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On my first visit to the restaurant, my friends and I were sitting at a table in the upstairs dining room (much less noisy than the lower-level bar area), and two raucous hoops fans were on stools, chugging beer and watching a basketball game. One of the duo got so worked up that he let go a rip-roaring fart. He turned around to see if anyone had noticed the sonic boom.
"Don't look around," hissed my friend Martha. "Don't embarrass him."
Embarrass him? I detected a distinct pride in his posture, as if this bar were not just a place where everyone knows your name but also a place where they know your flatulence.
And it's easy to work up a little gas in this joint. Some of the best things on the menu are the cheesiest. There's a truly outstanding macaroni and cheese (side dish or full-sized), and the decent grilled cheese is made with sourdough bread and layered with molten provolone, white cheddar, smoked gouda and gruyere. The nachos come laden with black beans and a blanket of melted cheddar. This restaurant's logo is an old locomotive, which might symbolize all the tooting taking place.
The new menu, introduced last week, is a collection of sandwiches and salads (including a fried-goat-cheese salad) but no actual entrées. "We have a daily entrée special," Parker says. "That way, I can experiment with a different entrée every day."
Parker has been ordering more fresh fish for his specials (it's Lent, after all), including cod that he often sautés with a little salt and drapes in a beurre blanc. But the bread-and-butter dishes are the basic bar classics: a great burger; and a first-rate Reuben, made with chunks of tender, slow-roasted corned beef, house-made sauerkraut and Parker's own Thousand Island dressing. The brassy house-made ketchup has become so popular that Moore has arranged to bottle it and sell it to local stores. (I'd buy a bottle.)
Instead of the expected fried staples (pepper poppers, breaded mushrooms, mozzarella sticks), Parker serves up arancini: golf-ball-sized spheres of breaded risotto balls with a center of molten cheddar. You don't often see this delicacy outside Italian restaurants, but Martin City Brewing Company does right by the recipe, presenting it with a dollop of surprisingly fresh-tasting marinara.
Vegetarians, no matter how much they love beer or sports, will have a tough time with this menu. The macaroni and cheese is veg-friendly, and so are the risotto balls, the Greek salad, the grilled-cheese sandwich, and the sautéed vegetables (an interesting and tasty mix of spinach, mushrooms, peppers and onion), but that's about it. Oh, wait — there's also a fried-egg sandwich, cooked with sage and garlic, topped with tomato and mozzarella, tucked between two slices of Roma sourdough and slathered with garlic aioli. It's the least boring fried-egg sandwich in the metro, but the garlic quotient is so high that an entire tin of Altoids won't chase off the aroma.
I wanted to ask Parker if the egg was fried on the same grill as the burgers and the Italian sausage, but the vegetarian I was dining with operated on the "don't ask, don't tell" rule. "If I don't know, it's not true," she said. (I'll tell: "We clean the grill carefully after each sandwich is prepared so there's no chance of meat tainting a nonmeat sandwich," one of the managers explained later.)
I sort of thought that this brewpub's dessert list might include pastries made with beer or ale. A Boulevard Wheat bread pudding, maybe? "When the brewery opens, we will," Moore says. "But we have hired a local lady to make our desserts, including small individual pies we call 'cutie pies.' "
Cutie pies? I'll pass. The name alone gives me gas.