Review: Bocktown Beer and Grille

note: This article has been superceded by a second, updated version after a few more visits. I have also brought the food blogger meetup to this location and written of my results here.

Inspired by the appearance of East End’s LOAF, I recently made my way down to Bocktown Beer and Grille. I had been intrigued by the very notion of LOAF—basically a Russian Kvass (i.e., fermented bread). In this case, Scott used 60 loaves of sourdough. Independent of LOAF, Bocktown is also the recipient of extensive new media attention. Actually, they’re a quite active participant in that community—in the general blogosphere, podcasts, and even Twitter). Naturally, I was curious, so I schedule a trip out not long ago. Better yet, I even found a few friends to join me in the outing.

Bocktown Beer and Grille

Bocktown Beer and Grill
www.bocktown.com
★★★½☆

690 Chauvet Dr
North Fayette Twp, PA 15275
(412) 788-2333

Bocktown Beer and Grill on Urbanspoon

Bocktown is a pretty recent entrant to the Pittsburgh restaurant scene. Located in “The Pointe At North Fayette,” (near Robinson Town Centre), they came on the scene in 2007—really without my noticing. They serve up what the City Paper calls “beer-oriented food,” and that’s a surprisingly accurate description. Big sandwiches, massive orders of fries to pair with 16 rotating drafts plus over 400 bottle varieties. Not too shabby. If you’re looking for quality beer or a 6-pack to-go, Bocktown is definitely worth checking out.

Classy design plus patio. You’d think that a beer destination in a strip mall would struggle to create the right atmosphere, but Bocktown does a surprisingly good job. By virtue of the social-media savvy of owner Chris Dilla, they even draw in the right kind of crowd: beer geeks. The entrance leads into the main room—host to a long series of beverage coolers filled with beer of every sort imaginable and a sizeable bar featuring 16 rotating taps. If you skip turning right toward the fridge line-up, you can even make a break for another door leading to the patio. There you’ll find umbrella-covered tables and some bar-height tables—both well suited to chilling over a beer on a nice summer day.

Enjoying the Bocktown Patio

The whole place is extremely well decorated. It almost has the feel of a larger chain benefiting from an interior design prowess made possible by scale. Except it’s not a big chain, and I can’t imagine they have a design department. I do know that either Chris hired the right people or she just has a knack for the stuff. The whole setup is impressive—but still lots of fun and not the least bit “stuffy.”

Nothing but high-calorie options? Despite the condensed, two-page form, Bocktown’s menu presents what appears to be a number of options. The main features seem to be fresh-cut fries and “sandwich stacks” (featuring pickles from Smallman Street Deli). I’ve heard nothing but good about the food, but you’ll have a hard time finding a decent vegetarian option. Based on their focus, a big part of me wanted to go for a sandwich. Despite my “better” intentions, I couldn’t manage to find a single sandwich that I could feel good about ordering. In retrospect, I could have tried the grilled chicken stack, but I failed to notice that option when ordering. That’s my fault, but would it kill them to serve up a portobello sandwich or maybe a grilled veggie wrap? That would be my biggest request.

correction: Chris (Dilla?) has commented below to clarify that any sandwhich can be ordered with grilled portabello. There are also some vegetarian entrees on the way.

Varied salad options…or maybe not? The volume of salad options is somewhat promising, and that ended up being the direction I took (surprise). One negative comment from a dining companion: the salad list is prefaced by an explanation that every salad has the same exact base with a different topping laid on. While that didn’t both me, it bothered him: some salads might work out best with different toppings or even a different type of lettuce. I see his point, but it’s pretty hard to put a veggie on a salad that disappoints me. That said, they do have a decent list of options—though still only two vegetarian options, and one of them is the side salad. What’s up with that?

Except I probably ordered the wrong item. In the end, I went with the garden salad and a cup of soup: a she-crab stew. I received exactly what I ordered, but it’s obvious that neither is really Bocktown’s strong point—not a good way to try the place out. The good news: my dining companions were a little more traditional in their orders. That means I did still managed to get some perspective—albiet from a distance.

Garden Salad at Bocktown

Excellent salad with a so-so balsamic. I have to admit, I was nervous about the salad. That just meant that a positive outcome was that much more impressive. To begin with, the lettuce foundation was the combo typically described as spring mix: baby greens with some frisee thrown in to add body and textural variety. Everything was pretty fresh and piled adequately to balance the number of toppings. It’s unclear whether that would have still been the case had I ordered a salad with something on top, but I’ll Bocktown the benefit of the doubt on that one.

Topping off the greens were cucumbers, grape tomatoes, sliced red onions, a few green pepper pieces and kalamata olives—exactly as advertised. By virtue of using grape tomatoes and (I’m guessing) adequate storage, the tomatoes even offered up all the flavor I would hope for. If you’re storing them for any amount of time, grape tomatoes tend to carry a little bit more flavor than similarly stored larger varieties, so it’s a good route to take for a restaurant. The olives deserve kudos as well: I’m pleasantly surprised that a place specializing in such “beer-inspired” food would lean in that direction rather than just sliced olives from a vat in the back. Score a few more points for Bocktown.

Apparently not a soup destination. In a pinch, I tend to enjoy the garden salad and soup combo. That said, I was a little frightened by the “homemade chili” being promoted as not containing any beans. I’m guessing that means it was mostly beef. While I would swing away from my veggie world to try a good chili, I really don’t like the “giant bowl of seasoned ground beef” approach to chili. I didn’t want to risk that fate, so I ordered the she-crab stew soup. Not a low calorie option, but potentially good.

She Crab Soup at Bocktown

In ordering the seafood stew, I hoped and expected to see something with the following: a somewhat thick cream base with slight spicy twang that served as a foundation for noticeable chunks of crab meat and a nearly equal amount of celery and onion. What was ended up getting was lots of the cream base with barely noticeable levels of crab and…well, not much else. No spicy twang, and certainly no celery or onion to speak of. Basically, it was a huge waste of calories.

correction: I originally said “she-crab stew,” but have been corrected that it was a “soup.” That does make it slightly more acceptable that it was low on celery and crab.

How did my companions fare? One ordered a cheeseburger (Brett); the other a crab roll (Mark). Both were pleased with their selections, which are both better representatives of Bocktown’s focal point than my own order. The burger was served on a soft yellow bun with just enough structural integrity to keep it’s form while eating the burger. From the picture below, you can see a pretty decent slice of tomato and adequate lettuce—though brett wasn’t a fan of the chopped/shredded lettuce in place of a full leaf or two. That’s a minor nitpick—in general Brett definitely approved.

Brett's Cheeseburgher at Bocktown

The crab roll was similar to the Roland’s concept in form, but could stand to work on presentation (and apparently butter content). The roll came with both lettuce and tomato on the side—similar to the burger, but Mark chose not to throw on the veggies. That lead to a sandwich that looked, well, boring—at least to my eye. That’s Mark’s fault—to some extent. That said, he seemed to like the sandwich overall but had one major complaint: way too buttery. He detected a thick butter dousing that detracted from the crab and it’s bread. I’m not sure were that was introduced in the production.

Any beer you could hope for. Obviously, I was drawn in by the East End selections (specifically, LOAF), and any establishment with more than two from my favorite local brewer on tap is clearly on the ball. In all, Bocktown offers up 16 rotating beers on tap. Almost all of them are from craft brewers—good ones, at that. Unfortunately, there’s no definitive list available on their web site, so it’s a bit difficult to review the full list and comment. I ordered a LOAF followed by a Marzoni IPA (the brewery featured in the previous week’s tasting).

Bocktown Interior

LOAF was…present and murkey. The Kvass style is typically low in alcohol. In fact, it’s traditionally considered safe for children (in Russia). The style is also typically unfiltered, and LOAF was no exception. It’s one of those beers that are intriguing in their construction, but really hard to analyze—at least for me. It carried a very low hop character and lacked much of a malty sweetness. Then again, it may have just been served too cold for me to really dig in.

Bocktown also features a massive collection of bottles. I wouldn’t say they reach the scale of D’s, but the selection is large and all available cold in mix-n-match 6-packs. I always manage to find bottles for any brewer typically available in the region—and then some.

Did I say tasting? Yes: beer tasting. It’s worth noting that Bocktown also offers up a beer tasting for a different brewer every Wednesday night. The full schedule is available online for anyone wanting to find a brewer of interest. I’ve been to one of these tastings with the Beer Meetup and found it to be informative, but you have to reach for it. A representative from the brewer stands in a corner of the deck to pour samples for anyone who asks. I made a point to hit up the rep for some background on each of the beers, but that information wasn’t really presented otherwise (to my knowledge). To correspond with the tasting, Bocktown also offered up multiple beers from the featured brewer on tap. That aspect was nice, as it gave me the opportunity to sample beer from both the “tiny sip” and “full serving” perspectives.

Will I go back? Well, yes, of course. I imagine the Beer Meetup will return on a somewhat regular basis. Now that I’m one of that group’s assistant organizers, I could even set up an outing if I wanted. That having been said, it’s the beer that will draw me back—not the food. If I had to make one suggestion to Bocktown, it would be to add at least 1 or 2 more vegetarian options to their menu. A grilled veggie sandwich/wrap or a portobello salad would really suffice.˜

note: The availability of portobello for any sandwhich was corrected above.

If you haven’t been up to Bocktown, and you like beer, you should definitely stop by and give them a try. Form your own opinion.

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11 Responses to “Review: Bocktown Beer and Grille”

  1. Julie Says:
    August 14th, 2009 at 8:02 am

    I was here probably a year ago and had a similar experience…enjoyed the atmosphere but the food was so so and kind of greasy. If they can survive in that location though, they much be doing something right!

  2. chris Says:
    August 14th, 2009 at 8:08 am

    Sorry that you did not find vegetarian options! Our servers can definitely answer those requests when made! We DO have a portabella sandwich, actually they are trained to suggest a portabella in place of meat in most sandwiches and entrees, a delicicous portabella salad called the Boctkown Bella, then of course the fries with toppings carefully chosen, may not be low calorie, but one of our most prominent vegetarian options. Hummus, Portabella Devonshire, Artichoke Dip, and any of our salads be it the feature ones or the menu ones can be done with a grilled vegetable skewer or again with a portabella.

    We have daily features and home made soups that take us away from the sandwich fare, but this food goes with beer, and it is why Bocktown works so well. We are a bit gluttonous, that is what is about around here. A bit of a splurge. I am sorry your She Crab Soup, not stew, wasn’t to your liking, but I am quite proud of that too. Maybe another taste of it for you, although calories and heavy cream are standard in every recipe for that soup on the planet!

    All in all, you did peg us in ambiance, marketing, web 2.0, beer and most of the food you referred too. I love the grape tomato, the flavor never disappoints. We are into heirloom tomato salads on the feature sheet now that they are in season!

    I suppose you are not a vegetarian, but a healthy eater, next time ask! My staff is incredibly friendly, knowledgeable and helpful. A nutritionist, a few nursing students, and plenty of seasoned restaurant folk. Almost every server is a bartender too, and knows the beer, the breweries and the styles!

    I have to say I don’t usually get so involved with Blog replies, but also a suggestion to the blogosphere, if you do a bit of fact checking after the piece is written, that would be nice.

    Our new menu with ten entrees, steamed rice, bruschetta, and the Port Authority Sandwich is at the printer, and will be out by September. Our new buy fresh buy local partners will be on there as well. You may follow our ever changing tap list, sometimes 6 changes in a day, on Twitter, we post daily features, taps and more under bocktowntapshot, we have a monthly email that gives our loyal customers the inside scoop and coupons, and you can sign up at http://www.bocktown.com

    I understand if you want to remove my comment, but I am a very proud new business owner, and do appreciate your reviews and comments, they do help make us better! Beer Creative, Chris

  3. Jean Says:
    August 14th, 2009 at 8:40 am

    We love Bocktown, it’s great to find a restaurant in the Robinson area that is not a chain. We are not big beer drinkers but enjoy trying the sample sizes, my husband loves the iced tea.
    I dream about that crab roll, it’s very reminisent of lobster roll from Maine. The garlic bread makes the sandwich in addition to the huge amount of crab that is loaded onto the sandwich. I do not eat meat other than fish but have seen quite a few things that I’ve wanted to try of the fish/veggie variety on the menu. We also love the french fry menu.
    Keep up the great work Bocktown!

  4. Scott Says:
    August 14th, 2009 at 10:14 am

    Just a quick note… the restaurant isn’t in Robinson Town Centre. It’s actually across the highway near Target. It’s a great place to eat and I want to make sure people can find it!

  5. mike Says:
    August 14th, 2009 at 7:32 pm

    Wow. Thanks for the details, Chris. I didn’t realize portobello was always an option like that. Now I definitely want to go back and give a bello’fied sandwich a try! And don’t worry, I’m already on the Bocktown email list. :-)

    You’re right that I’m not strictly vegetarian: I lean in that direction (as a result of my upbringing). I also spend a lot of time paying attention to caloric intake (which just drives the vegetarian idea even urther). I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not good at splurging every once in a while. I do, on occassion; it’s just a little rare. Then again, I make a point to never stress about the calories in my beer. Go figure.

  6. mike Says:
    August 14th, 2009 at 7:41 pm

    Scott is right: my listed location (Robinson Town Center) isn’t really accurate. That whole area falls into that same placeholder in my brain. What’s the name of that area? I think it’s “The Point” or something along those lines.

  7. chris Says:
    August 15th, 2009 at 7:29 am

    We are located across from Target in Pool City Plaza in The Pointe at North Fayette…. what a waste of breath!

    I also say we are moments off the Robinson Towne Center exit… in Target’s parking lot. Just minutes from the Airport.

    We are hidden, but that is part of the charm. MIke, thanks for the added feedback. Chris

  8. Chris from Robinson Says:
    August 15th, 2009 at 7:39 am

    I’ve only been to Bocktown once. I’m not a beer person, so you should know that from the get-go. It was fine. We haven’t been back, but not for any particular reason.

    I will say that I was less than impressed with the rips and tears of the booths. I hope that by now you have had those repaired/replaced!

  9. Wayne Says:
    August 15th, 2009 at 10:50 am

    We fixed the booths several months ago. You should come back and give us another try. We have many repeat and regular customers who do not drink, and just come in for the food and atmosphere.

  10. Mitchel Says:
    August 23rd, 2009 at 7:29 pm

    Went to Bocktown last Thursday around 5 pm. Sat at the bar and enjoyed it. I had a Bluepointe summer ale which was delicious. Also enjoyed the pot roast sandwich and great fries. One issue I have with Bocktown is the lack of a happy hour or a discounted monthly brew. There are many places with excellent craft beers on tap(Blue Dust comes to mind) with better prices.

  11. mike Says:
    September 20th, 2009 at 5:09 am

    Note that I made a return visit not too long ago when they released a new menu including some vegetarian options. I was far more impressed, after that follow-up visit (with a far better use of the Bocktown menu).

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