No matter what your age, the experience of going to Santa Rosa Junior College got a lot better since Heritage Public House opened nearby.

For the past 13 years, the building was a Video Droid store, and long-time Santa Rosans will remember it as the Copper Penny. But the place has been gutted and refashioned into exactly what hard-working students — and faculty — would want in a hangout they will likely dub the Pub.

First, they'd want something good to eat. Yes, the place serves pub grub, but not the grease fest you find at too many pubs. People today — especially here in Sonoma County — are enlightened to the virtues of local, seasonal and organic food cooked with care. We've all eaten at restaurants where the vegetables are an overcooked afterthought, but the plentiful veggies on this menu are alive with fresh flavors.

The dishes seem well thought-out. A <b>Pulled Pork Sandwich</b> ($9, 3 stars), for instance, filled a hoagie roll to overflowing with tender meat and spicy, smoky barbecue sauce. Cauliflower florets and onions were pickled with beet juice, coloring them a glowing fuchsia. There was cracking-fresh cole slaw on the side, plus a big cube of corn bread, and the plate was decorated with a hop blossom and a snapdragon flower.

While brewpubs are all the rage these days, this pub takes a different approach. It taps 24 craft beers, ales and hard ciders, all exclusively from California. Given the proximity to the junior college, you'd think underage drinking might be a problem. But the bar staff has taken training courses in preventing that, and the management — general manager Roman d'Argenzio and marketing manager Erlina Othman — points out that the average age of the school's 32,000 daytime students is 26 and 21,000 night-class students is 28. So there's plenty of legal business at hand.

This being a pub, the several flat-screen TVs carry sports. There's a bandstand for live music and a (loud) sound system playing mostly rock. The bar is made of brick and mortar, the ceiling and some walls are finished in rescued barn wood to give a rustic feel to the place, and there's an outside beer garden graced by hop vines overhead. Inside, several large tables made for the Pub from salvaged wood can seat groups of family or friends, plus there are some intimate booths and tables. A back wall is decorated with tap handles proclaiming brands of beer, and a pool table with a red felt surface has a separate room of its own.

Kevin Quinn oversees the food preparation in the kitchen and does a good job of it. There's a focus on quality ingredients. <b>French Fries</b> ($3.95, 2.5 stars) are hand-cut from Kennebec potatoes, generally recognized as the finest potato variety for making fries. The menu says they're "salted to perfection," but they were oversalted.

Speaking of quality ingredients, all the chicken at the Pub is from Mary's Chickens and is air-chilled. The beef and pork are from Niman Ranch, and the bread is from Costeaux Bakery in Healdsburg.

Every good pub has a burger, and Heritage is no exception. The <b>Heritage Burger</b> ($11.50, 3 stars) is a big boy, with what looks like a half pound of beef on a large, egg-washed bun. But beef is just the beginning. On that steer rides Iceberg lettuce, Swiss cheese, cheddar cheese, caramelized onions, a slice of tomato, and a slather of house special sauce. I added ketchup just to be traditional, making it even sloppier and even more fun to eat. With the burger comes a hefty portion of Kennebec fries.

Local rock cod is pan-seared and loaded onto a corn tortilla along with cole slaw, bell peppers and zesty lime-enhanced sour cream to make a worthy <b>Fish Taco</b> ($3, 2.5 stars). For a small meal, go for the <b>Grilled Eggplant</b> ($7.50, 3 stars). Slender Japanese eggplants are sliced in half and grilled, amped up with a smoky sweet-and-sour heirloom tomato sauce, and dotted with goat cheese.

The <b>Caesar Salad</b> ($8.95, 3 stars) is actually — at last! — a real Caesar, with whole leaves of romaine, a creamy dressing, grated cheese, and house-made croutons. For dessert, there's a daily special, but also always either vanilla or caramel Three Twins organic ice cream — two scoops for $3.75.

<b>To sum up:</b> Pub grub that's a cut above, and everyone else's beer.

<i>Jeff Cox writes a weekly restaurant review column for the Sonoma Living section. You can reach him at jeffcox@sonic.net.</i>