Craft Tasting Room and Growler Shop expands our reach in craft brews, again.
Here, three dozen rotating taps offer up both local and regional (and farther) brews, in flights or by the pint or in two sizes of growler.
Quick etymology lesson: Growlers are take-home containers that hold 32 or 64 ounces of beer. As usual, there’s not a clear explanation for the name’s origin: The sound of carbon dioxide escaping the then-steel-pail lids? The sound of the trouble made by drunken gangs slinging back beer and whacking people in the head with the pails?
At any rate, the word appears in newspapers in the late 19th century, and people sent kids to get them filled at beer saloons. This was called “rushing the growler” or “working the growler.” An 1886 Chicago Daily Tribune story called the growler (which cost 14 cents to fill at the time) “the boss bibulatory institution.”
So there’s that – a phrase that would make an excellent T-shirt, yes?
About a year ago, North Carolina legalized retailers (rather than just breweries) filling growlers, with rules about sanitizing and labeling. Aficionados will tell you beer from a growler tastes different from the same beer canned or bottled.
Not hard to see why Craft completes a growler-titled triumvirate in Charlotte, joining Growlers Pourhouse in NoDa (longer food menu) and the Beer Growler in Dilworth (no food menu). Note: Yes, lots of places without “growler” in the title fill growlers, too.
Craft has an L-shaped bar, behind which a huge blackboard denotes choices, including their alcohol-by-volume and prices. There’s a spare, brick-walled, wood-table dining area, with shelves of bottled and canned beers, North Carolina edibles and beer-friendly stuff (may I suggest Zapp’s Spicy Cajun Crawtators, despite its provenance?). Then there’s a beer garden, aka patio, in the still-industrial-feeling part of South Church Street, just a tic from uptown.
Dan Davis opened it when the state approved sales rules on growlers. He’d moved here after 14 years in New York, where he cooked with some stars, citing as influences Bobby Flay and Geoffrey Zakarian (from whom he learned that “you don’t have to follow all the old-world rules as long as it looks good and tastes good”).
His menu is short and simple – a few ingredients used broadly – and a viable option for noshing or an actual meal. Good thing, because the place, which he envisioned as more of a shop, is “the opposite – more full-on beer garden and bar. ... It’s a Frankenstein of a bunch of things I’ve seen.”
Though he’s scaled back in places, deleting preserves and honey on cheese plates for example, he’s kept regional purveyors at the fore, from Heritage Farms (in Seven Springs) for soppressata to Chapel Hill and Looking Glass (in Fairview) creameries and Queen Charlotte’s Pimento Cheese wares. He imports Serrano ham and prosciutto.
Customers order at the counter and are typically asked to leave a credit card if they’re keeping a tab open.
Cheese plates offer a duo, arranged with prettily sliced fruit (pear recently), dried apricots, nuts, strawberries and crunchy, dense toasts. Charcuterie plates usually offer prosciutto and soppressata, with olives, roasted peppers and toasts. I’d love to see both cheese and charcuterie choices expanded, and offered to those ordering.
Flatbread pizzas are the skinny, nearly-a-tortilla sort, sparely topped. The piadina menu’s more compelling – also thin flatbreads, but encasing more interesting combos: spicy sopressata with pecorino cheese and strawberry preserves, for example. “Don’t judge!” begs the menu. Do, if you like a growler-whack to the tastebuds – I suspect you’ll like it, and a keen saltiness encourages you to try another brew.
Salads are spinach with copious amounts of shaved Parmesan and a sticky-sweet balsamic glaze, or baby arugula with roasted peppers, hearts of palm, generous dabs of chevre and just a bit of lemon and oil.
Service is engaging, and downright chatty if you show an interest. Here’s to widening that interest, and Craft’s range and base.
Craft Tasting Room and Growler Shop
Neighborly spot to try interesting brews, with a simple, short menu.
1320 S. Church St.; 980-207-3716; www.craftgrowlershop.com.
HITS: Casually warm service and smart talk about a wide range of beer, nice portions on charcuterie.
MISSES: Closing out your tab can be laborious; more range on cheese and charcuterie would be great.
PRICES: $7-$9; pints about $5-$6.
HOURS: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Tuesday, to 11 Wednesday, to 12 Thursday-Saturday; noon-9 p.m. Sunday.
INSPECTION SCORE: 98.5 Nov. 5.
☆☆☆☆= excellent; ☆☆☆= good;☆☆= fair;☆= poor