In fall 2015, Grizzly Peak Brewing Company marked several significant milestones in interesting ways. Aficionados celebrated the 4,000th batch of beer brewed at the Washington St. pub with a hoppy but balanced “4K” rotating tap. Another special batch honored collaborative brewing over two decades with local artisans at Jolly Pumpkin, Milan’s Original Gravity, and beyond. Some spiffing-up went on inside (including shiny copper tabletops), the menus now come on hefty wood planks with hulking lumberjack graphics, and a new sign hangs over the corner of Washington and Ashley.
What’s on that menu also got a twentieth-anniversary refresh. My family logged a lot of cheery meals here when the kids were growing up, and we noticed some absences. GP’s calamari appetizer, tender little tentacles and rings with a perfect dusting of breading, were our young sons’ teething rings for what’s become a passionate love of seafood. It will be missed. On the other hand, we’ll get along fine without the quesadilla–once a go-to item, it now feels last-millennium.
Overall, the menu is even more diverse now. My first taste of the new fare was very tasty and crispy truffle fries, in a perfect size for two to share. In fact, one could forage through a truffle-oil feast here, starting with the fries; moving on to truffled pizza with summer squash, ricotta, and grilled lemon; and topping out with truffled mac and cheese (I didn’t, because the fries were just right).
I also enjoyed the charismatic spicy Cuban pork sliders piled high with pickles, slaw, and cilantro lime aioli. You’ll find them under “Starters and Shares” on the menu, but these $10 tall beauties could be a deal of a meal for one, and a perfect accompaniment to several of the easy-drinking house craft beers.
Some of the most appealing new offerings are also the most subtle–like a surprisingly delicate harissa-spiced couscous salad, gently built on spring greens with red-onion marmalade and curry vinaigrette. It’s totally Zen and a steal as a $4 side to an entree. There’s also a nice kale salad with toasted walnuts, Granny Smith apples, and lemony vinaigrette. Next time, though, I’ll skip the optional four-ounce salmon “protein” addition–it brought oiliness to the otherwise fresh flavors.
Polenta fries come in a hefty tower; each one is the size of an inch-high stack of Monopoly money, crunchy on the outside, soft inside, and rich all through. They perked up with sweetly sharp house-made catsup, but still got boring before we finished. Among entrees, the buttery roasted vegetable ravioli is filling comfort food. The fish and meat options are many, topping out with steak.
One of my favorite things about going to Grizzly Peak on cold winter evenings is the same as it ever was: the coziness of being nestled into a tall-backed booth near the fiery pizza oven. The buzz of activity and constant stream of traffic makes you feel snug and just a little smug.
The artisan pizzas have been tweaked, and three of the six combos now have some sort of fruit among the toppings. Our chicken bruschetta pie seemed more meh than pizzas from years past, partly because hot new spots like Mani and NeoPapalis have raised the bar downtown.
You could say the same about the current state of craft beer. Coincidentally (or not?), Arbor Brewing Company, downtown’s other brewpub pioneer, is also embarking on a third-decade renovation. It will close January 11 for about a week while the changeover happens.
If that sends more traffic to Grizzly Peak, these pros should be up to it. With the new Old German downstairs and the old Del Rio absorbed next door, there’s plenty of room for TV game-watching patrons, after-work gatherings, and most imaginable sizes of parties.
If Grizzly Peak’s menu refresh seems more catch-up than visionary step-out, consider the volume of patrons they’re serving, and the likely volume of preferences. And there’s still plenty new to explore. The reportedly popular “2 AM burger,” topped with fried pickles, bacon, and fondue-style cheese sauce, sounds like more than I can handle, but maybe I can enlist my sons again next time they’re in town.
Grizzly Peak Brewing Company
120 W. Washington
Soup, starters, and shares $4-$13; sandwiches, salads, and pizza $9-$14; large plates $14-$26.
Sun.-Thurs. 11 a.m.-11 p.m., Fri. & Sat. 11 a.m.-midnight.