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    Sunday, September 24, 2023

    Go East for fresh beer and eclectic eats

    Seared shishito peppers (Marisa Nadolny)

    Breweries have boomed in Connecticut, and it's been great to explore the many and varied brews produced here in the Nutmeg state. 

    Except for one thing.

    Pretty much every brewery I've visited in the state hasn't had much to offer in the way of food. Many invite food trucks to camp out nearby; others are clever with delivery partnerships from outside eateries; and at some, you might be lucky to get your hands on a bag of chips.

    The problem is hereby solved thanks to Surfridge Brewing Company East in Centerbrook, where you can pair your fresh pint with wood-fired pizzas, fresh oysters, and quite the variety of small plates and salads.

    Apparently, the secret is out, if the big crowds on recent visits are any indicator. On a recent Sunday, the mega-crowd that turned up Saturday had rendered a few menu items out of stock. Next time, I WILL have the wood fired steak with spinach and chimichurri ($28) from the Hearth to Table section of the menu, but the pork belly plate we ordered was a very good second choice. At $22 a plate, it ought to be, and it makes for a great shareable dish. You'll get four distinct cubes of pork belly with a soy-honey glaze and a central dollop of cabbage slaw for an even deeper dive into flavortown. If you like the umami flavor profile, this one's for you, with earthy, savory notes from the very tender pork lightened a bit by the tangy glaze and the classic punch of cabbage.

    Next up? More savory goodness! We just had to try the fingerling potatoes dish ($11 for a bountiful bowlful), in which a few types of potatoes get roasted with rosemary in, ahem, duck fat. And yes, it was as delicious as that sounds. The starchy potatoes dialed back the sinful savory flavor of the duck fat to create enjoyable balanced bites.

    We added in an order of the seared shishitos (Japanese peppers) on our server's recommendation, and noticed several more bowls of the charred green peppers making their way to other tables. This is another good dish for sharing, because for $9 you get a big bowl of bite-sized peppers that two of us couldn't finish in one sitting. The menu notes that shishitos are mostly mild, but one or two might pack a little more punch. Confirmed, and, indeed, the first pepper I pulled was among the hottest but manageable for anyone who's had a little practice. Call it a little hotter than a jalapeno. As for the rest, they are mild indeed, with bright, grassy green notes brought forth upon a very hot pan.

    Washing it all down? A Mr. Pink beer for me ($7; 16 ounces) and a Hazy Hollow for the mister ($8; 16 ounces). Mr. Pink is a white ale dry-hopped with pink grapefruit and pink peppercorns, per the menu. As someone who can't stand strong IPAs, which are widely popular in Connecticut breweries, Mr. Pink was a welcome guest for its balanced smoothness with subtle pops of citrusy flavor. My companion is an IPA guy and, in his quest to convince me that I am too, grandly let me sip on his Hazy Hollow. The strong, hoppy scent nearly sent it right back to him, but the taste proved much better and is among the smoothest IPAs I've sampled.

    And you've got to love a brewery with a fabulous cocktail menu. (Cuba Libre with house-made cola, anyone?) From a list of 12 or so beautifully conceived drinks, we managed to pick only one apiece. For me, the Raspberry Sorbet ($14), a mix of raspberry syrup, egg white (for texture), and a sprig of rosemary, which arrived in a lovely vintage cocktail glass. Tangy, fruity, and super smooth, we'll be ordering that one again soon. My husband loved his Aperol Smash ($14), which is truly among the best aperol cocktails I've ever tasted. Aperol is not my favorite spirit, but Surfridge adds green grape, mint, and lemon to it, and together they masterfully cut back the bite of the aperol.

    Both drinks paired perfectly with our prosciutto pizza, selected from a list of six types of pies available (three white and three red). If you watch closely enough, you can see your pizza go into the brick oven courtesy of the open pizza kitchen. It's no wonder many, many pizzas went in and out of the oven that night, because if the rest are as wonderful as ours, we've got a premier pizza destination in the making. Our pie, topped with just cheese and pieces of prosciutto, was the excellent sum of several parts: a perfect, Neapolitan-style crust with just the right amount of charr; flavorful mozzarella; the wonderful saltiness of prosciutto; and a hot, hot, hot oven.

    In the interest of health, we sampled the Simple Greens salad ($11), a mix of mesclun greens and radishes dressed in a delicious olive oil vinaigrette. We finished the good-sized bowl of salad to the very last scrap of mesclun. It was refreshing, the dressing bright and tangy, and a generous portion for the price. Recommended.

    With its fresh beer, crafted cocktails, and creative cuisine, we suspect Surfridge is going to be a hotspot this summer. Its location in the historic Witch Hazel Works complex next to the Essex Steam Train station is a destination in itself, and the patio area out front will be perfect for outdoor dining. We will certainly be there and look forward to our future tasting adventures.

    Prosciutto pizza (Marisa Nadolny)

    Surfridge Brewing Company East

    6 Main St., Building 3, Suite 333, Centerbrook

    (860) 662-4038

    https://www.surfridgebrewery.com; more details on Facebook

    Cuisine: Brewery plus creative food options, chief among them wood-fired pizzas, local oysters, and lots more in between. Also: Try the craft cocktails.

    Atmosphere: Sweeping space with large bar area, plus a handful of tables, couches and chairs in the spacious dining area. Modern decorative accents works well with the beer-making equipment throughout.

    Service: Excellent; helpful and well-versed in the wide-ranging menus

    Hours: Open from 4 to 10 p.m. Monday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday; closed Tuesday and Wednesday.

    Prices: Up there. Dishes in the Hearth to Table section (smallish plates meant to be shared) run from $9 to $28; cocktails average around $14; Pizzas are fairly reasonable between $12 and $15, and our freshly brewed pints were $7 and $8.

    Credit cards: Accepted

    Handicapped access: Flat, wide path from the parking lot on one side, no stairs to enter, and very spacious interior.

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