In this occasional round-up series, CITY is trying its own food and beer pairings at brewpubs in and around Rochester. In the first part, published in September, we scoped things out at Roc Brewing, Swiftwater, and the Rohrbach Beer Hall, all close to the center city. In this segment, we expanded the radius a bit further to Rochester's north side, Brockport, and Webster.
Iron Tug Brewing (360 West Ridge Road; 865-0032; irontugbrewing.com), which opened last year, occupies part of a 1921 firehouse in Rochester's Maplewood neighborhood. Intimate and spartan, the focus here is clearly on the beer and food. Four long, communal wooden tables occupy most of the space.
My girlfriend and I started a recent meal there with a chocolate porter and an oatmeal stout, and we grabbed a (free) basket of popcorn from the machine on the bar. Though it contains no chocolate, the porter had distinct cocoa notes and a dry, pleasingly bitter finish. The stout also had some chocolate characteristics, along with a rich roasted coffee essence. Unsurprisingly, both went well with the salty popcorn.
Iron Tug's food menu is a simple one: a charcuterie board ($9) and five house pizzas ($8). The charcuterie board uses meats and cheeses from Swan Market, McCann's, and Rubino's as well as some hearty crackers, briny olives, and chunks of dried apricot and pineapple. The porter was as a fantastic foil for the assertive flavors of the charcuterie.
We grabbed two of the pizzas: a Greek (tomato sauce, melted three-cheese blend, fresh spinach, Kalamata olives, and feta, topped with a drizzle of fig balsamic vinegar) and a classic Margherita. The fig balsamic vinegar tempered the typical pungency of a Greek pizza with an uncharacteristic sweetness, and I think more olives would have provided better balance. The Margherita had a nicely charred, cracker-thin crust and a rich tomato sauce with roasted whole grape tomatoes and melted fresh mozzarella.
Often with pizza, lighter bodied beers rule the day, but the stout mingled well with both pizzas and the dark brew's richness enhanced the Greek. The East vs. West v. 5.0, an unfiltered IPA, also worked well with both, but it also performed better with the sweetness of the Greek — its biting grapefruit-y acidity wasn't as friendly with the Margherita.
Another relative newcomer, RG Brewery (1360 West Sweden Road, Brockport; 637-5575; rgbrewery.com) opened in 2015. Set in a bucolic landscape and exuding rustic charm, just southeast of Brockport, RG has an outdoor deck, which my friend and I took advantage of on a spectacular October afternoon. My friend, a stout devotee, started with the Bonfire stout — a smooth, dark chocolate-y brew with marshmallow notes — and proclaimed it "one of the better stouts I've had in my life." Good not only on its own, the stout balanced well with the lobster bisque ($5), which had a fresh, creamy tomato base that was briny but not fishy. Along with the lobster, it contained scallops and shrimp.
I started with the robust Gentleman's Brew Scotch Ale, which has hints of caramel and whiskey, and paired it with RG's unique (and delicious) peanut butter and cheese quesadillas ($5). The salty and sweet concoction paired ably with the Scotch ale — although the ale was a bit dry for the quesadilla and the stout worked better.
RG's brewmaster, Jared Mesiti, does an admirable job with fruit-enhanced beers. I'm generally not a fan, but the Son of a Peach — a pale-ale style with a smooth peach tea-like finish — won me over with its balance and refreshing characteristics. The beer is creamy, subtly fruity, and importantly, not sweet, which made it a good counterpoint to the Boom Boom chicken sandwich ($8), whose spiciness contrasted well with the peach. Similar to a Buffalo-style chicken sandwich, it had grilled chicken, RG's Boom Boom sauce, and crumbled blue cheese.
Knucklehead Craft Brewing (426 Ridge Road; 347-6236; knuckleheadcraftbrewing.com), which opened in Webster in 2014, has a more varied menu. My girlfriend and I started with Bavarian soft pretzels ($7.41) accompanied by Knucklehead's own beer cheese, which contains Kathy's Kreme Ale and bacon. As expected, the pretzels paired delectably with the sessionable, crisp Kathy's Kreme Ale.
A unique item on Knucklehead's menu is Len's fried bologna sandwich ($9.26): hearty slabs of pan-fried bologna are stacked on fresh French bread adorned with caramelized onions and Dijon mustard. The Knockout stout — redolent of coffee and chocolate — brought a smoky enhancement. All of Knucklehead's sandwiches come with tangy, al dente Asian macaroni salad, topped with ground-up sesame sticks.
Knucklehead has a novel take on bar food and offers small servings ($4) of ideally textured — not too dry, not too chewy — beef jerky made by Rochester's Smoke Shack. We tried both the Fumanchew (made with Out-of-Seitz Scotch ale, it is all at once sweet, spicy, and smoky) and Jammin Jerk (also flavorful, not quite as spicy). The Fumanchew was a better fit with both the amber ale and the Scotch ale, while the full-bodied flavors drowned out Kathy's Kreme. The Scotch ale complemented the Jammin Jerk while the stout mellowed its piquancy.
Looking ahead, in our third endeavor, we'll venture even a little farther away from the city, pairing beers and food at breweries in Honeoye Falls and Canandaigua.
EDITOR'S NOTE: After publication of this article, it came to our attention that Adam Mesiti, a member of the family associated with the brewery, pleaded guilty to rape of a minor last May and is a registered sex offender. According to the brewery's website, "Five Sons Winery and RG Brewery is owned and operated by Aimee Mesiti along with her husband, Adam, and sons." Aimee Mesiti says that she is sole owner of the business. If we had we known about the guilty plea, we would not have included the brewery in this round-up.