Corona, CA: Tripping on Steampunk in the IE

Corona’s first gastropub goes sci-fi in imaginative ways

Gastropubs may be few and far here in the Empire, and Steam Haus Gastropub hopes to change that landscape. Located in the Dos Lagos Shopping Center (bravely across the driveway from the stiff competition in Taps), the restaurant masterfully replicates that whole steampunk vibe, from clockwork sculptures that decorate the walls and period set-pieces that double as candleholders and centerpieces on tables, to the waitresses and bartenders outfitted in period garb (black and white-striped Victoria corsets, military-inspired garb with vests and coats). It’s like stepping into that magical world of Phillip Pullman or to The City of Lost Children.

The other positive—the menu offers an intriguing and robust mix of small plates, flatbreads, burgers and inspired comfort food favorites, 180 bottles and mostly American and Belgian draft brews. Our server, Wendy is polite and helpful, guiding us in making our selections from their two-page menu. We settle on the Duck Fat Fries ($8) and Dirty South Fries ($10), a Mad Dog Burger ($24) and the Filet Mignon and Roasted Red Pepper Flatbread ($14). Meanwhile, we sit back to admire the scenery and enjoy our craft soda, the delightful Bundaberg Peachee.

The food takes a while to prepare, but when the unmistakable aroma of the smoky and rich duck fat fries wafts through the door, time is all but forgotten. The fries are beautifully crisped throughout and pair wonderfully with sweet Haus-made ketchup (ask for this instead of the curry ketchup if you don’t like curry). The dish makes a great conversation starter with a round of brews, and they’re so good that my companion and I devour the entire plate before starting with our entrees.

We’re not so crazy about the Dirty South Fries, however, a dish that aims to add a little spice but miscues as a reinterpreted Tex-Mex head scratcher. The hot sauce overwhelms the subtle flavors of meat the meat, and while I understand that Steam Haus wants to impart that “wow” factor, I do think the pulled pork exists better in its traditional form.

Our Mad Dog Burger covers the entirety of the plate and almost stands as tall as our water goblets. Thickly-sliced picked zucchini rings add interest to this monstrosity of a burger which is designed to be shared by a party of four, even though parties of five or six could survive on its girth. The thick brioche bun might be a bit much as turns soggy on the bottom from the fresh pile of veggies. Cooked medium, the meat comes out a bit dry. The burger alternates between palatability and photogenic showstopper, and one could spend an entire evening mapping out strategies of bite-sized attacks.

Besides the duck fat fries, the Flatbread “Pizza” won me over with its simplicity and flavors. Roasted red peppers add a sweet touch, and despite the layers of meat that top its surface, the flatbread is surprisingly light and perfectly crisped. I would come back again to sample its gorgonzola and pear sibling.

I want Shelby Worthington and her team to succeed, as I think she’s birthed a brilliant concept, although the food could stand for better execution. This place has got half the puzzle right with the outstanding service and the possibilities that could bloom from the menu. I have faith it will survive their growing pains to thrive.

Steam Haus Gastropub, 2785 Cabot Dr., Ste. 110, Corona, CA

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