The Pickled Monk’s name is so loaded, it needs to be parsed. Let’s break the moniker down, starting with the hooded holy fellow that’s featured prominently in their logo. If you’re a beer snob or a history buff, you’ve probably already guessed he’s in the title for beer-related purposes. You’d be correct. This downtown Fullerton joint is the latest entry in Southern California’s ever-growing self-service tap room scene, where an in-house debit card is your ticket to multiple handles of pay-by-the-ounce brewery goodness.
The “pickled” part of the restaurant’s name is a little more complicated. The word doesn’t necessarily mean what you think it might in this context. Yes, it’s a beer-friendly joint in the heart of a college town, but the 24 beers that line the U-shaped counter in the back of the bar area are too good to make the place a barfly’s hidey-hole of a hub for overserved tomfoolery. The word acts more like a tip of the hat to Executive Chef David Fune’s healthy obsession with pickles and other assorted briny vegetables. Most of the approachable gastropub fare he serves up features a pickled delight on the side. Some, like the spicy buttermilk pickles that accompany the addictive fried chicken & doughnuts plate, are unexpectedly complex.
Hopefully, this excites you. If it doesn’t, here’s why it should. Fune is one of OC’s secret culinary weapons. He’s largely lived under the radar, but he’s made his bones in noteworthy places like Splashes in Laguna Beach and Newport Beach’s Balboa Bay Resort. The food at The Pickled Monk sees him returning to his pre-haute food truck days, which is appropriate. You probably don’t want diver scallops with wild mushroom risotto at a place where you can pull your own beer tap. You’d want a good burger, wings, or a big bowl of mac & cheese. That’s exactly the type of fare Fune’s delivering here. However, he also makes sure the dishes punch well above its weight class. Each plate features kicked up touches that add the right pop of imagination without drifting into “creative for creative’s sake” territory. Putting bacon-Gochujang jam on top of Brussels sprouts puts a noticeably different spin on a standard dish, but in this case, different is rather fantastic. Also, there’s a Reuben on the menu. You just can’t go wrong with a Reuben.
So now you know about the food. Let’s talk about the taps. The setup may look intimidating for the uninitiated, but it’s quite simple. Your first order of business is to pick up a debit card from the bar and load it with whatever amount of money you’re willing to spend on suds. Each tap has its own card-swiping mechanism; after you grab a glass from one of the adjacent cupboards, all you need to do is insert your card in the doodad and start pouring. The system tracks your spending with a by-the-ounce price that varies depending on what beer you select. The pricing metrics are completely equitable — a three-ounce pour of St. Bernardus will cost you twice as much as most of the brews on tap because it’s a legendary beer that makes beer snobs knock-knees.
The other 23 non-St. Bernardus brews aren’t just a bunch of IPAs, either. Sours, stouts, reds, saisons and more, represent. If there’s a style you’ve always wanted a try but can’t seem to break the cycle of your usual, here’s your chance. We suggest you take it. You can also order a domestic can from the bar (or their vending machine) if you must, but why go the safe route when you have so much enticing choices conveniently laid out before you?
If you dig the craft beer scene, you’ll want to make the trek to The Pickled Monk and explore the diversity of their taps. But don’t sleep on Fune’s food. It will have you returning here just as much as the brews.