, Dee, and I hopped on the BART—Bay Area Rapid Transit—and arrived in Concord in what felt like no time. Carrying only a few suitcases and hiking backpacks made the trip easy and free of traffic headaches. The Concord BART station is walking distance from Todos Santos Plaza and just a ride share away from everything we wanted to see. We set up our “base camp” at the Crowne Plaza and spent the morning hiking Mount Diablo.
Steep trails sparked our thirst for beer, so we started the Concord Beer Trail at Epidemic Ales Taproom and Brewery.
Dee and I don’t see eye to eye in our beer tastes. She is an unapologetic hop head, measuring her International Bitterness Units—IBUs—by the dozens and preferring a range of 40 to 70. At the opposite end of the spectrum, I prefer strong ales, thick porters and stouts. If the beer is as strong as my morning coffee, I’m sold. Thankfully, Epidemic Ales brews and serves a range of flavors and styles to satiate both our palates.
In fact, Epidemic Ales has such a long brew list, its flights are served on a yardstick-length paddle. It took both of us carefully navigating the crowd to bring it back to our table. Every pour was delicious, but we soon settled on our favorites. Nutty but Nice is an unusual peanut butter stout—the beer equivalent of a Girl Scout cookie. Dee filled her growler with the appropriately named Hopslayer, which packs a powerful hoppy punch blended with tropical fruit and citrus flavors.
One lap around Todos Santos Plaza is enough to work up an appetite. In the midst of dozens of eateries serving all manner of cuisine within walking distance, LiMA Peruvian caught our attention.
As with many of the restaurants in the area, LiMA’s owners immigrated with their traditional fare to Concord, where they now serve it up to the masses. They import many of their ingredients from Peru.
To truly experience Peruvian drink and cuisine, we started with an order from LiMA’s selection of pisco brandy. New to Dee and me, pisco is a highly prized traditional spirit in Peru much like bourbon in Kentucky. Dee tried the more-traditional Pisco Sour while I tasted the hot-pepper-infused El Diablo. The unforgettable taste has the breadth and depth of more-familiar spirits such as cognac and gin, but with the assertive taste of South American florals and fruits.
Our server patiently helped us navigate the menu. We wanted to try everything, but decided on a family-style serving of anticuchos de corazón (beef heart), ají de gallina (creamed spicy chicken) and the restaurant specialty, lomo saltado, a kind of stir-fried steak. Ají peppers provide one of the staple flavors of the country and their rich flavor permeated each dish we tried. Like pisco, ají chili peppers are hard to come by outside of specialty restaurants and markets, and we found the rare taste spicy yet delicate.
On our next visit, we’ll order a seafood-centric selection, keeping in line with regional specialties from the Peruvian coast.
A new day brought a new hike and our next stop along the Concord Beer Trail. The Hop Grenade, a modern tap room overlooking Todos Santos Plaza in downtown Concord, dominated our thoughts during our hike at Briones Regional Park. We arrived at the eatery in the afternoon, ready to dig in.
The tasting room bustled with kindred souls: a mix of locals and folks from out of town celebrating fine craft beer. Dee instantly fell in love with Hop Grenade’s beer selection and the waitstaff’s expertise. The way she bantered with the bartender, an outsider might think they described fine art.
Of the 21 beers on tap, only four were familiar to us. Our bartender explained the close relationship between Hop Grenade’s owner and microbreweries across the country, which keeps the beer menu interesting. Once the tap room finishes serving one beer, it taps a new brew to introduce the flavors of a different region. Hop Grenade hosts events for special brews, in which guests can meet local founders. We finished our pints, paid the tab and vowed to bring both sides of our families in the future.
MADE WITH LOVE
We ate our final meal in Concord at Canasta Kitchen, one of the East Bay’s favorite local eateries. Canasta Kitchen is a casual spot serving authentic Mexican flavors. The servers greeted us warmly, and we immediately felt like family.
After a glass of sangria, we selected traditional home-cooked appetizers and entrees. The delicate sweetness of fried plantains paired with cotija cheese satisfied our sweet tooth—or would that be sweet teeth?—before the meal. We added an order of huaraches— flatbreads topped with asada and Oaxaca cheese, seasoned with robust Mexican spices. No meal is complete without an order of flan, a traditional caramel custard dessert.
As our weekend came to a close, we finished the Concord Beer Trail with a stop at E.J. Phair Brewing Company for its classic Facepuncher IPA.
The Concord gastronomy scene is easily in the same league with better-known Bay Area hot spots. Whether you hit the highlights in a weekend, as we did, or cruise into town for the recently established Concord Comfort Food Restaurant Week to sample the best of every restaurant in one place, it is likely just a BART ride away!