I like a free meal as much as anyone, but when I got an email inviting me to a media dinner for the newly opened Lazy Dog in Concord, I almost pressed that trash can button with haste. Fairly or not, Lazy Dog already had a few strikes against it for me:
- It’s a chain (there are definitely some chains I like, but in general I approach with caution.)
- It’s a chain out of Southern California (no offense, but the six years I lived in LA nearly killed me.)
- It’s in a mall (look, I’m from New Jersey, I’ve spent enough time in malls for one lifetime.)
- It’s in a part of the Bay Area that public transit forgot (me no likey the drivey.)
But I do like Concord, a rather underrated and diverse town where you can shop at Filipino/Middle Eastern/Mexican/Chinese/Korean markets, purchase all the homebrew supplies your little heart desires, and still afford to buy a house and raise a family even if you don’t make a bajillion dollars a year doing whatever it is Google employees do. Concord has a few beer options — including EJ Phair, Ale Industries (where I work one day a week), and a BJs in the Sun Valley Mall — but more is always good.
I tend bar in Walnut Creek not so far from the downtown shopping area, so I know a lot of people secretly like to combine alcohol and shopping. I also know a lot of people can’t drink out as often as they’d like because they are responsible for the care of tiny humans who can’t yet legally enter bars. So when you think about the demographics of suburban Contra Costa county, more beer in the mall in all-ages restaurant form is a no-brainer. I hear that BJs is always pretty crowded.
What I’m saying is, I totally see the point of this place, even if it’s not for me per se. And that’s why I’m writing about it even though I don’t actually write about every single place that gives me free shit. Now let’s take a ride…and run with the Lazy Dogs tonight…in suburbia (what, no Pet Shop Boys fans in the house?)
What is this place doing?
I could write one of my infamous 3000-word think pieces about mainstream dining’s embrace of craft-or-whatever beer, but for now let me just say I like it. Lazy Dog will be a good place for lots of people to learn about new beers, especially because they pitch samplers and people love samplers. It’s not going to be the place to go for obscure rarities, but the rotating tap list is off to a good start with local options like Drake’s and Black Diamond and more obvious (and good) regional breweries like Firestone Walker and North Coast. They’ve also got the big macros that beer dorks like us love to hate, so let’s call it “something for everyone.”
The house beers are brewed by Golden Road and Bayhawk, out of LA and Orange County respectively. They include honey blonde, amber, and chocolate porter (Bayhawk) and hefeweizen, pale ale, and IPA (Golden Road). I got to try all 6 — none blew my mind, but none were bad, and they’ve all got great potential as gateway beers. In other words, they’re doing exactly what restaurant house beers generally set out to do. If nothing else, it’s some SoCal beer you might otherwise never try.
Other SoCal touches included being offered bottled water and being occasionally informed how few calories a dish had, but the Lazy Dog people were nicer than almost everyone I ever met in LA. I realize that isn’t saying much, but really, they were very nice, and I want their place to do well. The service was also very friendly, and several of the waitresses seemed to have opinions on the beers, which is a start. Not all the waitstaff are 21, and they’ve also got a giant wine/cocktail/sangria/kitchen sink menu to learn, so I’m prepared to give them more of a break than, say, table servers at brewpubs.
Speaking of food, I ain’t a food writer but everything I sampled was good…and trust me, I was prepared to gloss right over the food because usually chain restaurant food leaves me wishing I had some Tapatio or MSG or maybe a Xanax in my purse. I was most pleasantly surprised by the Moroccan chicken and couscous, which one of the Lazy Dog folks described as a “cult dish” and is actually spicy. You could bring a group that includes both conservative and adventurous eaters and no one would hate life.
Malls are better with beer
In short, hanging out at a family-friendly mall restaurant was a step out of my comfort zone… but so is visiting an upscale place like Monk’s Kettle or St. Vincent. If I had kids I’d absolutely try to make Lazy Dog one of their favorite restaurants so I could enjoy rotating taps without having to go to a bar. If you’re already going to BJs in Concord or Pyramid in Walnut Creek, you should definitely try Lazy Dog too. And in the unlikely event I ever find myself in a Concord mall again, you know exactly where I’ll be.