Restaurant Review: Brothers Beer Bistro
When Brothers Beer Bistro opened in late May, the buzz surrounding the Dalhousie Street restaurant was frothier than the head on a just-pulled Guinness.In suds-loving Ottawa, here was yet another beer-themed eatery to slake thirsts, satiate hungers and jostle for business with such ventures as Mill St. Brew Pub, the five Clocktower Brew Pubs, Les Brasseurs du Temps in Gatineau, and the even newer Big Rig Kitchen and Brewery.But this one would be smaller and more upscale, but casual just the same. And it would boast experienced principals — “brothers,” as it were — drawn from leading Ottawa restaurants, including co-owners Patrick Asselin (a former service manager at Play Food & Wine) and Nick Ringuette (a former bartender at the Black Thorn) and chef Darren Flowers (most recently sous-chef at Luxe Bistro).
They have fashioned a welcoming, open, woodsy, cut-above restaurant of 70-plus seats where, first of all, the service was strong enough to suggest the trickle-down influence of Steve Beckta, Play’s master of hospitality. A weekday lunch-hour server was friendly and well-informed about food and beer details, and his counterpart at Saturday dinner was better still, anticipating our needs with refills of bread and water, extra condiments and more explanations about the food.
Flowers’ dishes, all involving beer in some fashion, are clearly presented and full and well-defined flavour-wise, populating pleasingly concise lunch and dinner menus each containing roughly a half-dozen starters and mains. Foodies might enjoy endorphin rushes from Flowers’ finely tuned but unfussy plates, accented by hits of preserved lemon, pigs-ear crackling, fried capers and shavings of smoked Parmesan, if they haven’t over-indulged from the connoisseur’s selection of 16 beers on tap and 60 available by the bottle. For beer know-nothings, the bistros makes things easy by suggesting pairings with its dishes; the refreshing Stiegl Radler and Coopers Sparkling Ale went down easy with their respective dishes.
During our two meals, the appetizers were all deeply satisfying and the mains just a little less so.
At lunch, we tried two salads. Both got full marks for their clear, contrasting flavours that came together to be both appetite-whetting and memorable. The asparagus salad ($10) saw red romaine, smoked Parmesan, fried capers, preserved lemon and a well-rounded anchovy vinaigrette distributed on a large plate. I don’t think asparagus was the salad’s star, but still, every forkful was a winner. On the other plate, a mound of perfectly fresh organic greens ($9) mingled with Fruli vinaigrette, pear slices, toasted almonds and rounds of superior goat cheese. It seemed simply like a superior execution of a salad you might find elsewhere.
A burger-and-soup combo included what my dining friend called the best asparagus soup she had ever tasted, topped with a spicy buttermilk foam and chewy spent grains, as well as a nicely charred but juicy cheeseburger, napped with peppercorn mayo and served on an egg bun.
Only the steak frites makes me wonder if not everything tastes better with beer. The meat, from the humble shoulder clod (a.k.a. chuck) cut, we’re told, was tender and yielding, but slightly too tangy from its beer brine. A bit of salt perks it up.
Dinner began with piping hot and addictively good bread, incorporating Kichesippi Beer Company’s spent grains, accompanied by two compound butters — a slightly sweet one made with malt, a more bitter option made with hops.
The refined Tuna Crudo presented slices of meltingly tender fish, cured to subtle and good effect in grapefruit-infused Stiegl Radler. There was a double dose of salty crunch to the dish from adornments of pigs-ear crackling and dulse, as well acidic, vegetal notes from paper-thin slices of pickled radish. One component, mentioned on the menu, tarragon remoulade, didn’t make it onto the plate, but we didn’t miss it. At $10, the dish is still a steal, even short an element.
Pierogies ($9) were more straightforward but nicely elevated, served in a bowl of roasted potato broth that had admirable intensity to it, and topped with more crackling and green onion.
Both dinner mains impressed. The Kichesippi fried chicken ($24) was a generous helping of breast and thigh, both tasty and tender from a sous-vide bath before a frying finish. In a perfect world, the chicken would have been a bit more crispy, but the tender meat was more important. It was comfort food done with bistro panache, served with twice as many cornbread waffles as I needed (not that I’m complaining), as well as some righteous gravy and slaw on the side.
The bistro’s fish offering ($24) that night was pickerel, which was moist, clean-flavoured and sitting pretty on fingerling potatoes, snap peas, a slather of puréed ramps and some meaty eryngii mushrooms that had been infused with beer through more sous-vide skulduggery. My dining friend found them a bit too beery, but so much was going right on her plate that it scarcely registered.
We were able to manage just one dessert between us that night — the “beer and pretzels” ($9) that in fact amounted to a large Mason jar filled with porter-tinged chocolate pudding, mingled with fig and orange compote and topped with salted caramel mousse, set beside a spindly made-in-house pretzel.
We were two, but still we weren’t able to finish that sweet closer, not for lack of trying. We resolved to succeed next time.
Brothers Beer Bistro
366 Dalhousie St., 613-695-6300, brothersbeerbistro.ca
Hours: open for lunch at 11:30 a.m. and dinner at 5:30 p.m. seven days a week, till 10 p.m. on Sunday and Monday, till 11 p.m. Tuesday to Thursday, till midnight Friday and Saturday
Mains: $16 to $24