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    Saturday, April 01, 2023

    Homecomings, comfort foods, and fine brews at Five Churches by the Bay

    The pub-style pretzel at Five Churches by the Bay in Niantic (Marisa Nadolny)
    Buffalo chicken pizza and bacon and onion pizza at Five Churches by the Bay in Niantic (Marisa Nadolny)

    There’s a funny thing about my hometown of New Britain: Native sons and daughters all over the Nutmeg State tend to greet each other like long-lost cousins and we generally love to vacation at our local beaches (self-included).

    When I learned that Five Churches brewery in New Britain was opening up a beach-side sister location, I set off in search of my people, some craft beer, and another excuse to gaze out a window at Niantic Bay.

    It’s true that a menu promising brick-oven pizza and giant pretzels was its own draw, but both are just begging for a cold pint of fresh beer, so that’s where we started during a recent visit. For me, it was the Amburlance ($5), an American Amber ale that was smooth, mellow, and a great pizza-pretzel companion. I poo-pooed the mister’s Pew Pew IPA, but he assures me it was a more quaffable IPA than some. (To me, there is no such thing.)

    As for the Pub-Style Pretzel ($9), it was fresh, hot, and the size of a small steering wheel. We selected a basic salt topping from a choice of three others (plain, Everything-bagel seasoning, or a dusting of garlic and parmesan), which paired equally well with the dips. We enjoyed the slight kick of heat to the beer-cheese sauce, and the spicy brown mustard packs its own savory punch, which is tempered well by the doughy, buttery, lightly crisped pretzel.

    We also learned that dessert pretzels are a thing, and a wonderful one at that. Save room for the Dessert Pretzel ($9): a baked plain pretzel dusted with cinnamon and sugar and a side of chocolate hazelnut sauce, a delicious, deeply flavorful item on its own. Our pretzel seemed a little over-baked, but a hearty dunk in the chocolate sauce remedied that quickly.

    Back to the beer and pizza – specifically the Buffalo Chicken pizza on the regular pizza menu ($16); the happy hour pizza special, a red bacon and onion pie ($7.50); and beer #2, the Cool Side Pilsner ($5 for a pint).

    The pilsner became my favorite of the day, thanks to its slightly creamy texture, subtle malt flavor, and a lighter touch on the hops – very drinkable for this lager-centric gal.

    You’ll note the significant price difference between the pizzas, which were roughly the same size. Happy hour pricing is a great incentive and made the bacon and onion pie more enjoyable, but we could’ve used more bacon topping. The Buffalo chicken pizza was fabulous, with thick chunks of tender chicken, zesty “Cajun buffalo” sauce, and a drizzle of ranch dressing (a bleu cheese drizzle is also available). Beyond the palate-pleasing flavors, the combo of textures worked very well together. Both pies were supported by tasty, balanced crusts (soft on the inside, a bit crispy on the outside) and well-sourced mozzarella cheese and tomato sauce.

    Of course, you can’t try out a brew pub without sampling two of the ultimate pub-food staples: burgers and wings. Both paled in comparison to the pretzels and pizzas, but each offered a few highlights.

    The Bay Burger ($14; with fries), topped with Provolone, lettuce, tomato and onion, was a no-frills, just-fine specimen. It arrived cooked to order on a soft, yummy bun, and the patty offered up a decent amount of flavor. The generous portion of accompanying fries was appreciated but underwhelming otherwise.

    The Bay Wings are available in four flavors: Cajun buffalo; orange-honey BBQ; maple-sriracha and garlic and parmesan (12 for $12.95; 6 for $6.95). We picked the garlic parm and wished that flavor had carried through a little more. For the most part, basic chicken flavor prevailed, which is fine, but not all that exciting. On the plus side, the wings were plump and toothy in all the right places (perhaps a little dry) with a light layer of crispiness on the outside. We’d try them again with a different sauce before passing final judgment.

    I won’t lie: We doubled up on desserts. To be fair, the cannolis were minis and there were four of us stricken with sweet teeth. You get two vanilla and two chocolate cannolis for $8, and you’ll find they are all delicious, from the sweet, crunchy shells to the smooth flavorful filling. Plus: Ample dipping areas of whipped cream, because more cream is always better.

    What’s next? Dessert-pretzel-shell cannoli? One can hope. In the meantime, fresh beer, a relaxed vibe, and a ton of potential await at this little pub by the bay.

    Five Churches by the Bay

    215 Main St., Niantic

    (860) 850-2789

    Cuisine: Pub grub and house-brewed beer, plus: brick-oven pizza!

    Atmosphere: Beach-house chic and airy dining room with a dedicated bar area; most seats will get a full view or a good look at Niantic Bay

    Service: Courteous and accommodating

    Prices: Moderate: A Buffalo chicken pizza on the smaller side ran us $16; the house Bay Burger was $14 (includes fries); pints of beer averaged around $6; and if it’s not happy hour, wings are 12 for $12.95

    Hours: Monday through Thursday, noon-9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, noon-10 p.m.; Sunday, noon-7 p.m.

    Happy hours: Sunday 4 -7 p.m., Monday 4:30-9 p.m., and Tuesday-Thursday 4:30-6 p.m.

    Credit cards: Accepted

    Handicapped access: The parking area by the door is small and busy; no steps to enter, and the interior is quite spacious

    Reservations: N/A

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