First Look: Good Pizza & Beer, Aw-pho Pho at Sing Sing Beer Bar on Main St.

As Wicca says, the beef pho we had here was “aw-pho” (as in “awful”, for the dense people). I try to stay away from superlatives, but that bowl of beef pho we had at Sing Sing Beer Bar was the single worst dish I’ve had in the last year. The chef here is vegan.

Disclaimers about this review:

  • Sing Sing were open less than a week a week and a half when we visited, so the food and menu will probably change. Hopefully the pho will improve.
  • I post this because people like you and me deserve to know how the food is tasting now, if we’re considering risking our hard-earned money on a place with a gloriously wacky concept.
  • Consider this a rough guide to what works and what doesn’t right now.
  • NOTE: the room got dark really fast, so my photos of the food are horrible. The food actually looks way better in-person.
  • There’s some connection to Donnelly Group that I haven’t been able to suss out yet. Sing Sing is a venture by the people behind Back and Forth Bar (the ping pong bar) in Gastown. Could it be Donnelly Group lending support to places that are actually cool? Instead of overwrought and soulless?
  • NOTE 2: I wrote this while high, so I’ve gone back afterwards and added a few notes, as noted. 🙂

If you don’t want to read or scroll, here it is in a nutshell:

Good beer list, very fair beer prices, great pizza, the pho is a crime against Vietnamese culture, and the room is VERY LOUD.

It’s an unnatural marriage with very little crossover in ingredients — pho and pizza. Why the fuck not? Add beer and I’m game.

Sing Sing occupies the space where Kiso Island “japanese” restaurant used to be, on Main near 12th. It’s on the same block as Burdock & Co, and is in the same neighbourhood as Dock Lunch, Maizal, and Cascade Room.

The actual “Sing Sing” is a maximum-security prison in New York State, but I’m not sure if the owners of Sing Sing know that because nothing about it seems to reference the prison. (Other than the beef pho, that is — that dish gets 40 years to life.)

I won’t be burning these leather-bound menus any time soon. (See menu-burning festivities in the Dachi review.)

The room gets great natural light.

Once it gets dark, it gets DARK. The taplist is just paper printouts tacked up on the wall.

Addendum: the majority of the seating is communal long tables with bench seating, which can be a pain for some people to get in and out of. I don’t mind it. The room is basically a big box with all hard surfaces, so the noise level is about 80% of the way to deafening level, similar to Portland Craft (which btw has killer lunch beer specials — $3.75 for 12oz of US craft beers!).

Beer menu:

Addendum: Beer pricing at first glance is great! Beers range from $4 for happy hour selections, to $5-6 for everything else (even DIPAs!).

A Superflux beer for $6? Not bad pricing!

The food menu (also available on their website):

Five pizzas.

Props for all the right accents on the Vietnamese words.

Two chicken phos, two beef phos, and one vegan pho. I’m curious to see if they actually do a proper chicken pho and a separate beef pho because the two phos are actually really different in ingredients and preparation.

That’s it for the food. A tight menu, which I like (in concept).

I like their logo…

…and their mascot, a tiger that’s been ran run over by the #3 bus.

I love the shape of the glasses here! However, there’s still some volumetric voodoo at play because it makes 12oz of beer look like 14 or 16oz.

Superflux x Collective Arts unnamed Wheat IPA collab (6.2%). One of the rare kegs. 4-pack tall cans of this are probably sold out everywhere. It’s more wit than hefe, and probably more American wheat beer than that, but actually 80% the usual Superflux hoppy goodness we’re all used to. Great stuff.

(DISCLAIMER: I sometimes shoot photos for Superflux. Interpret that however you want.)

Addendum: A friend who also dined here on the same night measured the volume of these glasses and estimates it to be 12oz, the equivalent to a can of beer from a typical 6-pack (355ml x 6). I still think the pricing is really fair, certainly cheaper than they could charge (see the Bells & Whistles effect), but perhaps not as good a deal as I originally thought. Despite the CAMRA Vancouver FUSS Campaign/trainwreck, establishments still aren’t very clear on their serving sizes. You could be receiving anywhere between 8 and 16 oz in a small or large “glass” of beer, so it can be difficult to judge and compare between establishments fairly.

Cough. Hot water with lemon for Wicca, cuz she’s allergic to alcohol.

Those dreaded round metal chopsticks. FWIW, I don’t mind them but you might!

Phở Bò Sing Sing ($12) with beef steak, “streaky beef” (aka “nạm gầu” aka “brisket”), and beef meatballs. The pho comes with cilantro, basil, and bean sprouts already put in. Also a half-wedge of lime.

Squeeze bottles of sriracha and hoisin are brought to you with your pho.

The broth is looking pretty murky here. Good pho broth should have a clarity to it. A sip confirmed that it was watery, had no body or depth, no aromatics, and very flat-tasting.

If I can be pedantic for a sec (lol), those noodles aren’t proper pho noodles, which are thinner and just taste different.

Everything else besides the noodles and broth tasted good, so we didn’t waste that part.

Addendum: I broke my rule of not squeezing the hoisin and srirach directly into my pho cuz I had to try rescuing this bowl somehow. Didn’t work.

This city has a sizeable history of Vietnamese cuisine (even though it was firmly mediocre for the longest time before Mr. Red Cafe came along). Everyone knows what pho is supposed to taste like. This was soooo off the target.

(Now, I don’t read other peoples’ reviews before writing my own, but I’ve been told secondhand that Yelp and Google reviews also say the pho sucks, so…)

Carne Piccante ($15) with brisket, bacon, and pepperoni. The size is about 10″. Now THIS was good. And it’s not just because the pho was so bad that in comparison this was golden. I’m eating a couple leftover slices right now and it’s still good.

It’s like the chefs threw out the rulebook and just made pizza that they like. It’s like bad pizza done well. Let me explain:

It’s got the cornmeal bottoms of Little Caesars. It’s got sesame seeds à la Megabite.

It’s got a bit too much cheese than it probably should have. It’s got the cheap “parmesan” that comes out of a green Kraft cylinder. But all of these elements actually work on this pizza! It’s thin crust pizza topped like it’s a thick crust pizza. The crust is good, and puffs up just so.

The pizza and the beer list make it worthwhile to return. But pho-get about the pho. Pho now…

One thought on “First Look: Good Pizza & Beer, Aw-pho Pho at Sing Sing Beer Bar on Main St.”

  1. Really good read. I will visit for a beer and pizza! I get unusually worked up at times at some of these God-awful Vietnamese cuisine because we have such rich, brilliant choices for real Vietnamese eateries in town and quite frankly, it’s an insult to those establishments and culture when people simply don’t really know what they are doing/eating. Best example, other than this place, would be “A&C” with their sub-par, domesticated microwaved food.

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