First Look: Collision Bend Brewery in the Flats

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The Watermark restaurant on the East Bank of the Flats closed its doors almost 15 years ago, but the space will once again come alive on Monday, April 17. That’s when Collision Bend Brewery (1250 Old River Rd., collisionbendbrewery.com) opens to the public in that historic brick warehouse, which dates back to the late-1800s.

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Interestingly enough, the new restaurant is a homecoming for Andy Dombrowski, the longtime chef of Zack Bruell Restaurants. At the tender age of 17, Dombrowski got his first restaurant job at the Watermark, back when it wasn’t uncommon for the popular Flats eatery to fly through 600-800 covers on a busy weekend night.

The 12,000-square-foot ground-floor space now features an onsite brewery, spacious bar and dining room, four-season patio, riverside patio and bar, and private event space. At full capacity, the space can accommodate 350 people, but day-to-day use will be more in the range of 150.

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With a nod to the building’s original use as a marine supply company, the restaurant boasts recognizable but restrained nautical design elements like thick-rope chandeliers, brass post lamps, anchor-chain dividers, and dock-cleat side lights. The boat that long hung over the bar at Watermark, alas, has sailed off into the sunset.

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To go with those watery views, brewer Luke Purcell, a 20-year veteran of Great Lakes Brewing Co., has been running the brewhouse at full tilt since the permits landed in early March. There will be eight house drafts ready to sip on the first day, including a light, crisp German-style kolsch, a Belgian-style saison, and a hoppy American pale ale. Another six handles will be reserved for guest drafts from the likes of Great Lakes, Goldhorn, Market Garden and other local breweries.

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“We don’t want to get locked into anything,” Purcell explains. “We want to wait to hear feedback from the guests and see where it takes us. I’ve always believed that you should be brewing beers that cater to the people coming into your place as opposed to what you want to drink.”

Purcell is working hand in hand with the kitchen so that the food matches the beer and vice-versa.

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“Normally, in most restaurants, the beverage program follows the food program,” explains Bruell. “The idea here is to sell beer, so the food follows the beverage program.”

That means keeping it light, fun and interesting. Some two dozen small plates join a handful of wood-fired pizzas and less than a dozen entrees. Snacks like Welsh rarebit, baked flatbread served with warm beer cheese, pair perfectly with an ice-cold hefeweizen or Grüner Veltliner. Everything-spiced pretzel bites come with beer mustard, lamb tamales are topped with salsa verde, San Diego-style fish tacos are garnished with shredded cabbage and crema, Moroccan-spiced lamb ribs are braised, fried and paired with refreshing cucumber-yogurt sauce.

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In addition to straightforward pizzas, Collision Bend dishes up pies topped with roasted cauliflower, caper berries and pickled peppers, and others with roasted Brussels sprouts, braised pork and fontina.

In the entree department are substantial but approachable items like a beef burger and fries, sausage-studded mac and cheese, malt-crusted salmon with curried potatoes, and grilled steak with broccolini and Romesco sauce.

Given the restaurant’s riverfront location and status as a brewery, manager Julian Bruell expects to see a wide range of customers: some coming for the view, others for the fresh-brewed craft beer, and still others for the reputation of those running the restaurant. He says that every one of them should expect a level of service commensurate with even the finest of restaurants.

“Just because it’s casual does not mean that the service will be lacking,” he explains. “We’re trying to create a dialogue with the guest instead of just be order-takers; to have conversations with our guests about what they like to eat, about what they like to drink and tailoring our product around that.”

See for yourself starting next Monday, when Collision Bend opens for dinner. Lunch and weekend brunch will follow in the coming weeks.
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