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Carolyn Jung | August 29, 2016 | Story Restaurants

The lines are what Dan Gordon remembers most, the ones that formed fervently on Day One when the doors opened, and which swelled like clockwork every Thursday, Friday and Saturday night thereafter. When he opened Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant 28 years ago in downtown Palo Alto, droves came for his signature garlic fries and craft German-style lagers served at what he describes as the first brewery-restaurant in the country to emphasize the food as much as the beer.

It constituted the frothy head on his grand beer dream. But it would take only a decade for those fine bubbles to burst. In 1999, following the enactment of a California law that prohibited the dual ownership of both a bottling brewery and a restaurant, Gordon was forced to sell not only his original restaurant, but 11 others he had since opened. “It was painful,” Gordon says. “It was like giving up a child for adoption.”

Like any grieving parent, he vowed that if he ever could, he would get his first-born back. That opportunity came this year, after that law was rescinded and Gordon got wind that the private equity firm that owned the 640 Emerson St. restaurant was going to shutter it. He and business partner Steve Sinchek, Gordon’s original bar manager at that original Gordon Biersch location, stepped in to save it. After a $1.5 million remodel, the duo reopened it in March as Dan Gordon’s, specializing in barbecue, whiskey and, of course, beer.

“It was like a case of, if you wish hard enough, your dreams do come true,” Gordon says. Adds Sinchek, who also owns The Old Pro and Local Union 271, both in downtown Palo Alto: “We always joked that if the space ever came up, we’d do it.” That space has now been reinvigorated with an urban barn-like interior that’s bathed in natural light from new skylights. The expansive bar is framed by rustic columns that resemble stacked cords of firewood.

In the corner of the open kitchen manned by chef Kwin Vu sits the new 750-pound programmable smoker. It’s filled 24-7 with turkey breast, sausages, St. Louis ribs, pork shoulder and brisket that takes 15 hours to get perfectly tender with that coveted red smoke ring. With the brisket, there’s a choice between “marbled” or “lean” that’s really no choice at all. Go for broke or go home.

The “marbled” is rich and succulent. Enjoy 10 ounces of brisket with a soft roll, along with house-pickled carrots and jalapenos ($13), as part of a two-meat combo ($15) or three-meat combo ($21). Or indulge in a chunk of brisket piled high atop two patties that make up the impressive half-pound burger ($13) of certified organic, pasture-raised beef from Northern California’s Mindful Meats, the first verified non-GMO beef company. It comes with mixed greens or a mound of those genius garlicky fries.

Gluten-free and sans breading, the Mary’s organic chicken wings ($14) are marinated in pickle brine before smoking, then flash-fried before served with blue cheese dip. They are full-on smoky with a paprika-hue, almost like Renaissance Faire turkey legs in miniature. It’s no wonder that 70 orders go out each night. For less meat-on-meat action, a refreshing rustic panzanella salad ($11) mixes in strawberries rather than the usual tomatoes, together with cucumber, fresh mint and zingy red chile in a miso vinaigrette.

The original brewery with its massive brew kettle is still at the back, built by Gordon in his 20s after becoming one of the first Americans in decades to graduate from Technical University of Munich, where he learned the art of brewing authentic German-style lagers and ales. He still owns the Gordon Biersch Brewing Company in San Jose, which he opened in 1997 and which now produces 1.7 million cases annually. But Gordon is not involved in the 32 Gordon Biersch restaurants still operating around the country. Neither is restaurateur Dean Biersch, with whom Gordon opened the original Palo Alto location.

Gordon already has exciting plans for concocting experimental brews in that kettle, including a darker IPA and oak-aged beers. For now, there are seven Gordon Biersch beers on tap, plus five brews from the new Dan Gordon line, which are offered nowhere else. It includes Wildcide, a delightfully dry hard cider pressed from fresh apples. Samplers (three for $7, five for $10 or seven for $15) are served in teeny steins. There are also six beer cocktails ($12 each) and 200 whiskeys, including a Rare Flight ($40) of half-ounce pours of scarce 10-year-old and 12-year-old Pappy Van Winkle bourbons.

Gordon is not the only one to have returned here with a vengeance. So too have fans who frequented the restaurant when he owned it the first time around. “My grandkids and Steve’s grandkids are going to own it someday,” says Gordon, who signed a 20-year lease on the site. “I have no intention of letting it out of my possession now.

640 Emerson St., Palo Alto 650.324.1960
Hours: Sun., 11am-midnight; Mon., 4pm-midnight; Tues-Wed., 11am-midnight; Thu-Sat., 11am-1am
Share plates, $8-$16; starters, $7-$13; sandwiches and entrees, $12-$22; sides, $4-$8; desserts, $7

Originally published in the July issue of Silicon Valley

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