The one-month-old Brothers Beer Bistro – in the Dalhousie & George space where Takara Japanese used to be – pairs every appetizer and main plate it serves with a brew. “We love beer,” says its mission statement “…and it is in everything we cook.”
And it is, either in or paired with every dish. There are 16 craft beers on tap, another 60-some choices in the bottle. There’s beer in the bread and in the butters. It’s in the dressings, dips and sauces, in the panna cotta (for cryin’ out loud) and the house made ice creams. Order the asparagus salad and the suggestion is to drink it with the Erdinger Hefeweizen. Wellington County Dark Ale works well apparently, with the burger.
So was I worried? Yes I was. This, I thought, would be a big boys’ fantasy sort of place, with Playoffs appeal but little substance and certainly absolutely nothing to entice me to waltz regularly across its beer-soused floors. Brothers Beer Bistro was going to be all about beer and bacon, burgers and a bar. And there’d be four TVs tuned to sports channels. And blondes in black bottom-bearing skirts delivering brews to dudes cheering on other dudes.
Well roll me up and call me curly. These “brothers” – Pat Asselin (service side of Play Food & Wine – which explains much) Nick Ringuette (well known behind The Black Thorn bar) and chef Darren Flowers (via Luxe, The Whalesbone, Play) – have in fact created a pretty special place. The food is mostly delicious, the price point fair, the service terrific, and the atmosphere joyous. This is a serious beer-lovers’ pub with solid attention paid to its victuals and its welcome. I think it will become a vibrant addition to the Ottawa restaurant scene.
First taste was lunch. A burger was paired with either the soup of the day, or fries, or a half pint of Beau’s. (A first for me: “Will that be soup or a beer?) Parsnip and pear soup with pig’s ear crackling sounded odd enough it had to be tried – and turned out to be one in four minor disappointments I’ll just get out of the way. The tepid soup was puréed to a Gerber consistency, and the crispy bit of porcine auricle was a boy-pleasing flourish that was just plain silly. Didn’t belong on this particular soup. We found the house coleslaw with its beer dressing uncomfortably bitter. And the rhubarb panna cotta somehow missed the mark, the basil gelée an ingredient too far.
There now. On to what works. Pretty much everything else. The service knows the food, knows well the character of the brews, can comment on the wine list (yes, there is one, short but well chosen) and grins a lot. The space works well – a contemporary-cool, but still comfortable industrial look, with exposed brick and painted pipes, walls of window and blackboards, a long curved bar with lots to look at, and a mix of booth, bench and high topped tables. LOUD when filled though, which I expect it will be on a regular basis.
Water is poured in mason jars. The spent grain bread is full flavoured, chewy and dense. The menu is short: seven apps, six mains, a bit of charcuterie and cheese, a few desserts.
The highlights of a lunch and dinner were many: the perfectly cooked asparagus salad with its lashings of smoked Parmesan and zing of preserved lemon. (Yes, beer in the tangy vinaigrette.) The rough, chive-studded beef tartare with its ramp aioli and house made chips. The sensational pierogies topped with a crisp chunk of pork belly confit in a light Sauvagine cheese sauce, and though the leeks could have been less raw and crunchy, the mussels in a smoked tomato and lager broth tasted marvellously of the sea, with beer-pickled beef tongue adding an interesting dimension. Frites (with a beer mayo) tick every box.
Mains held no disappointment. Steelhead trout was crisp-skinned and wet-fleshed, cushioned on a bed of beer-spiked Eryngii mushrooms, perfect snap peas and fingerling potatoes. Other than the imbalance in the house slaw, the thick (spent grain and cornmeal?) waffles drizzled with a bit of malted honey were moist and crunchy next to (Kichessipi brined) chicken, similarly moist and crunchy, served with a pitcher of gravy gently bittered with beer. But the BC octopus stole the show. The remarkably tender and tasty tentacles coiled like charred snakes on a charming bed of herbed gnocchi, diced asparagus and shaved fennel, oyster mushrooms and black olives. Beneath the mound, a shallow pool of mellow broth.
Beer ice cream was a revelation.
These brothers can cook – good, tasty food, innovative twists on comfort dishes – and they know how to greet and serve. Learned, perhaps, from a master?
I’ll be waltzin’ back.