Great Lakes grand slam
by M.B. Lewis
From the August, 2017 issue
Homegrown eating and drinking establishments generally emanate from the enthusiasms of their principals. Few, however, get the food-drink-atmosphere formula so right so quickly as at HOMES Brewery on Jackson.
A beer brewers' clubhouse of sorts across from Vets Park, the three-room, two-patio brewpub was so busy on three recent evenings that we had to shout across our picnic table to converse. Pairing complex yet refreshing microbrews with an Asian fusion take on bar food is looking pretty brilliant right now.
The beer list is not vast--nine taps by July, the third month of operation. But there's a lot to explore in the range from the bright citrus and hoppy "Same Same Different" to the toasty "Disguise the Limit" IPA, with barrel-aged sours in the mix.
Service is "fast casual"--order at the counter, and they bring your food to you. The brief posted menu, which benefits from the culinary input of No Thai and Tomukun chefs, is arranged around shareables (mainly loaded fries and "bites" platters), steamed bun sandwiches, and bowls boasting lovely mixtures of veggies and/or meat on rice. Like the beer list, it has more depth than meets the eye. Both the chicken katsu sandwich and the kimchi Reuben, for example, come on the same soft Asian steamed bun, but the fried chicken is super crispy, while the Reuben's thick slab of tender corned beef makes for a much softer texture and a completely different sandwich-eating experience.
Various cryptic murals (such as spacemen facing off across a mountain range) brighten the big space. Canvas sails stretch taut to provide shade over huge barge-like decks. "Trying to be hip and doing a pretty good job of it" is how my grad-student son assessed the decor.
"You could plop this place down in the middle of Portland," his father added.
In case you're wondering about the name (which also appears on T-shirts, hats, and racks of merchandise), HOMES is an acronym used to help Jeopardy contestants--and regular people--remember the names
of the Great Lakes via their first letters: Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, Superior.
I heard raves about the kimchi fries even before I made it to HOMES to try them. No, they aren't deep-fried pieces of Korean fermented cabbage, but rather one of the two Korean-inspired baskets of loaded French fries. A layer of melted grated cheese goes over the good-quality fries (with bits of actual potato skin at their ends). They're topped with a mild kimchi, onion, some crispy pork, and--the crowning touch--a fringe of seaweed. It makes for a punked-out and only slightly funky take on the perennial bar food. They were good but kind of messy to eat, so be sure to ask your server for a fork (on our visits, delivery of napkins and cutlery was hit-or-miss).
I actually liked the bulgogi beef-topped fries more, with cilantro snips, dense sriracha sauce, and sour-cream squiggles atop. I'd have the kitchen hold the runny sunny-side-up egg next time--but these are shareable platters, and my dining companions appreciated the rich creaminess the egg added.
Further exploring the shareables, we enjoyed the meaty and almost candy-sweet chili wings, which went surprisingly well with an intense, freshly tapped "King Cold Brew" coffee-based cream ale (a server said we missed out on the previous week's bourbon-barrel version). And we loved the Japanese marinated chicken bites--boneless, tender, and subtly flavored white meat morsels breaded and flash-fried to crisp edges. They come with a condiment cup of wasabi honey mustard sauce and a nice pickled veggie side.
An order of two vegetarian "fresh rolls" were indeed fresh tasting--thanks in part to mint, cilantro, and cukes in the mix--and their peanut dipping sauce was perfect. Wrapped in translucent rice-noodle sheets, they half-burst if you try to cut them, so they're not easily shared. Since you'll want your own anyway, two eaters is probably the max to share an order.
Buns and bowls round out the menu for now. (There's a heading for "Specials," but when we were there all it said was "Coming Soon.") I was surprised to see no fish of any sort on the menu--not even the pink shrimp I expected to find nestled into the sides of rice noodle rolls.
The big open decks are great for summer, and clearly the mobs of locals are feeling the tasty fun of exploring what's fresh and fermented in this west-side summer surprise. I wonder how the atmosphere will change when the garage doors drop in autumn, let alone winter--will it be more like the Wolverine brewpub's cavernous vault?
The menu already includes cider as well as a couple of quaffable local wines: semi-dry red and white locally sourced from Fieldstone in Rochester. Ask for a taste of the wines--or the beers, for that matter. The geeked brewers like to talk about their craft.
When a staffer tattooed with a giant green hops plant up his arm like a sleeve came by to gather empty dishes, he told us his fellow brewers at HOMES job-in from four other successful Michigan breweries. When we asked why, he paused, then said: "We were all really excited about this place and wanted to be part of it."
2321 Jackson Ave.
Tues.-Thurs. 4 p.m.-midnight, Fri. & Sat. 11 a.m.-1 a.m., Sun. 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Closed Mon.
Appetizers $5-$12, sandwiches $12-$13, bowls $13-$14.
[Originally published in August, 2017.]
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