Review: Beer Nutz

It’s about time for some FoodBurgh cleanup: going way back in my stack of review score sheets, I have notes for a place called Beer Nutz. I really don’t like the name, but one of the owners emailed me a while back to suggest I might check them out. I’m always on the look out for a great place to grab a beer, so it seemed worth a try. Back in early January, I rounded up the troops and headed out with a group of friends on a Saturday night.

Beer Nutz Bottle Shop
beernutzplaza.org (broken link!)
★★☆☆☆

1335 Freeport Rd.
Pittsburgh, PA 15238
(412) 963-6882

Beer Nutz Bottle Shop on Urbanspoon

As a place to grab a beer (or buy a case at the adjoining distributor), Beer Nutz does a pretty good job. With different sets of coolers and some un-chilled shelving, they have a lot of beer options. That’s not to say they outdo either D’s or Bocktown, but there’s little chance you won’t find something worth enjoying—unless you’re that one friend that doesn’t like beer at all (we’ll call her #5 in my group).

Situated way out in Aspinwall, they aren’t anywhere close to local for me, but if you’re out that way, it’s a solid place for a beer. Sadly, that didn’t seem to be the case relative to food: I and multiple others at the table were somewhat disappointed by our meals.

Inside: bright, clean, and spacious. When you first drive up to the place, it’s not clear what to expect. Some of my companions were even a little nervous about even walking in. Fear not, there’s absolutely no reason to fear. A step inside shows off a well-kept, bright room with a decent row of tap handles, an open kitchen, and plenty of beverage coolers. The main room offers up a decent amount of seating at bar-height tables—in this case, all of those tables were filled. A second, smaller room on the other side of the kitchen offers up dart board and a few more (normal-height) dining tables. The second room was empty, so I and my 5 companions found a table there.

Open Kitchen and Bar

Front Room (Bar-Height Tables)

Back Room (Normal-height tables)

An adjoining distributor. Though I didn’t stop in, I should note that the same building houses both a beer distributor (i.e., cases of beer) and a bottle shop (i.e., food and individual bottles). This is the first I’ve heard of such an arrangement, and one can imagine using the bottle shop as a method to decide what to pick up next store. I’m not sure I would ever make use of that possibility, but somebody out there might. In general, the trip I take to the bottle shop and the trip I take to the distributor are two very different use cases that don’t really tend to overlap.

Holes in the menu. Though the “placeholder” site (on around-foxchapel.com), suggests they have a “large menu,” I didn’t find that to be the case. I found only burgers and salads and various piles of fries—plus some wings. The whole list is up on Urbanspoon for anyone looking to check it out. The unitary vegetarian option: a pita platter with hummus, feta, pita, and a few veggies didn’t really make sense as a meal. To be fair, the focus is clearly on beer, and they never promised to serve up healthy or vegetarian options, but I wish they had done better on that angle. I would have liked to see at least one vegetarian salad or maybe some kind of wrap.

Based some positive trending salad sightings, I suspect I’ll be ordering one of those in any future visits. I’m sure they would have no problem serving up a grilled chicken salad sans grilled chicken.

Beer selection? Good, but no surprises. Departing from my normal format, I’m going to talk about beer options before I go on to nit-pick the food. That follows and the Beer Nutz approach and gives me a chance to start with the positive. I found options from just about every brewer I expected to see and even a few I didn’t. Somewhat notably, I found multiple “He-Brew” options from Shmaltz—something I haven’t exactly started to see everywhere.

One category in short supply: less common options. Most places will have a few 750mL bottles of some more interesting options or just beer that I hadn’t heard of. Sometimes I’ll even find 12 oz bottle I never expected to see. Those are winning stories: I consider a bottle shop to be successful when they show me something I didn’t know about before walking in. Beer Nutz didn’t really manage to do that.

Not seeing something new and unexpected may just mean that I’ve been saturated with beer awareness, but, given the industry’s rate of change, I find that hard to believe. My hope is that this is just a characteristic of being relatively new. My hope is that they’ll start to reach a little once they turn through a few more iterations of their regular inventory.

The Mediterranean Platter. While this “platter” did provide for a vegetarian option, I was somewhat disappointed by the execution. The platter consisted of kalamata olives, peperoncini, slices of feta, sliced tomato, soft pita, and hummus. First off, there are some positive notes: they could have done far worse on the olives, and the presentation was fairly well done. As the pita, I find that it usually comes in one of two varieties: hard pockets from a “lean” dough (i.e., minimal fat or other additives) and softer, “flat bread” without much in the way of a pocket. Beer Nutz served up an example of the latter.

Mediterranean Platter ("Grilled Hummus & Pita")

What went wrong? A couple of issues. First, the tomato slices were the kind really meant to top a sandwich. For the platter, I would have liked to see a different variety (or at least thicker slice). The tomato the did use was flavorless and not particularly easy to consume with the pita. Second, the hummus was…lacking in complexity and overly salty. Hummus is a relatively easy to make in-house, but I’m fairly certain the Beer Nutz hummus wasn’t: it was wet, overly salty, and otherwise dull—basically, cheap manufactured hummus. They could have done a lot better—even without making their own.

Continuing with the nitpicks, the feta pieces were somewhat large for consumption without first being broken up, but that’s was difficult with the sparse collection of toothpicks and notable silverware shortage. Even dining companions who ordered a salad had to go hunting up front and make special requests for a fork. I decided not to go to the trouble.

Some brighter notes on salads. Two of my companions ordered a salad, so I did get a chance to see if they turned out any better. Thankfully, the situation seemed to be an improvement from the platter. Though neither salad-ordering companion was extremely happy with the salad, I should note that their only complains surrounded off flavors of the chicken/steak on top. Somewhat unexpectedly, all of their salads sat on ample beds of mixed greens. That much was a plus. By default, all salads came topped with fries and a handful of cheddar. I also noted a peperoncini floating on top of each.

Grilled Chicken Salad

Steak Salad

Overall, the salads came with plenty of greens, but that’s where any notion of healthy eating collapsed. Fries, cheese, and off-tasting meat were just about about the only other components. More veggies on top would have been a a big plus.

Don’t forget the burgers. Two of my dining companions ordered burgers, and their reviews were somewhat contradictory. One was overall moderately happy with his cheeseburger, the other was frustrated by an aggressively charred and overcooked patty. I’ll give Beer Nutz the benefit of the doubt and assume that was a fluke. Based on appearance, and at least one success: I’ll say the burgers are probably pretty decent.

Cheeseburger w/ Provolone

Will I be going back? Well, there’s a lot of room for improvement, and I’m actually quite interested in what happens over time. I’d like to go back to check in on them, but I wasn’t really impressed. As I’ve said before, both D’s and Bocktown have better food and a better beer selection. Those places lack an adjoining beer distributor, but I’m not sure what use case requires the two to be connected. If Beer Nutz is a convenient destination for you, then by all means give them a try. If you’re in the city like me, then I don’t really see the need.

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11 Responses to “Review: Beer Nutz”

  1. Steve H. Says:
    February 16th, 2010 at 8:51 am

    In my opinion, having one place serve as beer store and beer distributor means that in a consumer/customer’s mind, you only need to think about one place for beer rather than two.

    Plus, if you look at it from a distributor perspective, Beer nutz may be the perfect compliment. Often, at the beer distributors, I’ll see a beer that I’ve heard of, but haven’t tried. This setup lends itself well to trying before buying, especially at the case level.

    Of course, I’m the sort of guy that doesn’t necessarily know what he wants when he walks into a beer distributor.

  2. Dave Says:
    February 16th, 2010 at 9:45 am

    I agree with Steve, and I like how Beer Nutz seems to have found a loophole in our state’s antiquated restrictions regarding beer distribution by having two “separate” businesses in the “same” location. I don’t know of any other place in the state that offers cases, six packs, and single bottles all pretty much right next to each other. Mike is right, usually a trip to the distributor is a different scenario than a trip to the bar/bottle shop, but I still can’t wrap my head around why a business should be prohibited from offering both.

    I live in the city but work in RIDC Park, so Beer Nutz is convenient if I want to grab some beer on the way home from work. I don’t have to think about what amount of beer I need (six pack vs case), or worry about the selection. Like Steve, I never seem to know what I want when I walk into a beer store.

    I also agree with Mike that it is a little rough around the edges, but I have been stopping in occasionally pretty much since they opened, and slowly but surely, they seem to be growing and improving. I like what they are trying to do, and I think being close to RIDC offers a lot of potential. Unfortunately, it seems that nearly every business that previously occupied this location didn’t do so well.

  3. mike Says:
    February 16th, 2010 at 7:32 pm

    Steve and Dave. Thanks for the comments/feedback.

    I was to hear Dave’s observation that they seem to be improving over time. I was hoping that would be the case, and that’s why I didn’t sugar coat my review. There are some real problems, and the only way to make progress toward fixing them is to bring them out in the open.

    I too support what they’re trying to do, and hope/expect that an honest review is better than no review at all. One thing Beer Nutz doesn’t seem to have right now is a strong web presence, and some pictures and blogger buzz can never be a bad thing. :-)

    Regarding the collocation of distributor and bottle shop, I don’t really have that much of a use case for it. If it’s useful to others, then more power to them.

  4. mike Says:
    February 16th, 2010 at 7:40 pm

    One quick update for those of you that didn’t hear it elsewhere…

    WPXI: “Pa. Lawmaker Tries Again To Loosen Beer-Sales Law”
    http://www.wpxi.com/news/22579696/detail.html

    At least someone in the PA legislature is working to eliminate any need for two separate entities. It’s still just talk, but it’s out there.

  5. Bill Says:
    June 13th, 2010 at 10:39 am

    Beer Nutz is a great one stop shopping>The Friendielist place of it’s kind in Pittsburgh. I work in Fox Chapel so i get a chance to stop by weekly or bi- weekly. Since Foodburgh review in Jan. Beer Nutz added several Taps and expanded food Menu(Which I do agree was there only downfaall in Jan.)

  6. Julian Says:
    June 28th, 2010 at 7:40 am

    Classic example of Pittsburgh neighborhood narrow mindedness…

    “Situated way out in Aspinwall, they aren’t anywhere close to local for me, but if you’re out that way, it’s a solid place for a beer.”

    Seven miles from Oakland and 10 -15 minutes from downtown is “way out in Aspinwall?!” for a reviewer, you need to get out more.

  7. Bullwinkle Says:
    August 27th, 2010 at 10:27 am

    Well, it seems as though the reviewer missed the point. The name of the place is Beer Nutz…not Vegetarian Option Nutz or Hummus Nutz or even Mediterranean Platter Nutz. I’m sure the next time someone is planning to open a bottle shop type of eatery they will consult you to ‘see what angles they could do better on’ or ‘what you consider successful before you walk in’. Stay in the city.

  8. Jim Says:
    March 17th, 2011 at 9:46 am

    dude, you need to lighten up on the beer snobbery – take the place for what it is, not what it isn’t. There are far less beer experts than beer drinkers and this review seems to discourage the average drinker to go.

    It’s also far less likely to find a place that wants to serve up quality micro/crafts/imports because of the cost. So when you do find place – that has a large selection – seek to find the better qualities instead of degrading the quality to your outrageous standards.

    You name D’s and Bocktown… D’s is the first of its kind and is a dingy place that serves up hot dogs, seems if didn’t have the reputation you’d degrade them as well. Bocktown is a corporate chain has the selection but has terrible service and poor quality control.

    Keep it more real and less snobby

  9. mike Says:
    March 20th, 2011 at 1:23 pm

    Have you been to D’s or Bocktown? D’s may use hot dogs as a focal point, but the menu certainly doesn’t stop there. They serve up a pretty good salad and always serve up some excellent homemade soup. In terms of atmosphere, “dingy” isn’t a word I would come close to using relative to D’s.

    Bocktown may look big and refined enough to be a corporate chain, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. The owner is proud of the restaurant’s independence and is a strong advocate for local restaurants and local beer. The fact that she’s working on opening up a second location may be proof that she has a winning formula, but it certainly doesn’t change her independence as owner.

    I don’t try to be a beer snob; I try to be an advocate for access to good beer. I don’t fault restaurants for serving macro-produced lagers. In fact, I suggest that they do.

    I agree wholeheartedly that the world is filled with more beer drinkers than beer experts, but the real question is how many people pay attention to what they’re drinking. That’s a growing population, and places like Beer Nutz certainly help to drive that trend. I appreciate their beer list, but I find that their menu runs counter to my own preference in what I like to eat — with or without a beer.

  10. Meagan Says:
    June 16th, 2011 at 2:01 pm

    I’d like you come back and try us again. We’ve expanded a lot. We’ve got a newly designed menu and dining room layout. Our staff has also grown and is much more experienced. The food is definitely better than it was back in January 2010 which was only 7 months after we opened the doors to the Bottle Shoppe and even less time from when we began offering a full menu. The original concept was to be a hot dog and bottle shop. We’ve now become a full fledged restaurant and I’d love for you to give it another try.

    http://www.beerpgh.com

    http://www.urbanspoon.com/r/23/1461725/restaurant/Aspinwall-Blawnox/Beer-Nutz-Bottle-Shoppe-Grille-Pittsburgh

    http://www.facebook.com/pages/Beer-Nutz-Plaza/201938626493563

  11. Dan Says:
    July 7th, 2011 at 7:49 am

    Was actually going this way next week and now I will make the stop after reading this, thanks for the in depth review!

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