Stone Brewing Co. World Bistro and Gardens, Escondido
For such a large and famous place, I was surprised at how little signage there was. It was a bit annoying to have to drive back through a long skinny driveway to get to the parking lot I passed before my GPS said to turn: use the lot marked "Trailhead Parking" with the radio tower in the middle.
The walkway to the entrance, through a tunnel of leaves, is enchanting. The huge wooden doors, propped open in welcome, invite you inside to the flagship brewery and restaurant of this world-famous beer company; a literal stone greets you in the lobby.
The main dining room has 30-foot windows on two sides, on one side looking out to the well-landscaped patio (complete with rock features and koi pond) and on the other side giving a view of the impressively large brew tanks. There are more tables than in most restaurants, and at lunch on a Wednesday the place was mostly full, inside and out. The crowd seemed to be a mix of locals on lunch break and beer tourists on pilgrimage.
The lone bartender inside (there's another bar outside, near the park-like area) was having trouble keeping up with the orders enough to give attentive service to patrons at the bar. It took a few minutes to get a beer menu, then a food menu, etc.
The beer menu is extensive, of course, offering just about every Stone beer you might want, including specialty batches made at the Liberty Station location, etc. The food menu I found to be surprisingly narrow, and quite expensive, $15-25, with most entrees at the higher end. However, the food was amazing: I can highly recommend the Xian Lamb Fun, a spicy noodle dish with perhaps the best lamb I have ever tasted. They were giving out a free beer sample to everyone who ordered food (a nice touch I also appreciate at Karl Strauss). Unfortunately for me, it was the same beer I had just ordered and the bartender didn't substitute it with something else. I had a two-hour drive ahead of me so I just had the one drink on this visit; if you want to see my ratings of Stone beers, check out my reviews of the Liberty Station, Oceanside, Company Store on Kettner downtown and tap room next to Petco Park locations.
Vengeful Spirit (IPA, 7.3% ABV). Clean, hoppy (tropical/citrus/bitter), very drinkable. Reminds me of Ghosthammer, with extra citrus. 4/5
It is definitely worth taking a walk around the grounds. There are a couple of ponds, a waterfall, tall trees, and various seating areas scattered about what can only be described as a small forest. The trees are tall and thick enough that the whole place feels entirely isolated, like a world of its own. It is beautiful and wonderfully relaxing.
As I've said before, Stone is famous for a reason. They make good beer, and they know how to create an environment people like spending time in.
http://www.stonebrewing.com/visit/bistros/escondido 1999 Citracado Parkway Escondido, CA 92029