Does Rock & Brews in Buena Park need to be reviewed? No matter what I say in the next 800 words, you've already made up your mind if you know what it is: Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley's rock-themed restaurant. Either it's your kind of joint or it isn't. It exists for the same reason Hard Rock exists. And when you hear of Rock & Brews' plans to open 100 throughout the world, mostly in tourist areas, you realize its ambitions are to eventually out-Hard Rock Hard Rock.
Still, the KISS Army must be told that Rock & Brews is a nondenominational church of rock worship designed to appeal to the widest possible audience. That is to say, if you show up in full Star Child regalia, you're going to feel pretty silly. Apart from a few KISS posters, I saw none of the band's memorabilia on sale. In fact, Simmons and Stanley have designed the place to be family-friendly, complete with a children's menu, a coloring template and a Cornhole play area outside.
Rock & Brews is, however, still loud and big and garish. And right now, its phallic neon guitar fret glows so gaudy and bright out there on Beach Boulevard it's more Vegas-y than anything else in OC.
Inside, it looks like an abandoned airplane hangar crossed with a college dorm room. Rock posters and band flags adorn a slanted ceiling that soars a mile above your head. Beneath what resembles an elevated viewing platform of a factory, a bar has rows of LCDs tuned to ESPN; on two walls of the hangar, gigantic screens cycle through music videos on random mode. I watched everything from the Beatles to Soundgarden to Imagine Dragons. When you see how dated some of the videos you grew up watching look when blown up to building-size proportions, you'll come to the same inevitable realization I did: You were a teenager then; now, you're old.
It's best to mitigate these moments of introspection into one's age with the presence of like-minded friends and plenty of beer. And in service of the latter, Rock & Brews has a lot of choices. The beer list includes everything from Bud Light to a section of Belgians, a few fruit beers, even sour beer. The lineup of taps behind the bar is so crowded it rivals the switches in a 747 cockpit. If you can't find something you like here, you must not like beer.
Burgers, pizzas and salads dominate the food menu. Everything plays into all the American chain restaurant tropes I expected. You can probably skip the “Rockin' Hot” wings that taste like every other middle-of-the-road sports-bar hot wings offering—soggy and served tepid with a watery blue cheese dressing. Instead, get the house-made five-cheese mac and cheese—pasta shells shellacked in just enough tangy beer-cheese sauce it's neither too wet nor too dry. And are those Cheez-Its crumbled on top?
There are a few dishes on the menu that pay homage to a band or song, but you have to look hard to find them. The Freebird, a chicken sandwich, is an obvious one. The Strawberry Fields salad and the Yellow Submarine sub honor the Beatles, but it may be less a deliberate nod than a coincidental alignment of the Fab Four's songs to actual foodstuffs. Jimmy Buffett, for some reason, gets a pizza named after his most famous anthem. Well, sort of: It's called Margheritaville—get it?
If Rock & Brews has a specialty, it's burgers, and they're named not after rock stars, but rather what's in them. The Fireball—with pepper Jack cheese, serrano pepper relish and a chipotle aioli—is actually spicy. And the Point Reyes Blue Cheese & Applewood Smoked Bacon Burger is so sharp it's a decongestant. The best might be the so-called Brews Burger, which can out-umami an Umami burger with its loosely packed patty marinated with amber ale and Worcestershire, served with aged Cheddar and a roasted tomato.
A rack of ribs that's not quite the Memphis-style they advertise were nonetheless fall-off-the-bone tender. And for dessert, you can have more beer in the form of a Real Beer Float, or opt for the popular Purple Rain Drops, a half-dozen chocolate-filled not-quite-beignets that unfortunately clash with the drizzled raspberry sauce. As I ate it, wondering what it would do to my cholesterol count as people of my age do, I was comforted when I remembered that our cheerful server actually asked for my ID when I ordered the beer. Never mind that she was likely still in diapers during KISS' reunion tour in the '90s.
Rock & Brews, 7777 Beach Blvd., Buena Park, (714) 266-0314; www.rockandbrews.com. Open Sun., 10 a.m.-midnight; Mon.-Thurs., 11:30 a.m.-midnight; Fri.-Sat., 11:30 a.m.-2 a.m. Dinner for two, $30-$50, food only. Full bar.
Before becoming an award-winning restaurant critic for OC Weekly in 2007, Edwin Goei went by the alias “elmomonster” on his blog Monster Munching, in which he once wrote a whole review in haiku.