Review: On Beltline’s Westside Trail, a nice spot for beer and bites

The Fitbit is irrelevant. The most essential information for every serious Atlanta Beltline pedestrian is knowing where to stop for a beer.

When the Beltline’s Eastside Trail opened a few years ago, Ladybird Grove & Mess Hall was the place for a refill: a Creature Comforts Tropicalia for you, a bowl of water for your pooch.

It will come as no surprise, then, that before the ribbon could even be cut on the Westside Trail last month, a friendly watering hole had already sprung up in Westview, a historic neighborhood with a famous cemetery (chef Ria Pell is entombed there) and surfeit of fine old houses with escalating price tags.

That would be Lean Draft House.

Directly across the street from the trail’s Zero Mile Marker, in a once-derelict building, owner Leo Inestroza keeps a rotating list of 20 local craft beers on tap, while executive chef Mark Nanna (formerly of the Lawrence and Bone Garden Cantina) offers a pretty solid lineup of tacos, nachos, bar snacks and salads.

Dogs are welcome on the patio of the brewpub, where Inestroza, a Honduran-born entrepreneur, keeps his collection of vintage European motorcycles and sells biker apparel.

Still, it might be a misnomer to call Lean Draft House a biker bar. It is not a magnet for grungy, leather-clad punks on the make, but a community gathering spot with a diverse clientele that Inestroza says has come together organically.

Think of this as social progress, measured in cerveza and tacos.

I witnessed the camaraderie one recent Saturday night. It was my first visit, and since the 4-month-old cantina is a relative newcomer, I reasoned that it might be a little slow. Wrong.

An Art on the Atlanta Beltline event was happening in the green space directly across the street. Parking spaces were scant (though I soon discovered free night parking at the car wash behind the building). Lean Draft House was all revved up.

In a telephone interview, Inestroza told me that “lean” refers to behaviors associated with bars, bikes and borrachos (drunks). To turn your two-wheeler, you lean. To order a drink or take a sip of it, you lean. And “though we don’t encourage it,” if you find yourself over-served, you lean.

Personally, I lean toward the Chorizo Cheesy Fries, paired with a pint of Scofflaw Basement IPA or an Arches Unseasonal Lager. If there’s still room in my belly, I might move on to a couple of tacos.

I find the cocktails to be a shade mixed: Pantalones Perdidos (aka Lost Pants) is a delicious sweet-sour tonic of tequila, lime, Aperol, ginger beer, agave and bitters. The Jon Snow — gin infused with rosemary and cardamom, plus honey, lemon and bitters — is frothed with egg white: pisco sour-riff meant to be savored rather than gulped.

A classic margarita, on the other hand, was no great shakes. And some of these $9 drinks are heavy on the ice and gone in a minute, a good argument for sticking with Southbound Brewing Co.’s tart Transilience or Orpheus Brewing’s lemony-orange Transmigration of Souls.

A couple of dependable things for nibbling while you’re tippling are the lemon-pepper chicharrones and the yucca fries. Dusted with chili and served with herb-y green mayo, the yucca made for a tasty appetizer, albeit a rather dainty one.

Less successful was the Mexican street-food classic “esquites,” a cup of corn shaved from the cob and tossed with mayo, cheese and chili powder. The kernels were a bit chewy, not the sweet summer stuff we dream of.

But man, those Chorizo Cheesy Fries. Imagine waffle-cut spuds loaded with queso and paprika-flamed sausage crumbles. Your doctor might cringe, but this is bar food at its best.

As for tacos, the blackened grouper (with mango-jicama salsa and citrus mayo) and the carnitas (with avocado salsa, cilantro and onion) are seriously good. The Nashville hot chicken taco was nothing special, the breast meat a little dry. And though the fried cauliflower with kimchi sounded promising, the fermented veggies were more a funky distraction than a grace note.

One night, after leaning over the bar, tossing back a couple of cocktails and sampling all kinds of salty fare, I had a taste for something sweet. The only option was sopapilla, not the traditional fried puffs of dough sprinkled with confectioners’ sugar but a modern take: a bed of crispy tortilla strips topped with vanilla ice cream, caramel, cinnamon and chipotle honey.

It was by no means a genius concoction, but I found it somehow comforting, like a bowl of cereal with milk. It perked me up, corrected my lean, and made me eager to return to this Beltline beacon for lovers of brews and bikes.

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