Not Just Any Old Bar FoodThe Breslin Bar and Dining RoomThe Federal Food and ProvisionsBarley SwineThe Greenhouse TavernMagnolia Gastropub and BreweryLocal GastropubSpur GastropubThe Pub and KitchenRackhouse PubThe Publican
Wine and cheese? That’s so last year. Today’s forward-thinking tipplers know that it’s all about pilsner and pizza, stout and sweets and Chimay and cheese. At least if you believe the chefs and proprietors at some of the country’s top gastropubs—pubs that place as heavy an emphasis on cuisine as they do on drinks. We certainly do.
Just in time for St. Patrick’s Day, we’re drinking our way from coast to coast—from New York City to Seattle and eight cities in between—to discover 10 Must-Visit Gastropubs that are redefining the way we look at bar food.
—By Jennifer M. Wood
New York, NY
Website: The Breslin Bar and Dining Room
In a city full of haute cuisine, the Michelin-starred Breslin Bar and Dining Room stands out for its old-school saloon style and unabashedly good bar food.
Opened in 2009 by chef/restaurateur April Bloomfield, the restaurant—which is located on the ground floor of the ultra-hip Ace Hotel
and is open daily from 7 a.m. ‘til midnight—has served as a reminder that sometimes all it takes to create a memorable meal is a great burger.
“The lamb burger, both sweet and mild and topped with a tangy slice of French feta and paper thin red onions, is easily the most popular dish at The Breslin,” says Bloomfield, who recommends pairing it with a pint of Rye Saison from Long Island’s Greenport Harbor Brewing Company, a slightly dry, goes-with-anything ale.
Website: The Federal Food and Provisions
“Without a doubt, dynamite food and a killer beverage program are [the] prerequisites for a great gastropub,” declares Aniece Meinhold, co-conspirator at The Federal in Miami. “However, ambience, jamming beats and an unpretentious vibe are also necessary. No stuffiness allowed; leave it at the door.”
Meinhold and her partner/chef Cesar Zapata take that laidback admonition to heart with their comfortable neighborhood pub—located within an unassuming strip mall—where their signature dishes like the Jar-O-Duck, Buffalo Style Pig Wing and Lamb Burger put newfangled twists on classic comfort food dishes.
Pair them with one of the restaurant’s near-dozen small-batch brewskis, like a local Cigar City Jai Alai IPA or a Sea Dog Blueberry Wheat from Maine.
Website: Barley Swine
Like many of the best gastropubs, Austin’s Barley Swine lets the season dictate its menu. But one thing that never changes is its focus on high-quality ingredients.
“The term gastropub is a bit of a blanket statement,” notes chef/owner Bryce Gilmore, “but we do focus on using the best ingredients from local farmers and purveyors on all our menu items... [For] the pub part, beer is my go-to beverage. And much like the artisanal ingredients we purchase, there are equally as artisanal beers. We like high-quality, sometimes lesser-known beers that go well with our food.” At any time this might include more than 50 varieties of ale, including the super-local Live Oak Schwarzbier Black Lager and Hops & Grain Belgian Red Ale (both of which are brewed in Austin).
“Our menu changes all the time,” notes Gilmore of his most popular fare, “but right now I'd [recommend] the Brussel Sprouts, bacon, hot sauce, hay, hoe cakes and pair it with Lagunitas Pale Ale."
Website: The Greenhouse Tavern
Foodies of all persuasions—carnivores, herbivores, vegetarians, vegans—will find plenty to love about The Greenhouse Tavern in Cleveland, the brainchild of celebrated chef Jonathon Sawyer and his wife, Amelia.
Opened in 2009, it didn’t take long for local gastronomes—and national media—to catch on to the restaurant’s approachable farm-to-table concept (it’s Ohio’s first certified green restaurant).
Because of its focus on only the freshest, seasonal ingredients, The Greenhouse menu changes regularly. But Sawyer’s roasted pig’s head—which he serves on a platter with barbecue sauce, raw vegetable salad and all the fixins—is a customer favorite. And it pairs perfectly with the restaurant’s very own GHT Dry Irish Session Stout, a rich and smooth microbrew created in collaboration with Pennsylvania’s Victory Brewing Company
San Francisco, CA
Website: Magnolia Gastropub and Brewery
“Any good pub should be versatile enough to cater to a lot of different uses and needs—the after-work beer, a date, celebrating with friends, or just weeknight casual dining,” says Dave McLean, brewmaster/owner of San Francisco’s Magnolia Gastropub & Brewery.
McLean’s holistic approach has paid off with Magnolia. Located in a century-old building in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury hood, this popular neighborhood eatery reeks of history, right down to its old-timey taps and well-worn, dark wood bar.
Because of Magnolia’s focus on locally-sourced food, the details of the menu are constantly changing. This Monterey Bay squid with choriso “black” rice, roasted gypsy peppers, and lemon aioli is just an example of what could be up for dinner. But still expect plenty of America-meets-England pub staples such as burgers, fish and chips, Scotch eggs and a variety of homemade sausages.
Website: Local Gastropub
What makes a great gastropub? For the folks behind Memphis’ three-year-old Local, that’s easy. “A great gastropub is one where creative, high-quality food meets the perfect cocktail or craft beer in a comfortable, familiar-feeling atmosphere,” says public relations and special events manager Samantha Tweddell. “It's white-tablecloth dining in your neighborhood bar. Then we throw in a little extra bacon and a lot of southern hospitality...that's what keeps people coming back to Local.”
You can say that again. Local’s love of all things pig is evident in its lunch, brunch and dinner offerings, which include a lobster BLT, fish n’ grits with bacon cream and their signature dish: The Local Burger, a locally-sourced dry aged beef burger topped with a fried egg and your choice of foie gras or (yep, you guessed it) bacon! Tweddell suggests washing it down with a Ghost River Golden Ale.
Website: Spur Gastropub
The list of accolades that have been heaped upon Brian McCracken and Dana Tough—chef/owners of Seattle’s Spur—is just as impressive as their menu. Food & Wine, Condé Nast Traveler, Seattle Weekly,
Gayot and Star Chefs have all raved about the duo’s locally-sourced New American cuisine.
Spur’s farm-to-table menu changes often, but makes excellent use of the thriving local fish market. Kick off your meal with a sockeye salmon crostini (prepared with mascarpone, capers and pickled shallots) before digging in to some smoked Hamachi with avocado, horseradish and pickled vegetables or black cod with Matsutake mushroom, turnip and cipollini onion. For the best variety, try one of the chef’s five- or eight-course tasting menus.
Like the food menu, liquid meals are often locally sourced; the restaurant has hosted special dinners with the nearby Pike Brewing Company.
Website: The Pub and Kitchen
“A great gastro is a place for all times,” says Palmer Marinelli, chef at Pub & Kitchen in Philadelphia’s Rittenhouse Square. “It’s where you want to go for a special dinner, a casual night out, brunch or late night. That means bringing in the best product and having the perfect mix of excitement and comfort in each dish. It’s all about having fun.”
Patrons have been amusing themselves at Pub & Kitchen since the fall of 2008, indulging in an oft-changing menu of suds and grub that put a gourmet twist on pub food staples (think fish and chips with malt vinegar mayo and a braised pork shoulder sandwich with bitter greens).
Sundays are a particularly busy day, as that’s when the chef whips out his Hay Baked Chicken for Two—a whole chicken that is brined, placed into a roasting pan with hay, covered and baked. “The result is concentrated chicken flavor, no liquid leaving the pan,” says Marinelli, who recommends quaffing a Weihenstephan Korbinian Doppelbock, a malty German lager which some consider its own meal in a glass.
Website: Rackhouse Pub
When it comes to boozing, the folks at Denver’s Rackhouse Pub are equal opportunity drinkers, boasting 30 different draught beers (including local brews like AC Golden Colorado Native Lager, Denver Beer Company Dubbel Entendre and Great Divide Colette Farmhouse Ale) and 60 varieties of whiskey. If you want to get the best pricing, stick to the brews: patrons who down 200 pints (no, not all at once) are eligible to join the Rackhouse Pub Pint Club, whose members receive special happy hour pricing for life. Not a bad gig!
Of course, there’s plenty of great grub to soak up all that drink. Popular dishes include the street tacos (choose from pulled chicken, bison short rib or shrimp), giant pretzels, four varieties of rib-sticking mac and cheese plus burgers, pizzas and sandwiches. Just make sure to save room for dessert, with boozy treats like the Great Divide Yeti Bacon Brownie or a slice of whiskey-soaked pecan pie with stout cream making for a perfectly sweet ending to a night out.
Website: The Publican
Media near and far have deemed The Publican one of Chicago’s best eateries; Bon Appetit, GQ, Maxim, Time Out Chicago, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Magazine
are just a few of the outlets who have sung the gastropub’s culinary praises. One need look no further than the regularly packed interior for proof of its popularity. Good thing they’ve got communal tables!
On the food side, seafood and ham are the stars of the menu. More than a half-dozen types of oysters (mainly from Massachusetts, Washington and Canada) make the list, and The Publican’s three aged ham preparations—served with Nordic goat butter and peasant bread—are a signature item.
Just as impressive, and expansive, is the beer list. With more than 50 offerings from around the world—including local microbrews and a wide selection of Belgian ales—the whole menu might seem overwhelming. Good thing that all of Publican’s servers are cicerone-certified, meaning that they’re to beer what a sommelier is to wine. Translation: tell them what you’re eating and they’ll suggest the perfect alcoholic accompaniment.