The Bressi Ranch branch of Pizza Port is the most impressive of their locations. I learned that it was originally a Stone Brewing location before they outgrew it and moved to Escondido–so that explains the fact that it is an outlier in the Pizza Port aesthetic. The venue is large, has tons of light, parking is easy, and they have a brewing vat turned into a fish tank; there is even a spacious second bar upstairs. Those of you who have been to the original Solana Beach location (or even Ocean Beach) will recognize that that description is pretty much the exact opposite of the description you’d give for other Pizza Port locations (cramped, dark, little parking, no cool fish tanks and no upstairs). All the locations I’ve been to use varnished picnic tables for seating, which is not the most comfortable but does help create a relaxed, communal atmosphere where your expectations are not too high.
Bressi Ranch is the production brewery for the core beers; each location also brews their own smaller batch beers, and all those beers are available at each location. That means the beer menu is really big. Overwhelmingly so. The signage, which is graphically “busy” and much too small, doesn’t make choosing any easier. But in my experience, it is difficult to make a wrong choice–just about everything is at least pretty good, and some is quite good. Pizza Port regularly wins medals at beer competitions. (In 2016, for example, they won Silver for a coffee beer called Dusk ’til Dawn in a field of 168 entries–though to be completely accurate it was the San Clemente location’s beer and they are not in San Diego county!). Pizza Port was one of the originals that launched the craft beer movement in San Diego. The pizza is pretty good, too. The lunch special is a great deal–limited slice selection, but pizza, salad and beer came to about $10. Beer prices are very reasonable all around.
Swami’s IPA (6.8% ABV). This was remarkably better than other times I’ve tried it. It is brewed at Bressi Ranch, so maybe that’s the explanation. Fresh, refreshing, absolutely clear, light golden, subtle pine and tropical hops, and a perfect level of bitterness. 4/5
Skid Mark Brown (4.1% ABV). Regular readers known I am partial to browns; this one is technically a “dark mild.” I can see why it is a favorite of the brewer and why it won a GABF medal (2011). There is a light burnt toffee note on the malt, and it is flavorful and clean. Very well executed. 4/5
Port’s Porter (6.2% ABV). I wanted to like this one more than I did. It is drinkable, but I prefer my porters a little less “thin” tasting. 3/5
A.B.L.E [Achievement Beyond Life’s Experiences] (American Stout, 8.2% ABV). In addition to having one of the corniest beer names I’ve come across, this was a disappointment. I got almost zero aroma. The roast is not as deep as a typical stout. “One note” might be a good descriptor. It is not a failure but it is also not very interesting. 3.25/5
I checked Untappd, and I’ve logged 16 different Pizza Port beers since I moved to San Diego about a year ago. I haven’t always loved them. (Here are my reviews of the Ocean Beach location and the Solana Beach location.) Ironically, I tried Dusk ’til Dawn right around the time it won a GABF medal and I didn’t like it at all. (“Coffee & alcohol overpower the beer, with a chocolate note lingering. I pick up a burnt, gritty aftertaste & a feeling like banana peel tannin on the throat. 2.25/5”) In retrospect, I think some of my less-than-good experiences, and the pretty wide variability within my own ratings and on Untappd in general, may be due to beer that is not stored properly or gets too old. I had all 16 at Pizza Port locations, so if my diagnosis is correct, that is not a good thing for one of the “grand daddies” of San Diego craft beer.
This last point, about quality control and attention to detail, if true, correlates with something I have occasionally experienced at Pizza Port (and also wrote about regarding Modern Times and some other breweries around town): I sometimes get a vibe of “hipster-er-than-thou” from the staff, a lack of concern/caring, as if the fact that they work at a popular brewery somehow makes them better than the people who spend money there and make it popular in the first place.
Aside: For some reason on this visit I noticed a growler label with the Pizza Port logo and the slogan “Tasty Grub and Grog.” I had a look online, and the portion of the Pizza Port website that most other breweries would call “What’s on Tap” or “Beer Menu” is instead labelled “Grog.” Now, I fully recognize that the very fact that I have written the following sentence proves I am becoming a grumpy old man, but: Beer is not grog; grog is a mixed drink, typically rum and water, sometimes with lime and sugar. Grog was the British navy’s standard ration in the 19th century. Pizza Port does not sell grog. End of old man rant.
I ate lunch upstairs at the counter in front of the window, and I noticed two things. One, that the ledge between the counter and the window never gets cleaned (pizza crusts, napkins, toppings, crumbs, dust and other things are piled up there–just don’t look) and, two, that there is a very odd domed gazebo and grove down the hill. It looks like the entrance to some grand garden but from that vantage it is clearly an entrance to nowhere. I went down after lunch to check it out. It is the Bressi Ranch “welcome display,” I guess you could call it. A wall, a bunch of plants, a dome supported by some pillars, with dense trees and foliage right behind but only one row thick–after that, it is scrub and a steep drop. Like I said, strange. Almost like a Hollywood set. They are clearly spending a lot of money to maintain the plants, but I don’t really see why. There is a short walking path across a busy road from the display; other than that there is nothing in the vicinity. Not even parking–I had to go up the hill to the shopping center to park and then walk down.
Another oddity: Right across the parking lot driveway from Pizza Port is a commercial building that has been turned into a new-age-y church. A church sharing a parking lot with a production brewery and pizza restaurant…only in America.
The Bressi Ranch location is a good spot for big groups because there is so much seating, though according to Yelpers it does get pretty busy and sometimes it can get over-run with small children. There is a really cool metal bike rack outside in the shape of a large surfboard, so packs of cyclists can stop in for a cold one. There is nice outdoor seating area with umbrellas. All in all, the vibe at this location is good, the pizza is decent and the beer is famous, historically important and pretty good.
http://pizzaport.com/locations/bressi-ranch/ 2730 Gateway Rd, Carlsbad, CA 92009