Bar food just doesn't have the best reputation. Even the moniker doesn't sound great. It conjures up images of stale chips and frozen burger patties. The emphasis, after all, is on the bar part of the equation. The food is the afterthought. Sure it does the trick when you've been boozing and are in need of some munchies, but most of the time after you've consumed it, you just feel bad about yourself. The copious amounts of starch and greased and processed meats found on most bar food menus are enough to require an angioplasty.
Breweries on the other hand, the ones where beer is the star and really not much else, do their best to keep their food menus simple but still respectably tasty, so as not to distract guests from getting down to enjoying a frosty one. We've seen places like Motor City Brewery turn out fantastic pizza from the spot's wood-fired oven, but other than that, that's about it. Brewery menus rightly tend to be complementary to the brew itself. And while plenty offer standout items, you tend to know what you're gonna get — burgers, fries, nachos, etc.
At Batch Brewing Co., which sits down the way from Mudgie's in Corktown, the aim is to elevate the food from oily piles of fried who-knows-what to a treat worthy of the craft beers Batch churns out.
Batch opened in February last year, following a lengthy crowdsourcing campaign that included a $50,000 award by the Comerica Bank's Hatch Detroit contest. The space, which formerly housed the Porter Street Station Bar and Grill, was extensively renovated, including the installation of a shiny new kitchen. When the place first opened, the only things on the menu were Bavarian pretzels and arancini. Over the summer, the kitchen was put to good use, with the addition of an expanded menu, made up of a variety of crafty sandwiches and other plates.
The interior has a look reminiscent of a high school cafeteria, complete with communal seating and lockers visible in one corner. Guests are asked, in similar school fashion, to place their food and drink order at the bar, take a number, take their beer, and have a seat, where a server brings their food once it's ready.
We were pleasantly surprised at the grub coming out of the kitchen helmed by chef Matt, who moved back to Detroit after spending 16 years in Arkansas. Prices don't eclipse $12, which means there are plenty of snacks to share with friends. And they stand out in their own right: Chicarrones, which at other places can be drenched in grease, were perfectly light and puffy and ranged in texture from super crunchy cracklins' to semi-soft and kind of warm, which, if you've ever had them homemade, is the way they should be. Plus, they're drizzled in a Thai sauce and sprinkled with green onion, a sweet finish.
Next, open up a pasty and you'll find tender, juicy braised rabbit, diced red potatoes, carrots, and mushrooms all served with a rustic rabbit cream ale gravy. We could eat the insides all day, but the crusty exterior was a tad on the salty pretzel side.
The roasted butternut squash arancini had the subtlest sweetness to them and had an almost cheesy essence, amped up by a creamy sage herb Parmesan sauce. Crunchy on the outside and silky smooth inside, you're pleasantly tricked into eating your veggies.
Batch does offer several sandwiches. We recommend the variety of bolillos, which are Mexican-style rolls. You have your pick of ribeye, pork belly, or shrimp, which are tucked into each crusty roll that nicely soaks up the meaty goodness. We also sampled the Corktown Cubano. It had a little too much Corktown for our taste and hardly the Cuban essence of mustard or crunch from the pressed bread.
While the chef-y bar food is a bonus, the real VIP is the beer, of course. Co-founders Stephen Roginson and Jason Williams say their menu is constantly evolving with a variety of small batch, handcrafted options. That means one night you might enjoy a full-bodied, black coffee-like stout like the Dicksmasher, with anise, aged on French oak (according to the menu, it "lacks subtlety and innuendo"), and the next night you might try the All the Fixins, a super tart cranberry barley wine that, you guessed it, is a nod to Thanksgiving dinner. Our favorite, though: the Second to Last Word, a tribute to the Detroit classic cocktail. It's mouth-puckering sour, with the essence of gin and Absinthe from Two James Distillery. It's served with Luxardo cherry and a lime twist. It tastes so damn near the real deal, you'll have the most staunch beer opponents converting. All but the Wheated Kolsch are one-offs, which represents the brewery's ethos of experimentation (it's the city's first nano brewery, after all). The owners say many of the one-offs make repeat trips to the board at some time or another, however.
While the communal tables and order-at-the-register service might make for a funky, unique atmosphere, it's not quite clear when walking in for the first time what you're supposed to do. For dates on the quest for a quiet nook, it's probably not the best place. For a date night when you'd like some company, the opposite holds true. It serves many functions, which is about all you can ask for in a great neighborhood spot.
Next time you're up for a few beers but want to make a little room for food, this addition to Corktown will satisfy on both levels.
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