Don Bauder 7:30 a.m., Aug. 25
First Look: Hillcrest Brewing Company
It's only been open for a week, so this isn't intended as a conclusive verdict on the self-styled "first gay brewery" that's owned by the company in charge of Mo's and Betty's. The move from nachos and sugary drinks to pizza and craft beer is a pretty dramatic one, a brief history of which was up on the Reader a little while back courtesy of Brandon Hernandez.
The building that houses the HBC, formerly a Chinese restaurant, got a major overhaul. The design scheme features lots of openness and a very vague border between inside and outside. Guests, as far as I could tell, were able to flow in and out of the building at will and servers had to track them down. While novel and somewhat liberating, the service model definitely is going to take a little getting used to by the staff. The brewpub started out with an already dedicated, and lively, fan base in the form of the Hillcrest gay community that frequents the company's other watering holes on the regular. In fact, there is a little shuttle that will drive revelers between the four places under the same ownership. This has got to be one of the stranger practices in modern restaurant culture, but it seems to work.
As mentioned by Brandon, HBC will be selling a lot of its own beer. The draft list includes a few options produced in house and a selection of other, quality brews from local brewers like Stone and Lost Abbey. There's basically no way around the fact that the first round of beers to come out of the HBC operation were pretty terrible.
I tried a blonde ale that was drinkable, but had the dirty water taste that I associate strongly with Natty Ice. It wasn't terrible, but it was far from good. Lucy's Ale, a 4% ABV session beer, came with a cute story attached. The brewer is apparently really into animals and he put together a brew that combined all the grains that his pet raccoon, Lucy, liked to munch on in the homebrew days. No raccoons were included in the brewing process, as far as I know, but the resultant brown ale was probably the best of the bunch, although it was still thoroughly underwhelming. The worst brew was the Brain Lubricant. Billed as a strong ale, some friends of mine whom I encountered by chance described it as "nail polish remover." Acetone is non-delicious in beer and a seemingly common error in novice brewing.
Despite how this is starting to sound, I don't mean to pour Haterade all over the Hillcrest Brewing Company. Like anything, they'll take some time to get on their feet. Far from consigning the fledgling brewery to the scrap heap, I anticipate that HBC will learn from this initial foible in brewing and come back twice as strong.
Now, to say something nice, the pizza was actually very good! Despite the fact that everything on the menu (and the beers as well) gets saddled with suggestive, if not downright raunchy, names, the menu had some appetizing choices on it. Seriously, though, a "meat packer" pizza with "girth-a-roni" on it is about the most egregiously named piece of food I've seen lately.
I tried a "snappy clam digger" pizza, which had chopped clams, lardons of bacon, and lots of cheese layered over a garlicky white sauce. There was way too much thyme on the pizza, but other than that the generous amount of shellfish and cured pork made for a tasty pie. Likewise, an all-veggie special pizza looked good despite it's woeful lack of meats and cheeses.
As the menu is priced now, a trip to HBC is expensive. A couple rounds of beer and a small pizza for each of two diners ran the bill up to $75 with tax and tip. That outpaces even upscale pizza joints like BLAH, and as of now the HBC is definitely not on par with the Blind Lady, gay hang-out or otherwise.
But, hey, the future is wide open and perhaps, if management is receptive to feedback from the local community, the Hillcrest Brewing Company will fulfill the potential that a great location and a doubtlessly massive financial backing gave it.
1458 University Avenue
Open daily 4-Midnight