From east to west.
When Michael Carroll promised a "Michelin mindset" in the business plan for Band of Bohemia five years ago, the longtime chef (Alinea, Bouchon, Wildwood) and former brewer (Half Acre) had a modest goal in mind: to open an establishment known as more than just a burger-slinging brewpub. He didn't expect to earn a mention, let alone a spot, in the influential guidebook. He certainly didn't expect to open what would become the world's first Michelin-starred brewpub.
"So many restaurants strive for this great honor, so to get one is quite unbelievable," Carroll says of the star rating it received in 2016. "But for a brewpub, is it a fluke? Did they get the wrong name of the restaurant? Is it a great big cosmic malfunction?"
He continues, "For me, validation came with retaining the star—with proving 'this is the real deal' and 'deserved' for all the hard work that goes into it."
It certainly helps to have chefs like Ian Davis at the helm. Formerly the chef de cuisine at New York's Momofuku Ssäm Bar and Má Pêche, he joined the Band of Bohemia team in 2017 and furthered its "culinary brewhouse" mission with transcendent dishes like a tasting menu that starts with a scallop crudo (rounded out by grilled strawberries, pine nut granola, and bursts of black garlic) and finishes with a kaffir lime pie laced with anise custard, Thai basil jam, and a cocoa tuille.
"Everything begins with the beer's flavor profiles," explains Davis. "Our approach is simple: Treat each ingredient with respect, care and maturity, and let them shine."
"We design our menu around the idea that beer and food are great on their own," adds Carroll, "but dynamite together—a perfect marriage. This is happening all over the world now; everyone is upping their food game. You can only have so many hamburgers and chicken wings until you get fed up."
Jackson Hole-based hospitality vet Gavin Fine has seen the same thing happen with his home turf's emerging restaurant scene. Jackson was still in a meat and potatoes state of mind when he opened Rendezvous Bistro in 2001, but now, locals and tourists alike can be found expanding their horizons at a gold medal brewery that serves a 'Chiang Mai cheesesteak' (Thai Me Up) or a refurbished gas station (Bodega) that stocks its own artisanal ice cream and charcuterie at the foot of Grand Teton National Park.
As for Fine's contribution to the increasingly mainstream craft beer market, he tapped home brewer Colby Cox to man the tanks at Roadhouse Brewing Co. last year. Later this summer, its proper brewpub will open in the heart of town, so look out for that. Here, Fine will pair 30 rotating pints with "unique, worldly flavors, carefully curated ingredients, and thoughtfully sourced meats and produce."
"Brewpub fare has come a long way in recent years," Fine says squarely. "Guests want more than just food to soak up the beer. They want to know about the travels that inspired a dish, where the pork came from, and their server's favorite pairings. Every part of our experience needs to be as unique as the beer itself."
Across the country, you'll find breweries that share the same mindset, from a Chicago taproom centered around oysters and cake to a one-of-a-kind Raleigh complex that offers freshly cut flowers and a solid book selection alongside dim sum and left-field draft lines. Here are 20 breweries food lovers should put on their bucket list:
Massachusetts: Lord Hobo, Cambridge
While Lord Hobo's popular taproom is receiving a welcome renovation this summer, its dive-y New England bar is open and offering a world-class beer list alongside a progressive yet playful food menu. Lurking behind familiar pub fare like chicken lollipops, blistered shishito peppers, and a substantial burger are such welcome curveballs as 'Chicago-style’ corn dogs, a squash tart made with baby patty pans, and pig’s head croquettes, served with a solid yuzu aioli, crackers, and berry compote.
Vermont: Bobcat Cafe & Brewery, Bristol
Mindful, seasonal food isn't exactly hard to find in Vermont, but it dovetails beautifully with the state's influential craft beer scene at the Bobcat. Skip the "pub fare" section on its menu and head straight for the entrees, which include a hearty venison and chorizo meatloaf, chevre-stuffed lemon herb crepes, sesame-crusted tahini tofu, and a duck leg that's been braised in white wine and thyme. Not to mention an app or two, since they spotlight a signature chopped salad with a 'secret' cayenne vinaigrette, a tomato shortcake with more whipped chevre (this is Vermont, after all), and five kinds of chicken wings sourced from Misty Knoll Farms.
New York: Threes Brewing, Brooklyn
Meat Hook's far-too-short-lived sandwich shop got a second life with Gowanus' Threes Brewing in 2016, which worked out well for both parties. (Before that full-time partnership was finalized, Threes hosted a rotating pop-up kitchen.) This means you can now pair a revolving door of dank IPAs, crisp German lagers, and funky farmhouse ales with a dry-aged burger (coated in raclette!), hot chicken fried in spicy duck fat, or larger plates like frites served with a 10-ounce grass-fed steak of Wild Chatham mussels. (Both with marrow butter; don't worry.)
Pennsylvania: La Cabra, Berwyn
The mailing list-only masterpieces of former Spanish teacher Dan Popernack finally got out of his garage and into a seven-barrel brewhouse about 45 minutes west of Philadelphia last year. To mark the occasion, Popernack green-lit a gastropub menu led by Latin flavors, including a perfectly cooked hanger steak paired with jasmine rice, black beans, street corn and a sunny chimichurri sauce, and quite a few compelling vegetarian dishes (cauliflower al pastor; poblano and mushroom tacos with almond picada, radish, cilantro and manchego; a "beet belly" counterpoint to the pork that dominates many brewpub menus, this one included).
North Carolina: Brewery Bhavana, Raleigh
As if Vansana and Vanvisa Nolintha weren't already busy enough with their buzzworthy Laotian restaurant (Bida Manda) next door, the Luang Prabang natives/tight-knit brother-sister team knock their ambitions straight out of the park with Brewery Bhavana. A dim sum restaurant that doubles as a showcase for the cutting-edge creations of home brewer Patrick Woodson and flower arranger Deana Nguyen, it's gotta be the only place in the country that features a dry cardamom tripel (Bloom), chocolate rye stout (Dig), and mango peppercorn saison (Glean) alongside stir-fried rice cakes, steamed soup dumplings, and pillowy bao rolls.
New York: Sato Brewpub, Buffalo
There's no denying the growing popularity of Japanese-style izakayas throughout the states, but Sato Brewpub is the first to feature its own craft beer creations rather than frothy pours of Sapporo and Asahi. From a highly sessionable blend of puffed brown rice, green tea and Belgian yeast (Rabbit in the Moon) to a miso-spiked cream ale and locally sourced pear-ginger saison, Drew Hardin (formerly of Community Beer Works) is determined to do so much more than indistinct extra dry lagers. He's looking to enhance the expansive menu of chef/co-owner Satomi Smith, which ranges from several comforting bowls of chicken-based ramen to lunch-only bonito boxes, bonito-dusted okonomiyaki fries, and a yakitori-led "Tour of Japan" featuring six different skewers (including chicken hearts, thighs, and meatballs).
South Carolina: Edmund's Oast, Charleston
Daunted by the 48 taps at Edmund's Oast, which feature cult favorites like Fonta Flora, Jester King and Grimm alongside heady in-house combos like the Caerbannog's Reserve (a "milkshake thick stout" with hints of chocolate, honey, peanut butter, lactose, and "nasty big pointy teeth")? Head to the restaurant's new production brewery/taproom, then; it's about a mile away and dials the selection down to Cameron Read's own absurdly fresh handiwork and a more casual, but no less tasty, menu of sandwiches, pizzas, familiar bar food (boiled peanuts, grilled corn, house-cured/smoked charcuterie), and soft serve ice cream.
Ohio: Wolf's Ridge Brewing, Columbus
Often hovering near the top of local best restaurant lists, Wolf's Ridge Brewing is the star vehicle of both its head brewer (Chris Davidson) and chef (Seth Lassak). The latter is a big proponent of "root-to-green" cooking, which explains why a pan-seared duck breast entrée might be plated with a parsnip and cashew purée, fava beans, chive blossoms, toasted cashews and a sour cherry gastrique. To get the full picture of what Lassak is all about, order his $65 tasting menu ($75 if you'd like it with beer pairings, and believe us, ya do), which looks and tastes far more complex than it appears in modest online descriptions like "lamb + pea + potato" and "mushrooms + parsley + beef jerky."
Georgia: Wrecking Bar, Atlanta
Draconian laws kept Georgia from becoming a craft beer destination until last May—aside from awkward 'tours,' taprooms couldn't ply their wares to the general public before then—but that didn't stop Bob and Kristine Sandage from filling the void with a food-centric brewpub six years earlier. Reviews were mixed as the couple found their creative footing in a historic Victorian home, but a 2013 headline in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution says it all about their ultimate selling point: "At Wrecking Bar, now it's not just beer that's good."
Chef Terry Koval has a lot to do with that; aside from his popular Veggie Tuesday specials, dinner is a dynamic affair driven by Triple D-approved corn pups and more challenging meal options like a beef heart tartine crowned with pickled chanterelles, spruce salt, nori, egg yolk, and bresaola or charred octopus flanked by fermented black bean chili sauce, pickled hedgehog mushrooms, black-eyed pea and peanut furikake, and scallop powder.
Michigan: Batch Brewing Company, Detroit
You know you're near the UP (Michigan's Upper Peninsula) when someone's offering a "seasonal pasty" (think: Hot Pockets for grownups) on their taproom menu. Detroit native Matt Johnson headed back home after a long stint in Jonesboro, Arkansas to serve that local staple alongside substantial bolillo sandwiches and satisfying bar snacks, like hand-twisted soft pretzels, Thai chili chicharrones, and a rotating cast of crisp arancini. Batch Brewing's nano status will soon be eclipsed by a North End expansion that'll double its capacity and clear up space for a "Funk Room" of wild yeast wonders and well-aged sours.
Illinois: Alulu, Chicago
Just five minutes away from another brewery with excellent food (if you like pairing stout with chocolate cake, see below) Alulu is full of global flavors that'd please most palates. Check out the masala frites with grilled chicken, dill yogurt, pickled peppers, and curds; vegetable lumpia that cram shiitake mushrooms, kale, potatoes, chickpeas, water chestnuts, onion, and garlic into one crispy package; and a house-recommended pork cutlet that's blanketed with a glorious oyster mushroom lager gravy.
Illinois: Band of Bohemia, Chicago
Pairings are reverse engineered at Michael Carroll's aforementioned Michelin-starred "culinary brewhouse," which finds the exemplary food of executive chef Davis meeting Carroll's refined beer recipes halfway. Or as he puts it, "We create the beer first—taste it, dissect its flavor attributes—and then we develop the dishes. Let's say you have a beer made with roasted beets, thyme and orange zest. At no point are you allowed to use these ingredients in the food. We make a list of complementary flavors instead. So with beets, you can have roasted nuts, fish, fennel, pickled onion, goat cheese, blue cheese, pork, bacon, and arugula. With orange, you can have fennel, pork, fish, eggplant, and cilantro. And thyme goes with everything. Then you piece together different components to make a dish. It’s a bit of a process, but well worth it in the end."
Illinois: Moody Tongue, Chicago
Jared Rouben started the CIA's Brew Club just two weeks into his time as a student, so it shouldn't be a surprise he ended up being a Goose Island brewmaster years later. Moody Tongue meets Rouben's heavyweight resume halfway. (He also did time in such esteemed kitchens as Martini House and Per Se.) Beer wise, Rouben follows a "culinary brewing" philosophy that spells his recipes out right on the page; "perennials" include a Peeled Grapefruit Pilsner, Steeped Emperor's Lemon Saison, and Caramelized Chocolate Churro Baltic Porter. As for the food, Moody Tongue's airtight menu started with a simple offering of two items: one salty (well-sourced oysters), one sweet (German chocolate cake that's out of this world). They remain the heart of what makes this Pilsen hit so special, largely thanks to pastry chef Shannon Morrison, an old friend from culinary school. She's behind the 12-layer beast that's best experienced in a private beer and cake pairing—the birthday gift for picky beer nerds and curious newbies.
Minnesota: Surly Brewing Co., Minneapolis
Quite a few people were surprised—some would even say devastated—when Surly owner Omar Ansari decided to close its acclaimed Brewer's Table last year. Located above the massive brewery's main floor and led by James Beard nominee Jorge Guzman, the four-course tasting menu (complete with peerless beer pairings) was considered a pinnacle of Midwestern fine dining among many critics. It wasn't as popular as the populist menu downstairs, however, so the next best thing is now in its place: charred and chewy New Haven-style pizza using house brewer's yeast and pyrotechnic flavor combos like potato, rosemary, garlic, Parmesan and ramps (the Walter White) or chili-marinated smoked pork, salsa verde, grilled pickled red onions, cilantro, radish, and two forms of Mexican cheese (the Beast). There's also a faithful clam pie that's about as close as one's gonna get to Frank Pepe around these parts.
Missouri: Martin City Brewing Company, Kansas City
Matt Moore and Chancie Adams first opened Martin City's flagship pub in 2010 to meet the growing demand for craft beer and quality food in Missouri's biggest metropolitan area. The pair celebrated a significant expansion just four years later by opening a full-on brewery—the original leans heavily on leading hop whisperers like Odell, Bell's, and Lagunitas—and stone-fired pizzeria next door. Its menu is now mirrored in a larger Overland Park location just 10 minutes away, stretching MCBC's Belgian-inspired footprint across the Kansas state line along with red-sauced revelations and double the seating to cut down on patience-testing wait times.
Texas: The Brewer's Table, Austin
One of the newest entries on this list, The Brewer's Table is intriguing enough to keep jaded Austinites and craft beer completists away from Jester King for a minute. While six house signatures lead the way on a lengthy drink list—Beets By Drew and Baltic Hash are especially out there—chef Zach Hunter's wood-grilled menu is unlike anything else in town. Early standouts include venison tartare, malt-poached red grouper, smoked rabbit carnitas, and a "shareable feast" for two featuring a holy trinity of vegetable-forward side dishes and a whole roasted chicken, slathered in sunchoke butter and served alongside a black garlic jus. Definitely keep an eye on this one.
Colorado: Westbound & Down, Idaho Springs
Former Table 6 chef Scott Parker helped put this ski country standard on the map with progressive crowd-pleasers like fresh-baked cheddar buns (served with beer cheese, of course), fried green tomatoes served with a coconut-serrano dressing; and a hefty salad headlined by mountain trout, wild ruby rice, poached garlic, pepitas, kale, dried raspberries, and a dry-hopped green tomato coulis. Parker moved onto Mediterranean flavors at Dead Battery Club earlier this year, but his experimental spirit will live on at a second W&D location in nearby Denver's Art District sometime next summer.
California: Stone Brewing World Bistro and Gardens, Escondido
The sprawling headquarters of Stone Brewing (the garden area alone covers an entire acre) is about as close as the craft beer community gets to Disneyland. Surrounded by greenery and perpetually packed despite having more space than most San Diego restaurants, this is where one goes to worship one of the industry's biggest players while slamming iconic West Coast IPAs and savoring hemp seed pretzels, honey Sriracha quail knots, and a signature cheddar, garlic and double IPA soup that'd obliterate most vampires and first dates.
California: Beachwood, Long Beach
Smoked meats are the main draw at Beachwood's Long Beach location, but chef-owner Gabe Gordon's starters and side dishes ain't too shabby, either. Unlike the afterthoughts at some BBQ purists down south, they range from a porcini-dusted platter of tater tot poutine to piles of smoked asparagus, roasted garlic-ginger carrots, bleu cheese grits, and a bold ragout of green beans, bacon and onions. There's even a kale, barley and walnut salad for the slim fit set. Several West Coast-style IPAs also pair nicely with a burnt ends chili built around brisket, ground veal, cannellini beans, and even more beer, for a nice malty finish.
Oregon: Culmination Brewing, Portland
While we've got nothing against the everyday menu at Culmination Brewing—why, hello there, grilled cheese gilded with Brussel sprouts, white cheddar, pickled jalapenos, and black truffle oil—Tomas Sluiter's brash spot really shines on Sunday and Monday night. That's when two wildly different pop-ups run the place: the rarely seen Kashmiri recipes (definitely try Deepak Kaul's collard greens and kohlrabi bowl if it's available) of Bhuna and the filling vegan fare of Jackfruit Kitchen. Seeing as how Sluiter is brewing some of the state's most fascinating beer—quite the feat considering this is Portland—you're better off trying both and exploring all the deep cuts on his draft list along the way.