If it's true (please let it be true) that man can survive on a diet of just pizza and beer, then Masthead Brewing Co. has all the requirements necessary to sustain life. But more than that, this two-month-old brewery has injected a much-needed jolt of life into an area of downtown Cleveland that desperately needed it. Recently rebranded as the NineTwelve District, this dry patch of the city center is better known for stuffed shirts by day and empty sidewalks after dark than for bars, restaurants and nightlife.
That's likely why Masthead skirted the present-day trend of taprooms, ditching the kitchen in favor of a stack of take-out menus from nearby restaurants: There aren't any. The closest signs of life to the Superior Avenue brewery sit a few blocks over on Chester where, coincidentally, another brewery activated a formerly sleepy quarter of downtown.
While the food menu may not be exceedingly long nor exceptionally creative, it is agreeably priced and more than fulfills its duty to provide the sustenance needed to work one's way through the brewery's stock in trade. All the comestibles fit neatly onto one side of the paper menu, the other side of which is devoted to items that are poured into a glass.
Chef Nate Sieg, formerly of Butcher and the Brewer and Bar Cento, operates from an open kitchen on the far side of the yawning interior. His principle piece of cooking equipment is a gorgeous red-tiled Marra Forni Neapolitan-style pizza oven. The combination of wood and gas combines the high-heat benefits of burning real wood with the temperature consistency of set-it-and-forget-it gas controls.
On the menu, the 12-inch pies are broken into broad categories of red and white. There are 15 options in all, each bearing the characteristically thin, chewy and flavorful crust. The soppressata ($12) is polka-dotted with large wheels of thinly sliced Italian salami, puddles of melted fresh mozzarella and a base of provolone. The addition of crunchy, tangy and spicy giardinere adds just the right kick. On the mortadella ($12), the sliced meats are hidden beneath a bed of pistachio pesto, nicely toasted from the heat of the oven. The pie is finished with a dusting of grated Parmesan.
To accompany those fine pies, diners can tack on one or more of the four offered salads. The roasted beet salad ($7) has more than a mild whiff of smokiness thanks to the addition of smoked blue cheese. Large roasted beets are tossed with baby kale and candied pecans. Not your typical chopped salad, the Chopped ($7) consists of a mix of (decidedly un-chopped) greens paired with shaved Parmesan, olives, cubed salami and pepperoncini in a red wine vinaigrette. Like those salads, the small plates are conventional but well made, with items like nicely roasted Brussels sprouts ($7) flavored with shallots and pancetta, or dates ($7) stuffed with goat cheese, drizzled with honey and garnished with nuts.
A just-launched lunch service runs off pretty much the same menu except that the small plates are swapped out for a trio of sandwiches like the muffuletta ($12), house-baked bread stuffed with ham, soppressata, mortadella, provolone and tapenade. Others are built around roasted veggies ($10) and roast turkey ($11).
Food items are ordered at the bar along with drinks. Diners are given a small pager and instructed to head over to the kitchen to retrieve their bounty when it goes off. There's no shortage of options when it comes to seating. The cavernous 16,000-square-foot warehouse can accommodate around 250 guests at gorgeous wood picnic tables, at high-tops or anywhere along the 110-foot wraparound bar.
Immediately behind that bar is the shiny 20-barrel brewhouse, with its colonnade of fermentation tanks and glycol-chilled bright tanks, which feed directly into the bar's tap system. Brewer Mike Pelechaty, who came by way of Black Box Brewing, is turning out some mighty fine ale. On tap is a crisp, hoppy IPA, a pitch-perfect coffee stout and an eminently drinkable pils. Guest drafts come from breweries in Cleveland and around Ohio. Most beers are $5 per pint. Cocktail drinkers are not overlooked, but wine drinkers will have to make do with a single selection of white, red and sparkling varieties.
Come spring — or, fingers crossed, St. Patrick's Day — Masthead will be the place to be thanks to 120 feet of garage doors along Superior that will open up the facade almost completely. That frontage was one of the qualities that attracted owners Frank Luther, Matt Slife and Pelechaty to the 100-year-old Bryant Building in the first place.
"We looked a lot in California and other West Coast spots," Luther explains. "We were looking for the right property and Cleveland has an industrial background that gives you these kinds of buildings."