IT'S TIME for another second-anniversary check-in, this time at Woodlawn's screamingly popular Breakside Brewery. Any fresh coat of paint is welcome in this recently energized, yet still vastly underserved neighborhood, and so when this inspiring vote of confidence opened in the spring of 2010, the sizable buildout was quickly packed with 'round-the-clock crowds that filled out the ample indoor and outdoor seating. A slightly fancied-up menu of big pub standards with big pub flavors preceded their house-brewed beers by several months; since that time, many Breakside beers—both traditional and experimental—have come to populate the draft menu.
Breakside Brewery is, in a nutshell, a good brewpub, but with a few tweaks it could be a great brewpub. For all of the passionate and serious craft that is applied to their focused, successful, intelligent range of beers, the chicken wings are rubbery, and the calamari sheds a gluey batter (the latter was happily refunded). Their barrel-aged Bourbon Wheat Wine, a 12.7 percent knockout that drinks like a boilermaker from the planet Sex-9, is the stuff that fuels men to revolution; the nachos look like something a bachelor from Frankfurt microwaves on payday. (In fairness, they are broiled.) Their 6.9 percent IPA is a fantastic, big, sturdy beer with a long, hot, bitter finish; when asked for a vegan side-dish option, our waitress suggested the carrots and celery that come with the buffalo wings. Sure, it's testosterone food that needs to stand up to complex, assertive beer, but social context matters.
There are many sure bets on the food menu. The cheeseburger ($11, $6 for the happy-hour version, which is identical but without fries) is truly excellent—half a pound of Country Natural Beef cooked to order, juicy and charred and unfussed with, a thick slice of aged cheddar (or pepperjack, or blue, or swiss) melting decadently across it. The beef stars more in this burger than in a dozen others I've tried this month—it is deeply satisfying. The Lambwich's ($16) lamb patty is also allowed to shine in its simplicity, and dressed with tzatziki and red peppers, the beautifully charred meat has an intense fresh lamb flavor.
Their Cubano sandwich ($12) dwells at the intersection of success and rethink; somewhat like an electron, unsure where it will be one moment to the next. The massive construction is on a bready, un-pressed roll, and hard to eat without getting your cheeks wet, but the smoky pulled pork within is rich and succulent, and the minced jalapeños melted into the cheese are a great addition to the classic ingredients. The Reuben ($12) is on thick, toasted marble rye, moist with a trio of sauerkraut and slaw and swiss, but the pastrami is cut paper thin like lunchmeat and lacks distinction. In a town where Ken Gordon is charging just $1.45 more for his rendition, this doesn't pass muster.
See if you can plot this entrée out, described vertically, from the plate up: mashed potatoes, a julienne of vegetables that has been softened in some manner, garlicky broccoli raab sauteed al dente, deep-fried boneless chicken breast, pico de gallo, onion rings, and a curry-béchamel sauce the color of liquefied Peeps. Mexican, Italian, Indian, American Southern, and French, this manic and unfocused Curry Fried Chicken ($14) could use some serious editing.
Their imaginative and wide-ranging beer is their obvious raison d'être. Breakside's pride and joy is an award-winning dry stout, which took bronze in a field of 30 dry stout competitors at the 2012 Brewers Association World Beer Cup. It is dark, slightly bitter, light bodied, and true to the style of a light stout, with simple coffee flavor. At 4.2 percent, it's an all-dayer, and a growler for home is a great value at $12. Their Gin Barrel Lychee Wit (7.1 percent) is a fascinating medium-bodied sour not unlike a geuze, with a big fruity nose and long finish with developing juniper—a connoisseur's beer. Their standard Wit, at 4.4 percent, drinks like what you want a Budweiser-style beer to be, crisp and dry and dead simple. If you like a beer with a hint of fruit in it, the Strawberry Rhubarb Pie is surprisingly clean and light bodied for a brew that started with entire actual pies in the mash tun, and at 7.6 percent, this refreshing beer isn't messing around.
The staff is well versed in the beer list, and can describe the dozen or so offerings with detailed flavor profiles and recommendations. During peak hours the food is rushed to the table from the pass, and service is uniformly friendly. Sit at the bar for an education from one of the brewmasters.
I'll certainly be back to Breakside—if they'll have me after the Budweiser comment—because this neighborhood institution gets so many things right. If they have the time to lavish on the food the same passion they put into the beer, so much the better.
Family friendly with kids' menu, outdoor communal seating, happy hour menu (Sunday-Thursday 3-6 pm and 9 pm-close), beer and wine only.