Cask Alehouse
5952 Telegraph Road, Ventura

For no other reason than to cleanse our souls of the calendar that placed upon our shoulders the deaths of David Bowie, Alan Rickman and Harambe, we chose Cask Alehouse to spend 2016’s final hours. Over beer and a meal, the year would wither, and many questions would be asked and left unanswered.

Cask Alehouse opened up in early December in Victoria Plaza on the corner of Victoria Avenue and Telegraph Road in east Ventura. The same man who lit up downtown Ventura at the turn of the century with Anacapa Brewing Co., Paul Miller, brought the sensibility to Cask Alehouse: that is, the idea to pair good food with good beer and wine.

Walking into Cask Alehouse is the most closely equivalent experience one can have to walking into a throne room. A long walk lies before you toward the hosts, on either side of which are sofas and tall tables; at the end, a bar with counters that hug a beautiful line of taps.

A tap list featuring 32 beers from locals and not-so-locals alike is available, featuring Enegren, Topa Topa and MadeWest, Oskar Blues and Ninkasi. Most notably missing: any semblance of a cask ale. A cask ale is typically an unfiltered beer served straight from the cask, giving it less carbonation than a typical American beer. It’s as English as beans on toast and the Union Jack.

A special menu for New Year’s Eve featured oysters Rockefeller and ahi tuna poke. Even the classic Waldorf salad made an appearance, but as this was our first visit, we stuck to the regular menu.

We chose the hummus plate ($7.95) and were given a red pepper and caramelized onion hummus alongside a traditional style and were pleased with both the abundance of accompaniments and the flavors.

For entrees, the classic roast beef sandwich ($11.95), replete with Kettle Chips and house-made pickles, as well as the Veggie Delight flatbread sans cheese ($9.95) were selected.

The roast beef sandwich was served cold. In my mind I had pictured a hot sandwich considering it being dinner time. The only purpose of the horseradish cream and out-of-season tomato seemed to be for soaking the brioche bun, which appeared freshly baked, but was revealed to be stale. On the side came a pile of generic chips. I asked our waitress: “Did these chips come from a bag?” to which she informed me that they were possibly Miss  Vickie’s brand (I would later come to realize that “Kettle Chips” being capitalized meant they were in fact the Kettle Chips brand.)

Simple French fries could have made the sandwich seem better despite itself, but I was also informed that the kitchen lacked a deep fryer.

The veggie delight raised further questions. Served on what appeared to be a pre-baked square pizza dough, the tangy and cloyingly sweet sauce and squash, zucchini and tomato combo reminded me of the DIY Pizza Lunchable meals I happily constructed in kindergarten (photo online). Dinner total, including two beers: $54.

Feeling that perhaps it was an off-night — New Year’s Eve, and judging by the positive reception Cask Alehouse has received online and via word of mouth when I shared my own experience (a friend seemed genuinely shocked by my experience), I visited again, this time for lunch service on a Monday.

The local beet salad ($12.95) stood out, a mound of arugula topped with goat cheese, crispy prosciutto and fried shallots with a balsamic sage reduction, and I ordered it along with the turkey melt ($11.95) because the thought of a cold sandwich redux haunted me. The salad was small (surprising considering the price tag) and the only thing that came in abundance was the arugula. The fleeting bites of prosciutto were great — but lost in the arugula. The beet portion was small, too; perhaps it should have been dubbed the Local Arugula Salad.

The turkey melt arrived with an abundance of arugula stuffed in the middle. The sandwich’s description does list arugula as an ingredient, but again, perhaps it should have been called an arugula melt. Thin slices of dry turkey slathered in a homemade honey mustard sauce made the sandwich edible and better than the classic roast beef sandwich, however. Brie cheese, slightly melted and oddly cool, rounded out the flavors on toasted bread. Lunch total (without a beverage): $26.

Maybe it’s a symptom of the “if you build it, they will come regardless” attitude. Locals undoubtedly love it because they have wanted something of this sort for a long time, and perhaps the beer selection helps to forgive the lackluster menu.  Here’s hoping that Cask Alehouse uses the new year as an excuse for some soul searching and improvement in the kitchen.