“Sir, would you like a freshly baked pretzel?”
Jolted from my reading, I asked, “Huh? Are these free?”
“Yes, sir, we bake them next door and bring them over fresh for our beer bar.”
Slightly confused, I pinched myself. “Sure, I’ll take one,” I said, ripping off the outer edge and shoving the hot, salty bread into my mouth. What I thought was just another beer bar was actually far from it. It’s also a Japanese bakery? Damn, son.
What used to be a men’s clothing shop, a coffee shop, then a cheese shop is now Bizen Beer Bar and Okayama Kobo Bakery & Cafe, specializing in Japanese baked goods. Bizen (pronounced bee-zen) refers not only to a city within the Okayama Prefecture in Japan, but also a style of pottery. Although the actual Bizen Japanese mugs aren’t yet health-code-approved for use, they do make for some great bar-side decoration in the cozy pub.
Manager and beer buyer Maricella Llamas is focusing on independent craft-beer offerings, including those from soon-to-be neighbors Modern Times, Gunwhale Ales and other favorites. “Just like us, I want to support other small businesses,” she says. There are also fresh kegs of Coedo, one of Japan’s larger craft breweries. The only macro on hand is Sapporo, which is just a tad cheaper than the other selections.
I plopped a coaster over my glass and headed to the bakery side, where I ordered a Japanini, with basil, pesto, tomato and thick-cut bacon encased in flakey bread; a croque monsieur, a bechamel-bread concoction with ham and gooey cheese; and a Japanese curry-pan.
“We have many bakeries in Japan,” explains chef Tsunetaka Kawakami. “This is our first beer bar.”
Adds Tome Kukidome, Bizen’s president and COO, “This is also our first location in the USA.” Kawakami and Kukidome are here from Japan to assist with the Anaheim launch.
Though I had been interested in sipping my beer from an actual Bizen mug, Llamas hands me a Sapporo-branded mug filled with Coedo’s ultra-fresh Ruri pilsner ($10, local beers are $7.95).
All the bread here seems to pair flawlessly with a fresh pilsner’s crackery-like maltiness, but nothing is quite the surprise like the curry-pan ($3.75). The doughy crust opens with a belch of steam to display the sweet Japanese curry inside. The outside is light, buttery and delicate—somewhat sweet, somewhat savory. My only complaint is these treats sell out fast, so make sure to order a few extra to take home for late-night snacks. “They freeze well,” notes Kawakami.
Bizen Beer Bar and Okayama Kobo Bakery & Cafe, 155 W. Center Street Promenade, Anaheim, (714) 603-7332; okayamakobousa.com.
Greg Nagel has been writing about beer since 2011, is an avid homebrewer of wine, cider, and beer, is a certified Cicerone Beer Server, a podcaster with the Four Brewers Show, and runs a yearly beer festival called Firkfest.