Writing about another place to drink in Fullerton is akin to shining a light on a new Starbucks. There are, after all, probably more beer bars per square inch in downtown Fullerton than in New Orleans. But when I saw executive chef David Fuñe’s name attached to a new craft beer/cocktail eatery, I knew Pickled Monk would be so much more than your average gastropub. Fuñe is one of those OC chefs to follow, not just for his John Leguizamo-ish laugh, but also for his uncanny ability to trick you out of your comfort zone.
Case in point: As I bit into a bratwurst, it snapped as if I broke a small stick, releasing its inner molten Cheddar cheese and sweet porky goodness . . . all wrapped in a crunchy bacon shell. The thing that brought it home wasn’t the soft, fresh pretzel bun, but rather house-made, piquant green kraut and monk mustard. Turns out, the Pickled Monk isn’t just a clever name; it actually does pickle all the things.
At the corner of Commonwealth and Harbor, amid a hundred other options, the abbey-esque features that adorn the bar and candelabra lighting set the Pickled Monk apart from neighboring holes. So does its self-pouring draft wall filled with various local craft and classic imported beers and wines. If you’re into High Life, PBR and other fun canned goods, a coin-op vending machine is awaiting your attention after you obtain a couple of tokens.
The large, wooden communal standing table in the beer area is my main hangout and instantly brings me back to the early days of craft beer, when people actually chatted about what’s good. I saw strangers buy tasters for each other, saying, “Dude, you gotta try this.” I had my doubts about self-pouring systems, but seeing it spark chemistry with Fullertonians was just as refreshing as the Modern Times Orderville IPA I drank, as well as the Weihenstephaner Pils before that.
The menu isn’t all about being adventurous. There are moments with quinoa and possibly kale, but the real deal is Fuñe’s fry game. His fried chicken and doughnuts feature freshly sugar-dusted beignets that come out like the best fair food, chicken-breast fritters so crisp and juicy they defy belief, and fried pickles, all with a habanero-maple syrup.
The beauty in the menu is mixing and matching, where the bacon-gochujang jam lingering in the bottom of the Brussels sprouts dish is dip-worthy with the rest of your meal. It felt like a game of self-discovery, where even the house bloody Mary ketchup could be paired with a shot of vodka and the house-pickled veggies.
As I was knee-deep in beer revelry, I didn’t get to try any of the cocktails, but the menu looks to be full of riffed-on classics such as the Fuller-hattan, Mezcal old fashioned, and even an Ex In the City Cosmo. Is Fullerton having a food moment? I might turn into a pickled monk trying to find out.
Pickled Monk, 101 N. Harbor Blvd., Ste. 100, Fullerton, (714) 793-9100; pickledmonk.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.