The trend in breweries these days is to focus on the beer and let somebody else worry about the food, whether that somebody happens to be a food truck, revolving pop-up, or a nearby restaurant. The few new breweries that do have a kitchen wisely limit their food ops to a few basic menu items: think pizza, tacos or burgers.
BRIM Kitchen + Brewery went in an entirely different direction. On our first visit, we polished off two pints in the time it took to scour the two-page menu and plan a course of action. We counted 32 different items spread across four different sections titled Rations, Greens & Grains, Handhelds and Plates. It wasn't just the quantity of options that stopped us dead in our tracks; it was the befuddling placement of some items on the roster. Grilled steak bulgogi, for example, was listed in the Greens & Grains section, ostensibly because it contained rice. Grilled vegetable quinoa, however, was slotted under Plates, despite being largely composed of grains. And let's not linger on the irony of placing a dish called Fork and Knife Brisket in the Handhelds section.
That's why it was such a relief to return to BRIM weeks later to see a vastly condensed menu. The original two-page roster had been trimmed to a tidy one-pager containing literally half the items. What diners lose in variety they gain in sanity and efficiency. But the real winners are the guys in the kitchen. Since opening in early February, BRIM has been absolutely slammed, and maintaining a 32-item menu for 200 guests at any given time is an exercise in frustration.
It took owners TJ Reagan and Chris Frate two years and more than a few wheelbarrows of cash to open BRIM, a stunning white-brick-and-glass structure that looks like a refurbished warehouse on the edge of town. The 8,000-square-foot, two-level building features multi-pane windows, tall ceilings and exposed rafters. On busy nights, which is most nights, the dining room is so loud that it drowns out the roar of passing trains.
From that dining room, guests have an unobstructed view of the glass-walled brewhouse, where veteran brewer Larry Hazen turns out creations like Fuzzy Peach Ale, a fruity Belgian-style ale, Mighty Mo, an IPA named after the USS Missouri, and Red X-Nugget Smash, an excellent red IPA. Guest beers from breweries near and far are offered as well. Beers are priced between $5 and $6.50 per pint.
Despite the truncated menu, there still is a wide variety of food options, all overseen by chef Nick Frate, who splits his time between BRIM and his family's other business, Pub Frato in Concord. The eclectic menu veers from avocado toast to grilled skirt steak, and we've had varying degrees of success throughout. We enjoyed the Frito Pie ($8), a deep crock of beef chili loaded with scallions, jalapeño wheels, sour cream and crunchy corn chips. But that dish didn't make the cut. Fortunately, the dense, meaty and satisfying Cubano ($12) did. Made right, the pressed sandwich is layered with smoky pork belly, ham, swiss, pickles and mustard. Like all sandwiches, it comes with BRIM's top-notch hand-cut fries.
The avocado toast ($12) suffered from a poor choice of bread. Despite being toasted, the sandwich-style whole wheat slices didn't stand a chance beneath layers of smashed avocado, tomatoes, feta and fried eggs. Another fried egg, this one perched atop a heaping portion of bucatini ($17), made an already rich dish even more so. This creamy, over-the-top pasta is studded with sweet peas, pork lardons and fragrant cheese. A dusting of toasted breadcrumbs adds a nice textural contrast.
What remains of the starter section is a bit of a mixed bag. The hot pretzels ($6), paired with beer cheese fondue and mustard, are nice if you like them squishy and sweet as opposed to true Bavarian style with a nice crust. We had zero complaints with the brisket pierogis ($11), a delicious mix of smoky meat, zippy horseradish cream, pickled onions and cheese. A lingering vinegar-based marinade flavor on the grilled long-stem artichoke hearts ($9) didn't jibe with the overpowering taste of truffle. And an otherwise lovely crock of French onion soup ($5), capped with a seductive layer of melted gruyere, was cloyingly sweet.
All those qualms would easily fade into the backdrop when seated on the sunny second-level terrace boasting spectacular views of the surrounding landscape. Just over there, about 500 yards away, is the backside of Willoughby Brewing Co., which was opened 20 years ago by BRIM owner TJ Reagan, who sold that business six years back. It's safe to say that he's back in a very big way.