Occupying the space of the now-departed Il Forno Café is a new concept gastropub in Azusa. Taking a cue from the monasteries around the world that brew many of the beers it stocks, Congregation Ale House is designed around a tongue-in-cheek religious theme.
The interior is reminiscent of a traditional pub or monastery (ironically, both seem to follow the same decorating rules), with Gothic architectural elements, iron chandeliers, stained glass windows, dark hardwood tables and booths.
Apparently, the servers typically dress in Catholic schoolgirl uniforms, although we visited on Halloween night when the staff was in “normal” costumes, which I was grateful for. A jukebox near the front plays four “hymns” for a buck.
It is easy to see why the “faithful” come to worship here: you will find 27 beers on tap and our server estimated that they offer a total of over 100 beers, about half domestic and half international. The menu consists of sandwiches, salads, flatbreads and sausages. They offer a couple desserts and, of course, a beer float.
We ordered at the counter and since I am not a beer fan (I consider myself more of a kind of gal), I asked for a recommendation. The server said her personal favorite was the intriguingly named Delirium Tremens ($9) and kindly offered me a sample. After a taste, I was reminded why I prefer wine and requested a Dr. Pepper.
We ordered the highly recommended Pub Baked Pretzel with Chimay cheese and beer fondue ($4), the Grilled Ribeye and White Cheddar Burger ($8), an Artisan Pepperoni and Sausage flatbread ($7), and a side of Belgian fries ($4). The fries came with a choice of two sauces and I selected the sweet chili mayo and rosemary garlic mayo.
Since it was “Monday Mass," happy hour discounts were offered all day and knocked all our food down to $6 for the entrees and $3 for the fries. They are also “Midnight Mass” and “Midday Mass” happy hours at midnight Sunday through Thursday and 3 to 7 p.m. on weekdays.
The food arrived at a leisurely pace and we started with the pretzel and flatbread. Our server informed us that all breads were made fresh daily in-house and the soft pretzel was proof of this. The accompanying fondue was a smooth, mellow cheese with a strong but not overpowering beer flavor.
The pepperoni and sausage flatbread was on the petite side and did not quite meet my husband’s expectations. Not only was the crust flaccid and the sauce skimpy, my husband discovered kalamata olives were included in the toppings, much to his chagrin.
The ribeye burger, on the other hand, was a winner. The thick patty was tender, flavorful and so juicy that the juices dribbled down my hand. It was crowned with melted cheddar, mixed greens, tomato and caramelized onions, all on a fresh bun.
Belgians typically serve their thick-cut fries with a variety of sauces, usually mayonnaise or curry. Congregation Ale House follows suit, with unusual offerings such as curry ketchup and chipotle mayo. The sweet chili mayo was just that, with a dollop of mayo perched in a ramekin of sweet chili sauce, but the rosemary garlic mayonnaise produced an excellent gastronomic synergy far greater than its individual elements.
Servers roam the Gothic landscape with not-so-Gothic portable electronic registers as you dine and drink so that you can keep an open tab. One such server persuaded us to complete our meal with the Molten Chocolate Lava Cake with raspberry lambic sauce ($6) topped with a scoop of vanilla gelato ($1).
The cake was molten with plenty of chocolate lava, as promised. Rich and warm chocolatey gooeyness intermingled with quickly melting vanilla and a touch of raspberry to provide a satisfying ending to a Halloween meal.
Despite my lack of expertise on the beer front, I would probably return again in order to try one of the many exotic sausages, such as the duck and bacon sausage. Thanks to the interesting food, all will feel welcome at the Congregation Ale House, even those who do not worship beer.
Congregation Ale House
Address: 619 N. Azusa Ave., Azusa 91702
Business Hours: Sunday, 11 a.m. – 12 midnight; Monday – Wednesday, 11:30 a.m. – 12 midnight; Thursday – Friday, 11:30 a.m. – 1:30 a.m.; Saturday, 11 a.m. – 1:30 a.m.
Phone Number: (626) 334-BEER
Price Range: $3 - $8
Type of Cuisine: Bar/Pub Fare
Standout Dish: Ribeye Burger and Belgian fries with garlic rosemary mayo