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Salumi! Craft beers! Hut, hut, hike!

January 30, 2008|Jenn Garbee | Special to The Times

IT used to be that a sports bar was a sports bar -- where patrons were more particular about the beers and cheers than about the food. But lately, with the proliferation of neighborhood gastropubs, sushi sports bars and even beer-friendly wine bars, there are alternatives.

Real sports fans may still be happiest at real sports bars, but for the rest of us, there are some great places -- with multiple screens -- to catch some or all of Super Bowl XLII this Sunday while enjoying some terrific foods and well-chosen microbrews. It's all about playing the percentages.

If you're looking for a 50-50 ratio of dining pleasure to sports excitement, check out a gastropub or food-forward lounge that's making the Super Bowl an event -- such as the Del in Playa del Rey, 3rd Stop in West Hollywood or BottleRock in Culver City -- where the beer-friendly food is often ambitious and creative.

If you're more of a 75-25 food-to-sports person -- if, for example, you're not in a hurry to sit through the whole game but wouldn't mind catching Tom Petty at halftime -- check out some of the bar-cafes that acknowledge sports but focus on dining, such as Crow Bar and Kitchen in Corona del Mar.

And if you lean in the direction of making sports this weekend's can't-miss moment but don't want to sacrifice culinarily, check out the handful of pubs we've discovered (after researching dozens) such as Muldoon's in Newport Beach and Kai Sushi Sports Bar in Torrance, where food traditions -- and standards -- are beautifully upheld.

When choosing the perfect snacks to serve with a craft beer, it's hard to beat popular standards like a platter of spicy wings, a juicy burger and a basket of crispy, salt-dusted fries. The new generation of brew pub fare riffs on the essential flavor components -- spicy, meaty, salty and fried -- of those familiar bar foods.

"With beer you want flavors that are simple, almost minimalist, not overly complicated," says Matt James Tymoszewicz, executive chef at the Del. "But that doesn't mean you need to stick to typical ingredients. I like to push the boundaries."

Tymoszewicz gives a nod to the Irish pubs he frequented in Boston with platters of fried Ipswich clams with house-made tartar sauce and skinny, garlic-scented fries. But it's dishes such as wild boar loin with red currant gastrique (great with Guinness) that are most intriguing here.

The Del is one of several places opening early for Super Bowl Sunday. And, like the Library Alehouse in Santa Monica, it's turning up the volume on its half-dozen flat screens, not an everyday occurrence.

Squeeze into the Library Alehouse's snug, shotgun bar and grab a pint -- and if you're lucky, a seat -- to catch the game. Among the 20 draft brews are several Belgian ales, such as Piraat and Leffe, great with a basket of the crispy, lightly breaded calamari with spicy house-made cocktail and tartar sauces.

At halftime, try the bison burger, a pleasantly gamey, lean version, and a bottle of dark amber Canadian Maudite.

At 3rd Stop, the atmosphere is more upscale neighborhood pub than laid-back bistro-lounge. On game days, locals sidle up to the bar and scan the more than 30 domestic and international beers on tap.

Small groups of friends linger among the tables nearby, dipping grilled vegetable skewers into spicy chipotle sauce and sharing steaming bowls of mussels in white wine and crisp thin-cut frites.

Order one of the pizzas topped with mozzarella and spicy sausage or Gruyere and smoked ham and taste a variety of interesting ales including a Sharkbite red ale from San Marcos or a lighter Oregon Mirror Pond Pale Ale.

In recent months, the wine bar BottleRock in Culver City has expanded its beer menu to include half a dozen draft beers and a carefully chosen list of more than 50 bottled beers. You can sample a variety of hard-to-find brews, including a Japanese Kiuchi white ale and a new raspberry-blackberry-strawberry hard cider from Ace in Sonoma County.

The giant screens, even more recent additions to the one-room spot, are viewable from every seat, so sports fans can watch the play-by-play between handfuls of pan-fried Marcona almonds sprinkled with sea salt as well as more substantial offerings such as salads, grilled shrimp with sage butter or an artisan cheese platter of Rogue Creamery's smoky blue, creamy Saint Vernier and Old Quebec aged Cheddar.

New takes on favorites

IN the intimate bar area at Crow Bar and Kitchen in Corona del Mar, the television is more akin to an animated background painting than a gateway to live-action sports. "The TVs are here, but sports aren't our focus," owner Steve Geary says. "We're more about the food. It's an entirely different atmosphere once you turn up the TVs."

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