What’s in a name? That depends. A buzzword is a buzzword is a buzzword, as Gertrude might say (but probably not). Gastropub is such a word. King’s Row Gastropub, now open in Old Town in the space formerly occupied by Neomeze (and run by the same people), is fair evidence of this: it has the bloody word in its name. This would be like Kurt Cobain and friends deciding to name their group The Nirvana Grunge Band. Such blatant self-identification is cause for suspicion, at least in establishments that bank on the drawing power of a trendy formula; no one thinks twice about taquerías and tofu houses calling themselves such. But this is not the place for an extended meditation on authenticity and culinary nominalism (that’s not a real thing). Suffice it to say that King’s Row invites doubt by its very name.
Another question, still a touch abstract, but less so: Is it so expensive because it’s in Old Town, or because it’s a gastropub? The answer, of course, is: Yes. Father’s Office, the patriarch of Southland gastropubs, has long since inured enthusiasts to the tragedy of $5 fries and $13 burgers. But then, Father’s Office has one of the best burgers in the country and a draft beer selection more robust than most places’ wine lists. King’s Row has eight. Two of them are Pabst and TAPS Irish Red, which both cost $5. A Stone IPA is $7. To put this in perspective, you can get a pint of Stone IPA at Barney’s Beanery for less. And $9 for an Allagash White just makes us hurt inside. It’s $2 off select (read: cheap) draft beers during happy hour, which is nice, but not that nice. Obviously it’s unsporting to compare King’s Row to Father’s Office, but not, one would hope, to Barney’s. To be fair, the food at King’s Row is much better. But it also claims to be a pub, and as a pub, it’s simply not very impressive.
The food, though, is better. A poutine special was satisfying; there weren’t many curds, but the thick layer of what was essentially pot roast slobbered on the fries more than compensated. Not so satisfying were the bangers and mash: the peas and taters were fine, but the sausage was… mealy. Most telling, perhaps, was the burger, the signature dish of many an American gastropub. King’s Row’s is “dry aged,” and, at least on the night we were there, topped with a forceful cheese and onions soaked in duck fat, which by themselves were the best thing we ate all night. As a whole, the burger was all right. Not overwhelmingly flavorful or moist, but not drab, either. It came out clearly medium, despite having been ordered medium rare. At any temperature, it would not be worth $13, even with the solid accompanying french fries.
The rest of the menu adheres pretty strictly to the gastropub formula: it’s not a corn dog, it’s a merguez corn dog; it’s not hash, it’s duck fat hash. There’s an asparagus dish, an exotic pizza, mac ‘n’ cheese, duck sliders, fish ‘n’ chips, even bubble & squeak, a traditional English dish usually made with leftover taters and veggies, fried all together.
Despite how hard we’ve been on the place, though, we would go back for another shot, at least during happy hour. The gastropub formula may be tiring, but it’s still more interesting than most of what’s happening on that stretch of Colorado Boulevard.
Mostly though, we’re suckers for duck fat.
King’s Row Gastropub, 20 E. Colorado Blvd., Old Pasadena, 626.793.3010, kingsrowpub.com. L Fri.-Sun., D nightly. American. Full bar. AE, MC, V. $$