On the one hand, the beer-oriented restaurant concept isn't exactly groundbreaking. In fact, it's probably as old as beer itself. On the other hand, it's also not a concept that has been perfected outside of European pubs. Here on our side of the pond, for every craft microbrew we've quaffed, we've had an uninspired beer-cheese dip or other by-the-book pub-grub concoction. Ho hum.
So it was with moderate expectations that we entered Bocktown Beer and Grill, located at the end of one of the strip malls that comprise The Pointe at North Fayette. We found the space attractive, with rough concrete block painted a golden wheat color on one side, and a wood-paneled bar on the other. High on the walls are the requisite flat-screen TVs tuned to sports. But, truthfully, the décor takes most of its character from the row of beer coolers, filled with hundreds of beers, mostly domestic microbrews with a few Belgians and other options thrown in.
Beer is the essence of Bocktown. The staff knows its brews, and the food is designed to complement them. The menu is printed right on the placemats -- make sure to flip them over to get both appetizer and sandwich options.
Amazingly, an entire column is dedicated to the French fry. The list of toppings is longer than that at your average pizzeria, including meats, vegetables, cheeses and sauces to mix and match. We pulled out a pen, and through an ad hoc mixture of preference and process of elimination, ended up with bacon and fried onion crisps with buttery garlic-Parmesan sauce. The fries, which had been "double-dipped" in the fryer, were extra-crispy on the outside, fairly creamy on the inside, just the way we like them. The toppings we'd picked made for a salty, smoky, starchy combination which -- guess what? -- went great with beer.
The German-style Bocktown Board, a selection of cheeses and sausages served with pretzel bread, was more interesting than its description. Sausage, ham, capicola and salami were simmered together in a sort of barbecue sauce and surrounded by cubed cheeses -- cheddar, provolone and Swiss -- and a trio of sauces for dipping. Hot honey-mustard was zingy with a hint of sugar. A sauce called "sweet heat" was reminiscent of a Chinese sweet-and-sour sauce without the syrupy sweetness; instead, a light fruity flavor mellowed the red-pepper fire. Jezebel sauce was a cranberry relish with horseradish yielding mixed results. It was good with the bold flavors of the meats or cheeses, but seemed unbalanced with the soft pretzel bread or fries.
Bocktown advertises that all of its dishes are less than $10, which keeps the focus on beer-friendly, but high-quality, fare. Jason was immediately taken by the crab roll, which promised to be a relative of the wonderful lobster rolls of New England, which are extravagantly expensive in this part of the world. Here, sweetly tasty blue-crab lumps were enveloped in crispy, buttery garlic bread, and a pickley remoulade; greens and ripe tomato rounded out the flavors. Jason would come back for this sandwich alone.
Angelique ordered one of Bocktown's specialties, the Penn Dark pot-roast sandwich. She expected a mountainous pile of meat, and was pleasantly surprised to be served a sandwich of manageable size. The beer-marinated meat was tender and richly flavored. Shredded cheese made the dish even more comforting. Our only quibble: The soft white bun would have benefited from toasting.
Owner Chris Dilla has measured her ambitions perfectly. The extensive selection of local and craft brews is by and for the connoisseur; the kitchen turns out beer-oriented dishes that are extraordinary in both conception and execution; and the friendly staff create a neighborhood atmosphere despite the big-box-retail surroundings. Whether you love beer or never touch the stuff, Bocktown Beer and Grill is worth a visit.