Not Your Parents’ Brewpub Menu

June 15, 2017

By Aaron Goldfarb, June 15, 2017

When Threes Brewing opened in the Gowanus neighborhood of Brooklyn in 2014, it offered several unique options for a brewpub.

Besides Greg Doroski’s outstanding pilsners and farmhouse ales, the bar also served barrel-aged cocktails. Instead of having flat-screen televisions in every corner, entertainment came from live musicians, DJs, and even stand-up comedians, who would perform in their “Tiny Montgomery” performance space.

As for food, Threes offered a “restaurant-in-residence” program where each week a different establishment would send a skeleton crew to the brewpub to cook a select menu for drinkers. Some weeks that might mean pizza from Roberta’s, other weeks shawarma from The Sussman Brothers, sometimes even muffulettas from French Louie.

Ultimately, after a couple years of dating around, Threes settled on “the one” restaurant to permanently take over their kitchen. Now, The Meat Hook, a whole-animal butcher shop in Williamsburg, mans Threes’ entire dining program. Yes, they serve standard brewpub fare like cheeseburgers and fries, but they also offer plenty of adventurous, upscale dishes like house ham and coconut grits and a ribeye with lamb bacon hush puppies. Every Monday night they even present “tableside” porchetta service

Threes and their partners at The Meat Hook are showing there’s a whole new way to offer food at brewpubs these days. No longer are beer guzzlers stuck with those cheesy ’90s days of loaded nachos, jalapeno poppers, and mozzarella sticks.

While those are all admittedly delicious, diners today are more demanding with their brewpub cuisine, even when late-night drunk dining. Other brewpubs are following a similar ethos, showcasing higher-quality, usually-local ingredients, frequently presented in a multi-cultural fashion. Now we’re seeing brewpubs with anything from empanadas to burritos, sushi to banh mi, even Michelin Starred tasting menus.

These aren’t your parents’ brewpub menus any more, and that’s a great thing.

Cory Smith / Good Beer HuntingFollow the sign to these breweries, which like Threes here, have taken the food options up a notch.

The Answer
Location: Richmond, VA
Speciality: Vietnamese

Unlike other brewpubs whose so-called “ethnic” cuisine might make you worry about problematic cultural appropriation (especially when you see a bunch of bearded white dudes back in the kitchen) – that’s not an issue here. An Bui, proprietor of The Answer, is Vietnamese, having only been in America since grade school. He originally got his start in the industry in the ’90s, pairing Belgian beers with pho and banh mi at his family’s restaurant, Mekong.

Today Bui also runs The Answer in the same strip mall. There he produces self-evidently American-style beers – adjuncted-to-the-nth-degree Stouts like Annie’s Reese’s, made with peanut butter cups – while offering a food menu straight from his homeland. The fun-loving Bui is not opposed to silly names, though, whether that’s his Wake n’ Bacon fried rice, Pork Yu So Crazy pho, or his “The Hangover” banh mi, made with thick-cut roasted pork and two sunny-side-up eggs.

Band of Bohemia
Location: Chicago, IL
Speciality: haute cuisine

Who would ever think a brewpub would offer such world-class dining options they might one day be awarded a Michelin Star? Well it happened – for the first time ever – last year when this Ravenswood neighborhood brewpub nabbed one.

To be fair, this is not the kind of place you’re going to blow into with your boys before a Cubbies game and slam a few flights. Reservations are requested and a $65 tasting menu with $20 beer pairings is what you’ll be eating. Chef Matt DuBois specifically prepares food that pairs with brewmaster/owner Michael Carroll’s beers.

A former baker at Grant Achatz’s acclaimed Alinea, Carroll later learned brewing techniques at Half Acre. Now he strictly brews culinary beers, like a roasted maitake mushroom Wheat or a parsnip and white pepper Rye Ale, meant to tango with dishes like pear and turnip soup with cashew puree, roasted salsify root with shaved Perigord and Burgundy truffles, and even desserts like olive oil cake with burnt sage-grapefruit sorbet. For more casual dinners, the bar is a la carte, offering spiced kettle nuts and lamb and oat cookies

Michael Kiser / Good Beer HuntingHalf Acre is known for their beer but check out their burritos.

Half Acre Beer Co.
Location: Chicago, IL
Speciality: burritos

It’s perhaps no surprise Carroll was inspired by his time at Half Acre, as they, too, offer an interesting taproom menu. Though the Lincoln Avenue brewpub does have a section of the menu labeled “plates” – mainly snacks like pickled veggies and rilette – the star of the show is the entire section labeled “burritos.”

Hand-rolled or “bowled,” and perfect to pair with Half Acre’s signature hoppy brews, there are at least a half-dozen burritos at all times, and they ain’t your typical options. You might see a BBQ Brisket burrito (featuring buttermilk biscuit), a pineapple pork fried rice offering, a veggie-friendly Mediterranean grilled cauliflower, or even a breakfast burrito option if you’re tying one on early and need to lay a base. Even the side items are intriguing, whether Chimichurri red potatoes or Mexican cucumbers. And don’t forget a Basmati rice pudding for dessert!

Woods Beer Co.
Location: San Francisco and Oakland, CA
Speciality: empanadas

This San Francisco-based brewery focuses on experimental culinary beers like MateVeza, a sui generis Yerba Mate IPA; these are often produced via collaborations with local food purveyors. Despite five Bay Area-locations, like the Cervecería in San Fran’s Mission District and Woods Bar & Brewery in Uptown Oakland, each offers empanadas in collaboration with El Porteño.

The local empanada-maker melds traditional Argentinian with Bay Area state-of-the-art. While you can order a typical carne, pollo, or jamon y queso, you’d surely be remiss to not also sample a Champiñones (sautéed seasonal mushrooms and aged parm) or Acelga (local, organic Swiss chard, gruyere, and toasted pine nuts).

Manayunk Brewing Co.
Location: Philadelphia, PA
Speciality: sushi

Whether burgers and nachos or empanadas and banh mi, you typically think of something hearty (and a bit greasy) as the ultimate pairing for beer – not light and healthy sushi. Still, sushi makes a wonderful pairing for the hoppy Ales and Lagers served at this twenty-one-year-old Philly brewpub.

Open since 1996, when the brewery expanded in 2004, a stone pizza oven was installed along with a sushi bar. There, Chef Eddie Fa Yong Huang offers an extensive menu of sushi and sashimi, maki and tempura, and even octopus salad. For the less adventurous, those pizzas include not just the classic margherita but more unique ones like a chicken pesto. Adding to the Asiatic theme, there are also dumplings. But, since we’re in Philly, even the dumplings are cheesesteak stuffed.

Sometimes you do just want some classic pub grub. But, maybe, like, better?”

Beachwood BBQ & Brewing
Location: Long Beach and Seal Beach, CA
Speciality: BBQ

At most of the great barbecue joints throughout the U.S. of A, your choice of an accompanying beer is typically nothing better than one described as “ice cold.” Beachwood is the rare BBQ joint that so cares about pairing their ’cue with great brew that it makes the beer themselves, specializing in west coast hop bombs as well as boozier Barleywines and Belgian Ales. Or maybe they so care about having great pub food that they’re confident enough to insert “BBQ” into their brewery’s name.

Whatever, this growing SoCal chain now has locations right near the water in Long Beach and Seal Beach, along with a separate “Blendery” location for lambic-style production. Each taproom offers clever Cali takes on BBQ, whether that’s a tater tot casserole with duck confit, duck & alligator andouille gumbo, or a wild boar meatloaf. Of course, you’ll probably want to just ball out and get a full slab of baby back ribs, smoked low and slow on-site.

Small Brewpub
Location: Dallas, TX
Speciality: “interesting”

You’d hardly think a 23-year-old chef would be the type to dance with the avant garde. Such is the case, though, for wunderkind Chef Alex Henderson, currently manning the kitchen at this Oak Cliff neighborhood spot. Henderson replaced Small’s previous chef Misti Norris, who had won Eater Dallas’s 2016 Chef of the Year for her inventive takes on Southern food, including upscale plates of pig trotters and chicken feet. Henderson’s food is just as unique, though perhaps a little more casual. (He calls it “interesting.”) Entrees include dishes like seared zucchini with watermelon mole, stuffed quail, and milk-braised pork with grilled cantaloupe relish.

Wicked Weed Brewing
Location: Asheville, NC
Speciality: “elevated pub gastronomy”

While seeing world cuisines now offered alongside uniquely American craft beer is exciting, sometimes you do just want some classic pub grub. But, maybe, like, better? That’s what North Carolina’s barrel-aged sour darlings are shooting for at their original downtown location – going so far as to advertise their brewpub’s restaurant as serving “elevated pub gastronomy.”  

Don’t get scared by the quasi-pretension. Instead, get excited by a hoppy fish & chips platter or “Wicked Burger” made of fried oysters and spicy remoulade. Dinnertime entrees include such “nice” restaurant items as wild sockeye served with a mustard emulsion and linguine carbonara with country ham and a cornbread crumble. Sure, you can get beer cheese if you want, but it’s one made with queso fresco, scallions, and pickled jalapenos.

ZX Ventures, a division within AB InBev, is an investor in October
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