They say that good things come to those who wait. In the case of Birreria, Eataly's rooftop beer garden, with homemade brews and the foods that love them (we're talking sausage, meats, cheeses, and other delectables), I wholeheartedly agree. Birreria was supposed to open last August, then November, etc., etc., but due to technical difficulties with the copper brewing system, yada yada yada, it's open now.
Perched high atop Gotham, 15 floors above Madison Square Park, this 8,000 square foot, 300-seat restaurant is a most welcome addition to the neighborhood. Its retractable roof (which we saw in action--it was quite the entertaining to watch), ensures that we don't need no stinking summer to sit outside and drink beer.
Speaking of beer, the Beer philosophy at Birreria is simple and honest, just like the food. The Cask Beers are unpasteurized and unfiltered and "made artisanally 30 feet from where you sit." And it's true! You can see them with your very own eyes, fermenting in their copper casks looking all shiny and tasty, and in silver kegs throughout the room which if I could only find a way to put in my purse would slowly disappear one by one.
As the story goes, the "Birreria Brothers," brewmasters Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head, Leonardo Di Vincenzo of Del Borgo and Teo Musso of Baladin met three years ago and instantly formed a brotherhood. The Three Muske-beers, if you will. Whatever you want to call them, these three men are responsible for the three in-house ales exclusively brewed in the rooftop brewery. They're "inspired by ingredients and by Italian character...made with the finest raw materials like American and European malted barley, the freshest hops and unique spices." The brews come at you through a traditional hand pump at the perfect temperature (and in the perfect glass) to make sure its full flavor is never compromised.
Right now, there are three cask beers available, and two still brewing. I ordered the Gina, a Thyme Pale Ale. Yes, thyme. More specifically, fresh thyme from the hills of Borgorose, Italy. Combined with a traditional American Pale Ale, beer just does not get more food-friendly than this. The other two House Brews on offer are a Pale Ale and a Brown Ale, the former brewed with maple syrup. That's just SCREAMING for a plate full of sausage. SCREAMING.
There's also a hand-picked list of bottled and draft beers to choose from, but I'll get to some of those later.
Now, onto the grub.
I think this sign from the elevator pretty much sums it up nicely. For those of you without hawk vision, the bottom section reads, "In Eataly's opinion, gluttony isn't a vice. In fact, we think eating a good amount of good food is a virtue. There's nothing in the world more fulfilling than sharing an exceptional meal in good company, especially when it's made with exceptional ingredients that share a story. High quality food has meaning that transcends personal satisfaction. Its virtues promote a culture of conviviality, good health, friendship and more. Starting today, 'Gluttony' joins the company of virtue."
Stick that in your Canneloni, Dante.
The menu holds true to its promise of conviviality, with many plates to share, and obviously the exceptional ingredients one would expect from someone with the cohones to defy Dante.
Seven cheese, all from Italy, save one Ricotta Fresca from Connecticut. Who knew?
Five types of salumi, three salads, six dishes from the grill, three dishes devoted entirely to mushrooms (I AM in the third ring of gluttony!), and House Made Sausage with a simple philosophy of its own: Italian recipes, with American ingredients, like pork from Bensmiller Farm, representing the four regions of Italy .
And now, mangiare.
If anyone has ever asked, "Could a salad ever possibly be manly enough to stand up to a beer? To hold its ground with sausage and salami and kraut, and hulking hunks of braised meats?" The answer, mi amici, is yes. It helps that it has a really cool sounding name: Cavolo Nero Con Salsa. It's chopped mixed kale, grapefruit, poppy seed frico (i.e. cheese crisp) with anchovy dressing, and it will punch you square in the face if you talk smack to it. Kale is hearty, crunchy, and a little bit bitter--definitely the black sheep in the salad section, and absolutely perfect for a beer and what we ordered alongside it. Are you ready for this? Pork Shoulder.
But not just any pork shoulder. The shoulder of a (once) happy pig of the hampshire breed, thank you very much, from Bensmiller Farm in Sigourney, Iowa. These (once) lucky pigs were raised in the wild, free to frolick and feed on clovers, grass and herbs, or return to their stalls for natural grains whenever the fancy should strike them. It sounds like a lovely life, and you can honestly taste it in their meat.
The pork shoulder here is braised in beer and apricot, and Ooooooh Mama can you taste the love. It's served with Krauti (Batali's answer to sauerkraut) and mustard--a Birreria twist on a beer hall classic.
I'm sorry, but this thing is just too beautiful--it deserves its own close up, and a minute of silence, I think.
So I had to try another beer before leaving, or else it's not really lunch, right?
I tried Dogfish Head Ale's Midas Touch, whose recipe was supposedly lifted from some 2700 year old drinking vessels discovered in the tomb of King Midas. Alls I know is it goes nicely with some frolicking pork shoulder.
Sadly, my lunchtime was drawing to a close--and I didn't even have the opportunity to taste any of the barrel wines! That's right, kids, lookie there behind the bar and you'll see some of Bastianich's own vini waiting patiently behind the bar. Sigh. Next time.
Until then, all I can say is that Batali and Bastianich have done it again. Bravissimo e grazie.