Change is in the air at Magnolia Brewing Company, which closed its Dogpatch barbecue restaurant Smokestack for a major overhaul this summer and parted ways with founder Dave McLean. After the Dogpatch revamp is complete — sometime in the next few weeks — everything about the place will be different than it was before, from the physical space to the beer (thanks to new head brewer and Magnolia managing partner Dick Cantwell) to the food, which won’t be barbecue anymore.
Laurance Gordon, a former executive chef at Tenderloin beer bar Mikkeller and chef de cuisine at Belgian brasserie Belga, is in charge of the new kitchen, which he designed from the ground up. And the first big switch was removing the smokers.
“More and more people are eating lighter, fresher food,” Gordon says — even with beer, a beverage often associated with heavier fare.
“We’ll be incorporating more of the bounty of produce to pair with beer, and to do it in a pub environment, we’re not going for a dark, dank pub vibe,” he says. That means, rather than dark wood as previously, customers can expect lighter decor throughout. Biggest of all, a large new beer garden space will occupy a previously underused loading dock area. And rather than counter service as it was originally, the restaurant will now be full service.
Gordon’s light snacks menu includes spiced popcorn, and his bigger dishes include clams “cioppino” (clams baked in a half shell with “cioppino relish” and bread crumbs). For those who do want something a bit heavier, a burger is available with gruyere cheese, shredded lettuce, dill pickle chips, shaved red onion, and a secret sauce on a brioche bun.
“I personally think that gruyere is the superior hamburger cheese,” Gordon says.
The changes to Magnolia’s Dogpatch space are just the most visible ones at a company in flux. Largely dragged down by the cost of expanding from their original Upper Haight brewpub to the massive Dogpatch brewery and restaurant, Magnolia declared bankruptcy in 2015. In 2017, it was acquired by new owners: Colorado’s New Belgium brewery, Belgian brewery Oud Beersel, and Dick Cantwell.
Cantwell resigned from his last brewery, Seattle’s Elysian, when it sold to AB-InBev. The well respected veteran brewer has been making incremental changes at Magnolia since his arrival — but now, those are due to accelerate.
“I wanted to earn the backing of regulars before diving in with more wholesale change,” says Cantwell. He’s retained Magnolia’s British milds and bitters, but pared them down and expanded into more cutting-edge territory as well. The brewer just published a book on brewing with fruits, vegetables, and spices, and at Magnolia, he recently released a cucumber Meyer lemon IPA — that’s on tap now in the Upper Haight.
“I recognize that it’s going to take a little while for people to get that Magnolia has changed,” says Cantwell. But when customers enter the new Dogpatch bar, order food, and start drinking a beer, those changes will be hard to miss.