Rocky River Brewing Company has all you'd expect from a suburban brewery: a rotating selection of house-brewed beers (the Hopgoblin IPA is a perennial favorite), an enormous patio and a menu offering tacos, burgers and wings. But look closer and that bar menu reveals some surprises: namely, a high proportion of plant-based dishes.
Diners have Bill Fogarty to thank for that.
"Since my diet's changed, there's a lot more vegetarian- and vegan-friendly options," says Chef Fogarty, a trim guy rocking a train engineer's cap and salt-and-pepper beard.
The change in his diet happened when his wife inspired him to go vegan for a couple weeks. Five years later, Fogarty is still meat- and animal product-free.
"It was a complete lifestyle change," he says. "I started running, working out. It's had its challenges, but overall, I feel like a million bucks."
Now diners at RRBC can benefit from that change too, thanks to offerings like crispy Buffalo cauliflower, tofu curry bowls and tempura-fried avocado tacos.
"It's pretty cool," says Fogarty, who's been head chef for about eight years. "And odd. A brewery with a vegan following."
These dishes have the crunch, starch and protein to fit right in with the rest of the pub grub. But more than that, they're popular; in fact, the Buffalo cauliflower is one of the top-selling appetizers.
The go-to trick for many nascent vegan chefs is to swap out meat for tofu or seitan. Fogarty eschews substitution in favor of dishes that highlight plants and grains. "You want it to be actually healthy," he says, though he's quick to admit that not every plant-based item on the menu — the aforementioned cauliflower, for one — contains optimal nutrition.
The avocado tempura tacos are a picturesque example of his approach. Avocado slices are tempura-battered and fried, creating a pleasant contrast of creamy versus crunchy. They are topped with pickled red cabbage and tucked into warm corn tortillas. Crumbled peanuts add a nice kick of protein.
Of course, Fogarty runs the kitchen of a brewery, and a majority of beer drinkers will eventually crave meat. Despite his personal beliefs, Fogarty has a job to do and people to please.
The house-smoked ribs are well regarded; even Fogarty deems them excellent. "From an ethical standpoint, I don't like it," he says. "But it's part of the job." And, he reckons, there is a moral calculus to it: "If I can get someone to go for cauliflower when they would have ordered chicken wings, I consider that a success."
Fogarty is no evangelist for veganism, however. Any omnivore who breaks bread with him (this writer included) won't walk away feeling judged. "I'm not here to preach," he says. "I just want people to have options."
Fogarty grew up in Lakewood and currently lives in Sheffield. Lucky for him and his wife, most of the region's vegetarian and vegan eateries fall west of the Cuyahoga: Root Cafe, Cleveland Vegan and Earth Bistro (which Fogarty calls "his jam"). Fogarty has toyed with the idea of starting his own vegan eatery, but not just yet. "The timing isn't right."
Besides, now is an exciting time for the Cleveland beer scene. In fact, there's never been more good beer. "We're at a saturation point," says Fogarty. "But it inspires us to do what we're doing better."