The first time I walked into the Golden State Café, it was packed; the line was out the door, and the energy was palpable. The draw of the place is clear: a café celebrating the food and drink of the great state of California, run by a couple of guys with an unhealthy passion for things that taste good.

One of those men is Jason Bernstein, co-owner, resident hardcore beer specialist and usually, your server as well. It was opening night, and he looked energized and sharp, but in the messy sort of way you do when you’re operating on minimal sleep and heavy doses of adrenaline.

The concept behind the restaurant is about as perfect as it gets: top beers from independent California breweries, California wines, sandwiches, hot dogs, sausages and sides (with salads coming soon). While I found no disappointments on the menu, some things, like their signature burger, really stand out.

They use Harris Ranch beef, Fiscalini Farmhouse cheddar and brown sugar glazed bacon. Their other big accomplishment is that they’re the only other place in the world that sells the now-legendary Scoops gelato (for an added treat, try their beer float). It’s hard to do wrong at a place where you could essentially spin a roulette wheel in the categories of “main,” “side,” “beverage” and “gelato” and never be disappointed.

Let me try: muffaletta sandwich with jalapeño cabbage slaw, a pint of Racer 5 and a scoop of chocolate Guiness gelato. Yeah. That’ll do just fine.

A few weeks after my first visit, I went back to take another look and talk to Bernstein between the lunch and dinner rush. He still hadn’t taken a day off and looked extremely tired, but deeply satisfied, like someone who had been out for a swim at Zuma, got pulled under by a wave, had their body smashed against a collection of jagged rocks, then swam, tumbled and doggy paddled their way to the shore with their last breaths, barely staving off death and lying on the sand, wheezing heavily, battered and bloody – but so immensely happy to be alive.

The process of opening the restaurant, all in, took 11 months. City ordinances, beer and wine license, building codes and surprise fees sprung up everywhere. He was even required to install a brand new 750-gallon grease trap, which, for a variety of reasons, delayed the restaurant opening for three months all by itself.

It seems that opening a restaurant, any restaurant, requires an immense amount of hard work. To attempt it, I’m fairly certain that you either need to be a little stupid or a little insane. I find Bernstein to be an intelligent guy, so the only other possibility is crazy, right?

“I’ve shed more tears over this project than all the girlfriends I’ve ever had in my entire life,” he says.

Is he a masochist?

“I was just thinking about that the other day. No. I don’t think I am. I think I appreciate the experience. The immersion.”

So if pain isn’t his main goal, then why do it? Why put yourself out there? Why battle your way through countless vendors to ensure that you’ll have some of the best beers on tap in the entire city? Why do any of it?

“I’ve had a lot of different jobs in my life, but none of them really matched up. There was no direction. But this is something I’ve always wanted to do. It was either this or open a bar, and we couldn’t afford to open a bar. What else was I going to do?”

What else indeed. So the verdict is in: He’s absolutely freaking nuts – and thank God for that.

The Golden State Café is located at 426 N. Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles. For more information, call (323) 782-8331 or visit