I've been patronizing La Conner Brewing since it opened in 1995 during the great brewpub boom, and I think I know its secret: consistency.
Ownership of the brewpub has changed over the years, but it's remained essentially the same place: flavorful pizzas and pub grub, beers brewed on the premises.
The brewpub's looks haven't changed a bit, either, and that's a good thing. Whoever designed the place had a good eye. It's a great-looking restaurant, as inviting today as it was back in '95. The walls are a warm, pleasing butterscotch, the trim, rustic pine, and lots of it. There's a well-integrated corner fireplace that matches the pizza oven in the semi-open kitchen. The large windows are sharply framed in black. Icicle-style white lights twinkle overhead.
Seeking a break from Thanksgiving leftovers, we dropped by on a busy Saturday evening. Nearly every table was filled, with hungry folks tucking into pizzas on the family-friendly main dining floor and adults watching the Apple Cup in the 21-and-older bar area (there's only one smallish TV screen, so this is probably not the best place for sports nuts). The gas fireplace was turned off, because of all that body heat, I suppose.
There's also an attractive outdoor dining area, which will be a pleasant place to dine about six or seven months from now. For the time being, you'll have to be content with one of the tables next to the large windows looking out on First Street.
Though it was a busy Saturday night, the service staff, several members of which have worked at the place for years, was prompt, cheerful and, more importantly, showed no signs of stress. Nothing says "We should have eaten at home" more than a stressed-out server.
The brewpub does a nightly special -- on our visit, it was a macaroni and cheese with crab -- and offers an assortment of panini and salads. We've enjoyed the cilantro-lime shrimp tacos with black beans, chipotle sour cream, tomatoes and mixed greens for $12.
But we usually come for the pizzas. At 10 inches, they'll satisfy the average adult appetite while falling short of outright gluttony. These we generally wash down with a pint of the brewpub's hoppy India pale ale ($6.75), which is always on tap along with Pilsner, wheat, brown and ESB ales. Rotating taps include dopplebock, barleywine and special brews for Christmas and Oktoberfest.
The pizza menu includes standards such as margherita and pepperoni as well as pies with Caribbean and Asian flavors.
Being partial to traditional pizzas, we chose the Neapolitan ($12), with pepperoni, sausage and basil. It was completely free of excess grease -induced limpness, and all the components -- meat, cheese, tomato sauce, garnish -- did not moosh into an indistinct stodge, but rather could be tasted. The Neapolitan-style crust was darkened but in spots like it should be, but not burned.
We also selected a mushroom pizza with roasted tomato sauce, portabella, shitake, oyster and crimini mushrooms, green onions, mozzarella, gorgonzola, and fresh rosemary and oregano ($11). It, too, was conceived and prepared with care, but we decided it could have used an additional scattering of mushrooms.
Even so, both pies represented a welcome contrast to the relentless onslaught of disgusting pizza consumed across the nation.
Sixteen years in business proves this place has cracked the brewpub code. It's definitely worth a visit on your next trip to La Conner.
La Conner Brewing Co.
117 S. First St., La Conner; 360-466-1415; www.laconnerbrewery.com
Hours: Opens at 11:30 a.m. daily
Specialty: Pizza, panini, beer brewed on the premises.
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