Martin City Brewing Co. is getting crafty

04/03/2014 12:00 AM

04/05/2014 8:43 PM

We’re only a few months into 2014, but why wait: Raise your glass to toast the Year of Craft Beer in Kansas City.

As the clock struck the New Year,

KC Beer

blogger Jay Aber had done the math. He figured we’d jump from nine to 16 microbreweries this year. Big news for beer nerds. But maybe not that big when compared with Denver’s 62. “Regardless of the statistics, there is definitely a feeling rippling through the community of a new era of craft beer,” Aber posted.

In mid-February,

Martin City Brewing Co.

expanded its “Cheers”-like pub operation to include a microbrewery. The Pub opened in 2011 offering 18 beers on tap and 50-plus bottles, as well as an upscale bar food menu by former EBT sous chef Andrew Parker featuring a mighty fine mac ’n’ cheese. Now the company’s Pizza + Tap across the street is home of the new microbrews — so far a Witbier, Extra Special Bitter, Porter, Black Saison, IPA, Imperial Stout, Biere de Garde and Belgian-style dark Abbey — served alongside Neopolitan-style pizza baked in hearth ovens.

MCBC is a stone’s throw from the legendary Jess Jim’s Steak House owned by Mike Van Noy, and RC’s Restaurant, famous for fried chicken, owned by brother David Van Noy. Their nephew, Matt Moore, worked for both restaurants growing up. He started homebrewing with partner Chance Adams. Over the next year, they hope MCBC signature craft brews will be on tap throughout the metro.

“We realize we’re kinda far south,” says Moore. “We want people in the River Quay and Waldo to know what we’re doing, too.”

I initially headed to the Pub on a Friday night. My teenage daughter and college-age son were in tow, and they seemed out of place. They stood in their coats by the constantly opening door messing with their phones as we waited. Meanwhile, my husband and I crept closer to the bar. I ordered a velvety Trappistes Rochefort 10 Belgian Ale in a bottle while my husband stuck with his go-to, Boulevard’s pilsner on tap.

We passed the time watching an Oklahoma State basketball game on a big screen TV. “51 mins later we were seated. This is my edge of the table ” my son said, tweeting a photo of the oddly jagged edge, one rustic plank sticking out from all the rest like a crooked Jack-o’-lantern’s smile.

By now we had worked up quite an appetite so I ordered a pound of dry wings served with ranch and blue cheese and 5-spice coconut breaded shrimp with a sweet orange sauce. It was fairly standard bar food. While we waited for our dinner orders, I surveyed the chalk board offering the nights’ beers on tap and ordered a flight of five 5-ounce pours, hedging my bets that whatever I ordered foodwise would have a beer to match.

The softshell crab po’ boy sandwich with microgreens and remoulade eventually caught my attention, and while I enjoyed the crab, I wound up tossing the oversized brioche bun, which threatened to drown out the main event. I chose fries for a side, which, my bad, made it even more of a carb overload. For $1 more I could have subbed a small salad and for $2 a side of mac and cheese or mixed sauteed vegetables.

Across the table, my son was realizing that he had not read the menu closely enough: He thought he was ordering a bison burger but wound up with a Buffalo-style burger. The homemade sauce was sweet and vaguely spicy with bits of blue cheese and bacon on an onion-poppyseed bun. Tasty, just not what he had imagined.

My husband ordered a steak salad with blue cheese, roasted red pepper, red onions and a balsamic vinaigrette that had enough protein to make it quite satisfying when you’re hungry. By far the happiest person at our table was our daughter, who reveled in the famous four-cheese mac ’n’ cheese, with bacon for $2 extra.

Martin City Macs get their own section on the menu and include the standard four cheese, the Cowboy with barbecue pork, tomatoes, jalapenos and bacon; the Wildcard Mac served with blue cheese, buffalo sauce and bacon (add chicken); the Mac-Scaloppini with red onions, pepper mushrooms, arugula, mozzarella, tomatoes, basil and sliced sausage; and the Black and Blue with steak, blue cheese, bacon, roasted bell peppers and microgreens.

When I told a friend who is a MCBC regular that I wasn’t exactly bowled over (especially after such a long wait), he seemed pained. So when the Pizza + Tap opened, we made plans to meet on a Sunday afternoon. I was a little worried about adding his precocious 9-year-old to the mix, only because my kids had felt out of place. But I needn’t have worried; there were plenty of kids and babies on a quiet Sunday afternoon.

This time there was no wait and our party was seated at a large, sturdy and comfortable wooden farm-style table. We started with fresh mozzarella pinwheels with prosciutto, basil and sun-dried tomatoes that were as photogenic as they were appealing; a pile of bruschetta toasts were served alongside. We also ordered the meatballs, which came with a spicy marinara sauce that had everyone at the table rethinking weeknight meal plans.

Next I ordered a variety of pizzas for the table, each available in a 6-, 12- or 16-inch crust. The standard 6-inch margherita was perfect for our youngest friend while the Espana, a slightly spicy red sauce pizza with sliced Spanish chorizo (not to be confused with the crumblier Mexican chorizo), red onions, almonds, hot cherry peppers and pecorino and manchego was perfect for the adult palates.

The slightly fiery Espana played off of the Wild Mushroom pizza with a base of garlic alfredo and topped with wild mushrooms, arugula, rosemary, and goat cheese and fontina. The Salmon on pesto with capers and sunflower kernels, arugula and ricotta pecorino also had a harmonious combination of textures and flavors, but the salmon was slightly overcooked.

The pizza dough, dusted with cornmeal, is made in house each morning. There is also a gluten-free crust (not made in house) available in 6 and 12 inches and cooked on the same deck as the other pizzas. The menu includes sandwiches and salads.

As Bob Dylan played over the sound system, we contentedly munched on slices of pizza and compared notes on flights of four 5-ounce pours served in a wooden rack with magnetic identification labels, moving from light to dark, for $8. My favorites were the Porter and Abbey. To his great surprise, Moore says the Abbey is the current No. 1 seller, even among Bud Light drinkers.

“It’s a total anomaly,” he says. “But it’s been selling like wildfire.”

Martin City Brewing Co./ Pub and Pizza + Tap

410 and 500 E. 135th St.

816-268-2222 MartinCityBrewingCompany.com, on Facebook and Twitter

.

Star ratings

Food

: ★★  I was more impressed with the Pizza + Tap menu but if you’re Pub side, don’t miss the mac ’n’ cheese.

Service

: ★★  Friendly.

Atmosphere

: ★★  Rustic exposed brick and tin ceiling tiles give both spaces a retro Cheers feel.

Hours

: 11 a.m.-1:30 a.m. Monday-Saturday; 11 a.m. to midnight Sunday.

Entree average (including nightly specials)

: $$

Vegetarian options

: Pizza + Tap: Bruschetta, fresh mozzarella, most salads, grilled veggie sandwich plus wild mushroom, margherita and vegetarian pizzas. Pub: Hummus, spicy avocado salad, fried goat cheese salad, fried egg and sage sandwich, AJ’s four cheese grilled cheese, Martin City four cheese macaroni ’n’ cheese.

Handicapped accessible

: Side doors available on Locust Street.

Parking

: A lot behind the building with additional parking at nearby businesses, depending on the time of day.

Kids

: Both the owners have children who are frequently at the restaurant, so high chair, boosters and crayons are available. The Pub has a children’s menu and the Pizza + Tap has 6-inch pizzas for smaller appetites. But keep in mind that on weekend nights, the atmosphere is more for hanging with bar buddies than for family outings.

Noise level

: Depends on time of day.

Reservations

: There are limited reservations available for parties of 8 or more.

Star code

: ★  Fair, ★★  Good, ★★★  Excellent, ★★★★  Extraordinary

Price code

: $ Average entree under $10; $$ under $20; $$$ under $30; $$$$ over $30.

Code of ethics

: Starred reviews are written after a minimum of two visits to a restaurant.

Recommended

Pub four cheese mac ’n’ cheese

, $8, add bacon $10

Tap Pizzas

, Espana and Wild Mushroom, $7, $14, $18; Salmon $8, $15, $19

Tap Meatballs

, $8

Tap Fresh mozzarella pinwheels

, $9

What to drink

My advice when visiting Pizza + Tap? Go with the flow.

Martin City Brewing Co. brewmaster Nick Vaughn is well-versed in Belgian-style beers while co-owners Matt Moore and Chance Adams, who dabbled in home brewing, have always leaned toward “more experimental beers.”

The first six beers out of the tanks were based on traditional flavor profiles that had proved successful at the Pub. The success of their Belgian Abbey has been a big surprise, selling to beer geeks and Bud Light fans alike. But in the next few weeks Martin City Brewing Co. will be trotting out a Belgian Blonde Rye and other lighter beers for warmer weather.

“We’re not trying to box ourselves in to one set of beers,” Moore says.

Recognizing that Boulevard Brewing Co. has pretty much mastered “everyday styles of beer,” MCBC plans to experiment, including a Coconut Porter, maybe something reminiscent of Maui Brewing’s CoCoNut Porter, and are creating a “synergy” with Dark Horse Distillery in Lenexa, aging some brews in their whiskey barrels.

You can see the brewing room through the kitchen window of the Pizza + Tap, but if you want a closer view you need to walk next door. The brewery space is available for large parties and has ping-pong and foosball tables to occupy the time while you wait for a table. When Moore hooks up with a distributor, some of MCBC microwbrews will be available at the Pub, but for now, if you want to taste what is flowing out of the tanks, you need to snag a table at the Pizza + Tap.

Over on the Pub side, Moore is ready to introduce a new beer menu. Need some suggestions? Ask Moore’s dad, who is frequently behind the bar.

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