Venue Review: Growlers Pour House
The Charlotte Observer
3120 N. Davidson Street
I don’t remember now which it was – the Lamb and Flag? Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese? – but we ducked into one of these London pubs a few years ago and had a fine meal with lots of beer, not finding out until later that it claimed Charles Dickens as a former frequent customer.
Maybe they all do.
What mattered was that it felt cozy, woody, dark and ultimately convivial – and these seem particularly precious qualities near Christmas.
So when I call Growlers Pour House “Dickensian,” not English, you get what I mean, right?
Cozy, woody, a little dark, with exposed brick, a real appreciation for beer and a menu varied enough to work, plus a warm, conversational, laugh-punctuated hum among the folks drinking and talking and nibbling.
Owners Jeff Tonidandel and Paul Manley also have next door’s Crepe Cellar, and Growlers shares a kitchen with that operation.
The distinctive feel here starts at the heavy front door. It opens into a room centered around a community table, at which I’ve heard people laughing together and later introducing themselves, with a long bar at one side and a row of booths along the other. Reggae was playing one night; rap another. People perched on stools near the windows facing North Davidson Street.
Our servers nearly all recommended the hot dog first. This is made, as all sausages but the “vegenator” are, in house, using bacon, tenderloin and spare rib meat, we were told. It comes on a soft bun with crunchy housemade relish and is superb.
So are the fine-textured purple slaw, housemade chips (when they come out fresh, which they don’t always), the beer brat and an enormous spinach salad with goat cheese and sherry vinaigrette. Soft pretzels recall New York streets, though the mustard could use more kick.
Turkey-apple sausage is quite good and I look forward to trying the sweet Italian. I’d made it through all the other sausages by my last visit and our server raved more about the Smashed Club panini. Well-named, this combines turkey, ham and bacon, with cheese and tomato, crushed together in a panini press in white bread. Don’t expect the crunch of toast and you’ll be fine.
Other dishes fall short. That vegenator is OK at best, as is the soggy pesto portobello panini. Pimento cheese is too dry (I like dry forms, but this verges on the dull) and basil pesto hummus comes, oddly, with tortilla chips. French onion dip is lush, but its accompanying potato chips were cold and oily the night we tried it.
And though I love oysters and beer, I’ve had both excellent and mediocre, gritty ones here. There seems to be renewed commitment though, with the introduction of oyster shooters (with chipotle horseradish cocktail sauce and Absolut vodka) and an oyster roast benefitting Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation slated for Jan. 30, so I plan to try again.
I love Growlers’ teetering between bar food and upscale aspiration, and one of the most successful forms is the cheese and beer pairing: For $18, you get four cheeses with four 4-ounce beer pairings. A three-beer pairing to go with oysters is $3 – tastings like these acquaint you with all these offerings and are a fine choice for a settling-in wintry chat with friends. The craft beer list is extensive (a menu is printed daily now), all American, and shifts, spelling out examples of about a dozen styles and a few seasonals at all times, along with a standard lineup.
A beer engine, an antique enthusiastically refurbished, lets the place serve cask ales. These are unpasteurized, unfiltered and naturally carbonated by a second fermentation, rather than the addition of carbon dioxide. Speaking of old equipment, the place is named for jugs (once galvanized pails) used to move fresh beer as early as the late 19th century. It’s thought that the beer sloshed as people “rushed the growler” home, and that carbon dioxide rumbling out the top created that growl.
See? Dickensian. And worth a holiday stop.