Restaurant of the Week: The Back Abbey

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Photo by John Valenzuela

The Back Abbey, 128 N. Oberlin Ave. (at 2nd), Claremont

The Back Abbey opened in June 2008 behind the Laemmle theater in Claremont’s Village Expansion. The building, which dates to at least the 1920s, was an ice house that chilled citrus bound by rail for other states. The small, distinctive structure was saved when the Expansion was being planned and sat, window-less but full of promise, until early this year when renovations began.

Well, it’s a neat little building and the Belgian pub that occupies it is a great addition. A friend and I went in for dinner a few days ago. It has a lived-in look, dark and rustic. The metal rafters are exposed and the hanging lights look industrial. There are tables inside, and one long high table with bar-style chairs, good for individuals, plus seating outside.

The beer menu apparently doesn’t exist. The food menu is on a chalkboard posted high above the bar. It consists of salads, burgers and bratwursts. It’s upscale bar food.

I had the Back Abbey Burger (at $13, possibly the most expensive burger in the Inland Valley) and my friend had the Grilled Vegetable Burger ($11), a portabello mushroom with eggplant, feta cheese, zucchini, red bell peppers and another item or two I got tired of craning my neck to read off the menu. It proved far more interesting than a Gardenburger.

My burger came on a brioche bun and had mustard aioli, microgreens, caramelized onions and a type of bacon whose proper name I couldn’t read. Well, it was a heckuva burger and worth the $13, if you’re the type of person who doesn’t blanch at a double-digit burger.

The presentation and price, not to mention the setting, invite comparisons to Father’s Office in Santa Monica and Culver City.

The half-order of fries I can recommend unreservedly. They come in a paper cone with three dipping sauces. The sauces are OK; the fries are amazing.

As for the beers, the Abbey has some 30 Belgian beers on tap. This is apparently A Big Deal in the beer community, Belgian beer being considered among the best and having it on tap being a rarity. There’s no beer list, annoyingly, so you may be hard-pressed to know what to get. My friend tried a couple and liked them. Beer doesn’t appeal to me and a sip of one didn’t change my mind.

But if you’re into it, Back Abbey is almost like a wine bar for beer. It’s very non-909 and Claremont’s lucky to have it. The clientele ranged from the 20s into the 60s that night, and it will be interesting to see this fall if Claremont Colleges students adopt the place and its $7 to $9 beers or whether it remains more of a beer snob/foodie hotspot.

About my only criticism is that it’s very LOUD. It’s not TVs, it’s not music, it’s just conversation that makes the interior almost as noisy as a nightclub. I don’t know if there’s anything to be done about it, other than timing your visit to off-hours.

You can read reviews on Yelp and on the M-M-M-My Pomona blog.

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  • Shirley Wofford

    What an expensive hamburger! One could feel really awful to see what bang they get for the buck at In-N-Out, or they could feel good about the price of this food by buying a skinny hot dog and coke at Dodger stadium for $10, or a side of nachos, a coke, and a frozen lemonade for $17.

    [You've put it all in perspective, Shirley. It's all in how you look at things. -- DA]

  • Bob House

    I’ll be in Claremont over the 4th visiting the ancestral home and I will be trying the fries — I think “amazing” is a first in your restaurant reviews; I don’t want to miss that. On an historical note, back in 1959 this address would have been on my Progress-Bulletin paper route.

    [Bring in a Daily Bulletin to read over your fries and leave it at the restaurant when you're done. It'll be like delivering the paper all over again. -- DA]

  • K

    I just got a chance to try out the Father’s Office in Culver City a month or so ago, and I’ve been to Back Abbey a couple times now. There’s definitely some similarity.

    Despite the many, many warnings about the hostile staff at FO, I found folks there to be friendly and knowledgeable. The staff at BA were definitely friendly, and I suspect that they’ll get more knowledgeable as time goes by. At least they had a list of beers available the second time we visited. This seems especially important, given the relative obscurity of the beer list.

    The burgers at FO and BA are very similar — both are great. They are incredibly juicy, on solid rolls with very nicely cooked onions. I give the nod to FO, but I didn’t exactly do a side-by-side taste test, so that doesn’t mean much. It’s definitely close.

    As you point out, it’s really impressive that there’s a place with 30 Belgian-style beers on tap right here in the Inland Empire; I suspect that there are plenty of folks who’ll be willing to make a LONG drive out here to sample the brews! This rocks (even for those of us who have lukewarm feelings for the actual Belgian beers).

  • Charlie Reust

    Saturday afternoon the Back Abbey was full of patrons, so Sally and I decided it must be worth a try.

    The burgers were good, and just the right size so you did not have to overeat or bring it along. At $11-$13, I wouldn’t leave any part of it behind. For the price, it should have included the fries and more.

    Two burgers, two beers and a half order of fries was $55 with the tip. A pricey lunch.
    Each of the 128 draft beers has a unique glass. We each let the knowledgeable waitress choose for us and were not disapointed.

    As good as it was, I might stop back for a beer, but I’ll take my appetite somewhere else.

  • Justin

    I was there on opening night and have been back many times since. I have tried several items on the menu but for me the Back Abbey Burger is the best food there. I also really enjoy the beer selection. I have tried all the taps on the wall and they are constantly adding more. They are doing a great job and I will enjoy going back everytime.

  • Linda Frost

    We had dinner there yesterday after a movie, and the burgers were great. The meat was tender, succulent, juicy, and the patty (6 oz.) the right size. The brioche was excellent, as were the caramelized onions. The side, a small serving of field greens with a country Dijon dressing, was perfect for petite appetites. Yes, $12 is pricy for a hamburger, but Ive paid $10 elsewhere, and the BAs burgers are the best Ive had in recent memory.

    It was packed inside, so we opted for outdoor seating, which was slightly warmer than winter in Anchorage. There were only two heaters, neither of which did much to chase away the chill, so we just thought warm thoughts. We often go to the Laemmle for the $4 senior matinee on Wednesdays. For $20, I enjoyed a movie, popcorn and drink, and a hamburger. I dont drink alcohol, so the $7 beer went to my partner in crime, Gwen. She admits thats a pricy libation but says she enjoyed it. Getting older sometimes pays, but thats another story.

    [Glad to hear you enjoyed your experience. -- DA]