In the early days of American craft beer, back when it was called microbrew, one way the breweries were able to get customers through the door was via their menu. Brewpubs were a popular business model because if the food was good, customers would also drink the house-made beer. There were various models that these brew pubs followed. Some were cut from the British cloth, others had an Italian focus. There was Thai, Tex-Mex, and, of course, American casual. The given was that a brewpub had to offer a stellar burger.
Over time the brewery model changed and many that opened, especially here in New Jersey, chose to forego the restaurant component and focus solely on making beer. If customers were hungry there was likely a food truck parked in the lot or a restaurant nearby.
When Village Brewing Co. opened up on Main Street in Somerville earlier this year, it was novel because a brewpub hadn’t opened in the northern part of the state for quite some time. The renovations that took place in the building, which was once a Woolworth and more recently housed an antiques co-op, are impressive. It draws on many of the en vogue brewery design elements of the day: a polished concrete bar, black metal chairs, accents of wood and brushed metal. There’s a few televisions at the bar, surrounded by shelving that holds kitschy decor like a sculpture of the word “eat” in cursive—the kind of thing you’d find at a HomeGoods—some barley in a glass, and the phrase “good people drink good beer” painted on the wall.
The beer is good here. In fact, it’s excellent. The brewhouse is headed by Mike Sella, the long-time Jersey brewer (previously with the now-closed Unos in Edison, and the still operating J.J. Bittings in Woodbridge) who has a deep technical appreciation for recipes and a knack for turning out traditional styles.
There’s so much experimentation happening in beer these days that it is a relief to see beers like a proper bohemian lager, a simple and slightly sweet blonde ale, a pleasingly bitter American IPA and roasty porter on offer.
The Pioneer’s Porter pairs wonderfully with the Village Burger, easily the best thing on the menu that we tried. A generous but not overwhelming patty was cooked to preference (the same with the burger sliders, a hard feat), showing off the savory beef, along with some char and caramelization of fat. Add in a slice of sharp cheddar and it was just right. The brewpub serves it with “house cut” fries that seemed as if they might had been previously frozen.
The rest of the menu is a mix of traditional pub fare and ambitiousness in what they call “new American classic.” There’s fried curry cauliflower and fresh oysters by the half-dozen, crab cake sliders and a burrata salad. Heartier items include sirloins and bratwurst. Side dishes are extra, and in the case of the honey thyme roasted carrots, $7 got us three 5-inch tri-colored carrots, sliced in half lengthwise. Tasty but sparse.
Wings here come with a variety of sauce options but came out seeming more steamed than grilled or fried. The pretzels looked and tasted like they had just come out of a microwave (owners say they are made in-house and kept warm in foil until served); even the beer cheese on the side couldn’t help.
If you’re looking for a quiet night out, this place won’t help. The cavernous size of the 8,500 square-foot space creates a big echo and turns into a dull roar when it’s crowded (and it is, most nights) but is great fun for an evening with raucous friends.
There’s a lot to celebrate with beer and food these days and near endless pairings, but for now, at Village Brewing you won’t go wrong if you stick to the classic duo of the burger and a pint.
Village Brewing Company, 34 West Main Street, Somerville; 908-333-2990. Open daily.Click here to leave a comment