Stone Brewing Co. vs Pizza Port Brewing Co.
This past weekend I was able to take an impromptu vacation down to San Diego. The family and I had a few goals in mind: hit Sea World, then the San Diego Zoo. Of course my goals were slightly different than the family’s…Since moving to Vegas last year, I had always wanted to visit some of the legendary breweries I had heard of back in Chicago but could rarely taste. Two of these breweries were Stone Brewing Company and Pizza Port Brewing Company (Ocean Beach). So, I have decided to put these two head-to-head to see if bigger truly is better, or if small and personal takes the cake.
Stone was started in 1996 and has grown to be the 14th largest craft brewery in the United States. Born out of San Marcos, it eventually outgrew it’s birthplace and needed to move to bigger digs. So, in 2006 they packed up and moved to their current home in Escondido, CA. On a beautiful parcel of land located within an industrial portion of Escondido, Stone has their brewery (capable of producing 250,000 barrels of beer annually), along with a 300+ seat restaurant called Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens. They also have a 1 acre garden (overlooked by the restaurant’s patio) where they grow their own hops and other herbs and vegetables (the hops are not used for their brewing, they don’t produce enough).
Pizza Port was created in 1987, but it started exclusively as a pizza joint in Solana Beach. In 1992, the owners decided they wanted to take their homebrew and make it available to the masses, so they installed a 7 barrel brewing system. Technically speaking, Pizza Port is a Brewpub and not a brewery, but who’s paying attention? They brew beer, don’t they?! Since the early days, Pizza Port has branched out and opened a total of four locations: Solana Beach, Carlsbad, Ocean Beach and San Clemente. They also had a San Marcos location, but that was spun off into a separate brewery altogether called Port Brewing Company and The Lost Abbey (confusing, right?). An interesting note: The building in San Marcos that was once a Pizza Port and was ultimately turned into Port Brewing Company was originally owned by Stone Brewing Company, until they outgrew the facility.
Now let’s get on to the critiques.
Stone, as previously mentioned, is plopped right in the middle of an industrial part of Escondido. The building looks totally awesome from the outside, but there is no signage (that I saw) screaming you have arrived. The only reason I knew I was close was the beautiful smell of spent grain in the air. As pretty as the mountains of Escondido are, Stone seems to have really picked a poor choice for such a gorgeous facility, garden, and restaurant. I wouldn’t be surprised if the garden was put there to make sure the guests don’t know they are in the middle of Factoryville, USA.
Quite the opposite for Pizza Port, however. When I pulled up with the family, I felt like I was in a separate world. Small houses, people riding bikes, and the ocean…Ohhh, the ocean! The environment was SO beautiful, my family and I stopped to walk along the beach and take sunset photos before even walking into the brewery. Parking was scarce, but it was pretty easy to find after driving for a few minutes. The area was fresh and innocent, with surfers out on the waves, sunset yoga on the beach and even a martial arts dude. It was honestly paradise. The pizzeria is located on the corner about a block from the beach. I actually said to my wife, “next time we come to San Diego, we’re definitely staying here”.
Winner: Hands down, location goes to Pizza Port.
My wife doesn’t like beer, so the big deal for her is the food. Similarly, beer to me is only as good as the food it’s served alongside (at least in a restaurant setting). At Stone I noticed three things very early. 1) I had to wait over 90 minutes for a seat. That just isn’t cool. It was 1 o’clock on a saturday, sure, but they never even opened their other two seating areas. 2) The food was a bit expensive (for a brewery, I mean). I feel like they are trying to be an upscale restaurant, but let’s face it, they’re a brewery. The food looked great, though, so don’t get me wrong. But this brings me to my third observation: 3) The menu was fairly…ummm…hoity toity. We drink beer. Not super fancy wine or $100 snifters of Scotch (although I would if offered). So things like Quail and BBQ Duck just aren’t in the cards for me (again, at a brewery). I really wanted to find a quality cheeseburger, but they don’t serve cheeseburgers (not even buffalo or something a little more exotic). I had a very difficult time finding food for my wife and two daughters. Even the meatball sandwich came with Kimchi. Kimchi? What ever happened to gourmet fries or homemade potato chips? The environment seemed to reflect the menu: wound a little too tight. Let’s be honest, everyone was getting loaded off the powerful beer and no one was making a sound. That’s just my opinion, I won’t be eating there again.
Pizza Port, on the other hand, served good ol’ fashioned, you guessed it, PIZZA! From the moment we walked in, the game was on, the patrons were pumped up and everyone was having a great time. You could feel the energy, smell the pizza and hear the excitement of those local treasures. There were four lines, and I didn’t really know which was which. I also didn’t really know the process of ordering and getting your food here, so I asked. The dude behind the counter was super nice and very helpful. He helped me pick a beer based on my preferred tastes and before long I was sitting down with my family enjoying a wet hopped IPA. The pizza took a little while, but it didn’t really bother us since there were games and things for the kids to play, and the atmosphere was so alive they couldn’t possibly get bored. Once the pizza arrived (half pineapple/canadian bacon and half sausage/pepperoni) we dug in. Now, being from Chicago I am extremely picky about my pizza. I have to say, this was one of the best pies I have ever tasted. It was so good that my oldest daughter (who is a total finicky eater) ate 3 complete slices…3!
Winner: Once again, Pizza Port killed Stone in this one.
Here it is, the one we’ve all been waiting for…Certainly not least, the beer is the reason I visited these two breweries to begin with. Stone has held a special place in my heart since the beginning of time, and I will always love them. Pizza Port was new and sounded exciting. The first thing I did at Stone was schedule a tour. After that, I sat down at the bar and began looking over their beer list. I was astonished to find the only beer on tap that was Stone’s was the same exact beer I can buy in a Las Vegas liquor store. They had recently tapped a special version of one of their brews, but it was out. So, I picked up an Oaked Arrogant Bastard Ale and went on my way. For the rest of the day (three more beverages), I ordered exclusively other breweries’ beer. Let me tell you something, I did not drive all the way to Escondido to drink another brewery’s beer. Don’t get me wrong, it was delicious, but it wasn’t Stone. Huge failure as far as I’m concerned.
Pizza Port, on the other hand (again) had about 15 of their own brews on tap, most of which were either specials, GABF award winners, or both. In addition, they had another 10 or so guest brews, and those were all delicious looking, too. That’s the beauty of running a small brewery, you don’t have to worry about which beer is on tap, wait a few days and a new one will be on. The IPA I had was so flavorful and delicious, like a beautiful autumn day, complete with fresh hops. I liked their beer so much, in fact, I bought a growler of their Man-Baby double IPA to bring home. The really cool part about their beer was that it was also available in pitchers if you wanted.
Winner: You guessed it, Pizza Port again.
Well, I was a bit disappointed I really wanted to love Stone, their bistro and their beer. I was disappointed, though. I was mad that the brewery wasn’t located in a more comfortable environment, especially when there was ample opportunity for it in the mountains of Escondido. I was upset that the food wasn’t more appropriate for a brewery, and on top of that, wasn’t better. Lastly, I was ticked off that I couldn’t get good Stone beer at their own bar. Overall, I was not impressed and if you can help it, stay away from this place.
Pizza Port, on the other hand, was fantastic. The location was serene, the environment was fun and exciting, the food was stellar, and the beer was perfect. I bought two shirts, a growler, a family-sized pizza, beer and drinks for the family and came out under the price of Stone for simply lunch and beer. If you’re ever in San Diego, make sure you hit Pizza Port, you won’t be disappointed! Oh, and tell ‘em Cigar Brief sent ya!
Stone Brewing Company
1999 Citracado Parkway
Pizza Port (Ocean Beach)
1956 Bacon Street
San Diego, CA