Pity Charlestown: It always seems to get short shrift in the restaurant department. Southie and the South End share Charlestown’s historical richness, socioeconomic diversity and proximity to downtown, but both have thriving restaurant scenes the Town lacks. Twenty-five years ago, a young Todd English built his budding national reputation at Olives in City Square. That glory now long faded, Charlestown hasn’t had a destination dining spot since, its scattered recent openings dominated by chain outlets. Stepping into that void is the new Brewer’s Fork, a project that combines a serious beer-geek bar, a modern gastropub and a gourmet pizza joint with a wood-burning oven. The joy on the faces of locals already crowding it is palpable.
Small plates focus on the gastropub angle, showcasing good local ingredients and copious smoking, curing and pickling, with salumi courtesy of Waltham’s outstanding Moody’s Delicatessen, whence chef/owner John Paine originated. Properly shucked raw oysters ($14/six, $24/12) hail from local harbors such as Cotuit and Duxbury. A charcuterie board ($16) features lovely housemade chicken-liver mousse and good, sharp pickles alongside Moody’s fine soppressata, lomo and salami. Local cheeses and crackers ($15) are another exemplary assortment for nibbling, with firm Vermont sheep cheese, creamy and fierce Wisconsin blue cheese, and soft, tangy Northern California goat cheese well-paired with housemade chutneys, preserves and pickles. The smoked bluefish plate ($9) delivers a gentler version of a sometimes-strong local game fish as a loose salad with refreshing garnishes of sliced radishes and celery leaves.
The pickle plate ($7) runs colorfully through the garden, using a variety of piquant brines, some spicy-hot, some sweet, on sunchokes, cucumbers, asparagus, baby carrots, fennel, okra and onions. Local burrata ($13) matches firm-skinned, creamy-centered fresh mozzarella with a brilliant salad of fresh peas, artichoke and lomo. Cheddar and ale soup ($9) boasts a surprising lightness of body, crisp grated apples and welcome slices of Moody’s kielbasa. Cured raw beef salad ($10) recalls a slightly Yankified take on tiger’s tears, counterpointing deep-flavored, tender beef with fresh mint and cilantro, crunchy peanuts, foraged mushrooms, mayo made luscious with schmaltz and the acid zing of black-garlic vin. Oven-roasted meatballs ($10) offer homey Italian-American comfort adorned by good red sauce and sharp, powdery romano.
I suspect Paine’s kitchen may garner its most enduring fame with its pizza, quickly cooked in the big, squat, wood-fired oven that anchors the open kitchen. It’s a marvel of the Neapolitan-inspired style: a tender, bubbly thin crust given some chew and depth with a light char, plus a handful of quality, clear-flavored toppings on each. Pea-zza pizza ($15) features fresh English peas, smoky ham, gently aromatic shallots, fresh mozzarella and stringy Gruyere. Clam pizza ($16) is a well-balanced version of the classic New Haven white pie with briny local clams, bacon, shallots, sheep cheese, thyme and parsley butter. Salami pizza ($15) takes a classic red-sauce and mozzarella base and makes it memorable with Moody’s extraordinary Genoa salami. Mushroom Man pizza ($15) is likewise simple, but arugula and pristine, otherworldly-looking foraged mushrooms make it sublime.
Co-owner/general manager Michael Cooney’s experience at Brookline’s Publick House shows in the serious geekiness of the beer list, from its curation reflecting small producers around the world, to the beer-nerd lore commanded by his bartenders, to the assortment of specific glassware for each pour. Barely skimming its 30-draft depths, we sampled Germany’s Freigiest Abraxxxas ($11), a cloudy, bracingly tart, slightly smoky Berliner Weisse; Wild Beer Co.’s Somerset Wild ($12) from England, another quite sour beer with the complex barnyard accents of wild yeast and bacteria; and Ballast Point Victory at Sea ($10), an Imperial porter from California flavored with vanilla and coffee beans, like an intensely bitter stout sweetened with cream soda. The assortment of unusual bottled ciders, all far more complex and dry than American macro junk, includes Cider Creek Saison Reserve ($15 for 500 ml), a hazy, earthy cider from upstate New York, and Isastegi Sidra ($13 for 375 ml), a supremely tangy, slightly funky, nearly flat Basque cider. Wine lovers aren’t left out: More than 30 bottles ($32-$85, most under $45) and a dozen wines by the glass ($9-$14) provide a range of affordable options drawn mostly from the U.S. and Old World.
Complementing the bar staff’s encyclopedic enthusiasm about beer, dining-room service proves casually friendly and solicitous in a manner that suits the restaurant’s bluff, industrial charm. The wide-open space, exposed infrastructure, open kitchen and hard surfaces of brick and wood contribute to a noise level that approaches, but doesn’t quite breach, the painful-conversation barrier. Brewer’s Fork may not put Charlestown on the national map the way Todd English once did, but it does represent a first for the neighborhood: a quality, casual indie with the kind of extraordinary pizza and bar program that should draw food and beer nerds from all across town. For long-suffering residents of the Town, that doubtless feels way overdue.
-Cured raw beef salad
Hours: Lunch, Mon.-Fri., 11:30 am-2:30 pm; drinks and pizza only, Mon.-Fri., 2:30-5 pm; dinner, daily, 5-11 pm
Liquor: Beer, wine and cordials
Brewer’s Fork 7 Moulton St., Boston (617-337-5703) brewersfork.com