Venue Review: Vbgb Beer Hall And Garden (Nc Music Factory)
"What can I get you to drink?" she asks. She's behind the extensive bar, in a black T-shirt with "BEER" sprawled in red capitals across the front.
He peruses the blackboards tiled onto one wall, chockablock with handwritten brew names and alcohol contents and provenance.
"I'm not sure. I ..."
"What do you like?"
"Bass ale? Killian's?" he says.
She brings him three plastic cups with a few liquid ounces in each - gold, reddish-brown, caramel-colored. He tries each, picks the second. She nods. "Southern Tier Harvest Ale."
VBGB makes picking a drink fun, and as Charlotte embraces craft beers, the N.C. Music Factory-area spot is a casual, accessible place to experiment.
It's designed as an indoor/outdoor beer garden, which means a couple of things to adjust to: The communal experience is emphasized (kids are welcome), and you don't get traditional host and waitstaff.
So rather than being led to a table and handed a menu, you walk in and are greeted by staff, behind the bar or at the food window to your immediate right. Pull up a seat and open a bar tab, then head back to that food window to order.
The décor is Early Picnic Table, plus bar-height tables, patio umbrellas, and red stools pulled up on both sides of a U-shaped bar. This sports a comparatively high-tech "frost rail": a several-inch-wide strip, covered thickly in frost, running the whole length of the bar. You can set your glass there to keep your brew cool, or you can - and more do than you might expect - doodle on it. You can see the outside patio (part of which is tented and heated) from inside, and yes, that's the historic JFG Coffee sign out there.
Owners Tom and Kara Taddeo moved from New York City to raise their kids. They had frequented beer gardens there, and when they Googled "beer gardens" in Charlotte, they found: zip. So they decided to try introducing the concept here. "It's a restaurant/family/hanging-out kind of place," says Kara. The patio is dog-friendly, and family-day events (indoor/outdoor trick-or-treating, Santa visits) are regularly scheduled.
VBGB - for Very Big German Beer - has a 30-tap beer menu (shifting daily and including area breweries). You can order nearly all of them in four sizes: klein ("small," at 12 ounces), mittel (about 18), grosse (34) or pitchers. Eventually, there'll be a 10-tap house list, and 20 will continue to rotate on the two-keg-and-out timing used now.
The food lineup is roughly one-third German, one-third healthy and one-third bar favorites. Hence the Zweigles brats, imported from Rochester, N.Y., on regular or pretzel-style rolls (get the second, and get kraut to do the marvelously juicy brat justice). The chicken/spinach/feta brat is nicely done, too (peppers and onions do best with this), and there's a Zweigles hot dog as well. Potato latkes are a mite oily, as are sweet potato fries and Black and Tan-battered onion rings, though these have notable flavor. The jumbo pretzel was indeed enormous, but nearly too greased-up to hold its accompanying (terrific) beer cheese dip.
Wings sport a rub and your choice of sauce, including the pleasantly zippy Wango Tango. Chicken kabobs are moist (there's a beef version as well), and burgers of both beef and black bean keep company with sides such as quinoa salad, German potato salad and edamame.
Staff are quick to help, and the place ratchets up its friendliness with nightly specials like the shifting 4-3-2-1: A recent example was $4 NoDa Rye Z'd Double Rye IPA, $3 wings, $2 Natty Greene's Buckshot Amber and $1 quinoa salad.
I ended up with a Southern Tier Iniquity Imperial Black Ale, an IPA black as pitch and positively addictive, and which Southern Tier describes as "the antithesis of unearthly." Do I understand that? Sort of. Did my server survey my preferences, then recommend it with enthusiasm? Yep. And that's more important.