Living Large in Northeast Ohio
March 5, 2016
I always judge restaurants by the complete package. It’s the total experience that counts. Many factors are considered including the quality of the food, the ambience of the facility, service, friendliness, and did it meet expectations. I like to compare apples to apples. How does the place I am reviewing measure up to others in its category? How does the white table cloth restaurant downtown compare to the white table cloth restaurant in the suburbs? How does the pizza joint down the street compare to other pizza joint three blocks over?
When I was doing Youngstown Eats as a blog, I developed a rating system awarding “meatballs” to various establishments based on how they compared to others in the same category. I abandoned it when we upgraded our website. But last night I hit a winner…so I am bringing it back. The meatballs are back.
Over the years I have visited numerous micro-breweries and/or wineries. For the most part I was singularly unimpressed. Part of the problem is I am not a beer/wine drinker. Bourbon please!! Maybe I will have a beer once-a-year on a hot summer’s day just because I am a guy and I want to keep my man-card. The best of the lot is probably the Church Brew Works in Pittsburgh. It is a deconsecrated church restoration that feels like a deconsecrated church restoration with its mammoth brewing equipment where the altar used to be. It has gotten kudos for its food, but a bit adventurous for me. Buffalo meatloaf anyone? For a Catholic boy it is a bit disconcerting!!
So I was skeptical about visiting the Brewtus Brewing Company in Sharon. How good could it be? Sharon is not exactly a hot bed of culinary innovation and has some economic challenges much like the rest of the Youngstown SMSA. I was wrong! After I got there the question changed. Who, in their right mind, would spend the money to open a place to brew beer and run a pub/restaurant…an extremely difficult and demanding business by any definition, especially in Sharon? The answer: John and Patty LaRocca and Jason and Shelby Camerlengo. All I can say is WOW!
This is a big operation contrary to the trend of many privately owned restaurants downsizing with limited seating. It is extremely well done on all levels. Located in a downtown building constructed around 1880, it is a multi-floor facility. The primary restaurant and bar is on the first floor with another bar and additional table service on the second in what is currently being operated as a sort of club with weekend entertainment. You can get food service on either floor. I was told there were two additional floors going up and a basement down below. Going up the floors were described as “ornate” and the basement as “rustic.” They are still deciding what to do with the additional space. No doubt in my mind they will figure it out.
They bought the building almost three years ago at a sheriff’s sale. The families LaRocca and Camerlengo loved to make beer winning many awards for their home brew made in a garage. But as in all things entrepreneurial, avocation became a vocation. They decided to go for broke and open a micro-brewery with a brew pub attached. I am always awe struck by folks who go for the dream. Talking to Patty LaRocca last night I heard some of the horror stories attached to such an undertaking. She didn’t have to tell me. I am a lawyer. I know what can go wrong. The partners persisted. Sharon and the surrounding area is the better for it.
Brewtus has been opened for about a year. The first floor is an inviting space with a gorgeous black painted tin ceiling with the rest of the decor done in soothing tones of brown and beige. It has a large, impressive bar on one side and booth and table seating on the other. Upstairs is dominated by huge windows overlooking Sharon and gorgeous stained glass fixtures on the wall. There is a wrap-around bar at the top of the steps, and a large room with tables and a stage.
The atmosphere is high-end pub serving high-end pub grub to match. It was so nice to be met at the door by a staff member who was actually friendly and happy to see us getting past my first restaurant pet peeve: the bevy of goofy, self-impressed ta-da girls that seat you. Other restaurants should take note. Our server was about as good as I have had anywhere. Knowledgeable, friendly, extremely patient and efficient…where do I hire her for my club?
Their menu is fairly extensive with monthly specials. It features lots of locally grown food products including organically correct beef for their burgers…grass and corn fed with no hormones or steroids. This month was Mediterranean month with gyros and what not. I tried the lemon chicken soup which was outstanding. Many of their offerings are centered around whatever beer they happen to be brewing. For example, onion soup is not offered year round but only in November and December when they are brewing their holiday beer which is a primary ingredient.
Included are designer burgers, tacos and nachos, paninis, artisan pizzas, creative slaws, and some really great appetizers including pretzels with beer cheese and whole grain mustard dip…fried or baked. This is good stuff.
This past visit I had a Steakhouse burger served on a pretzel bun. The onion rings are worth the extra buck. I already mentioned the interesting chicken-lemon soup…first taste I thought maybe not…but by the time I was done it was addicting. Very good!!! Last week when I visited I had one of their pizzas. It is probably one of the better pizzas I have had anywhere. My wife had the Brier Hill Pizza last night and loved it. I have also tried their Beer Cheese soup. I am not sure whether they have it all the time, but check to see because it is terrific. Brewtus also has featured desserts. Last night they had a home baked lemon cake topped with sorbet. It was more than worth the calories.
Brewtus does not have a full liquor license…beer and wine only. But get real. You are going to a micro-brewery. You don’t need anything else. In addition to their own award winning brew…they feature local wines from the region. All of this follows a trend in the national food biz of locally owned restaurants serving locally grown food and featuring locally brewed beer and wine. You can check their website to see the beers they are featuring. As I said at the beginning, I don’t like beer. But in the spirit of the moment I tried their Fruit Sheba beer…and it was great!!!!
My wife and I ate on the first floor then moved upstairs to the bar to listen to the Sensations featuring my good friend and radio colleague Jeff Green. The room was packed to the gills. Check the website calendar to see what band is playing when. Different bands bring different crowds.
If I were to offer some constructive criticism…I am a cheese sauce/dip/soup fanatic. I am the only person I know who eats Welsh Rarebit for dinner on a regular basis (look it up). I like to spice mine up. The chef may want to look at offering something cheesy with a little more of a kick. But that is just my personal preference.
I also want to mention that the Brewtus Brewing Company caters and opens its outstanding facility for weddings and what not. That would be a helluva place to have wedding!!
Last night was the perfect evening. Good food. Good wine. Good beer. Good company. Good entertainment. Great atmosphere. And for that I am bringing back my meatball ratings giving Brewtus a strong four meatballs out five. Spice it up a bit and I will throw in the other meatball!!!
By: Mark G. Mangie
23 Chestnut Ave.
Sharon, PA 16146
P: (724) 308-6293
The Brewtus Brewing Company Sharon, PA.