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Off-the-beaten-path spots to drink craft beer and eat like royalty.
Story by Ale Sharpton
It’s official! Craft beer is gaining mass recognition for its vast range of flavors, and overall boom of accessibility; breweries and beer bars are sprouting across the U.S. at a record pace.
But with this trend comes a great challenge: entrepreneurs need to find a way to stand out among the ever-increasing competition.
Beyond clever packaging, risqué names for brews, and social media promotions, one winning strategy is to provide delectable fare alongside those ales and lagers.
Here are a few locations that not only impress by pouring an extensive list of amazing craft beers, but also by making high-quality food a high priority. To help narrow the focus among the many possible places that could rightly be on this list, I picked smaller city gems—big cities packed with millions of people can’t get all the attention! I also include a few surrounding attractions to consider when in town, plus a hotel to sleep off heavy forklifting.
Ann Arbor is not only the home to Michigan Wolverines, it’s also an awesome town for dedicated craft beer advocates. While it boasts several breweries (including Jolly Pumpkin, Grizzly Peak, Wolverine, and Arbor Brewing Company), for high-quality beer and food don’t miss HOMES Brewing. My favorite beer style is IPA and HOMES has racked up accolades. At the time of my visit six IPAs were on tap, including my favorite tropical-meets-citrus “Same Same Different,” plus a kettle sour, golden ale, and cream ale—all delicious. The food was equally remarkable. Talented Chef Jordan Balduf admires Asian cuisine and has created a phenomenal menu representing it. Temptations include the award-winning wings (available in three flavors: Thai dry, Korean BBQ, and sweet & sour) which will wow even the most fastidious wing connoisseur; pad see ew; and bulgogi beef fries crowned with a fried egg; and HOMEmade beer cheese. HOMES is simply amazing.
More To Do…
Don’t miss historic brewing institution Ypsi Alehouse, just outside the city in Ypsilanti, which also provides some great grub, too. Some other tasty spots…
After just one day of exploration, I was won over by Jackson, Mississippi. Getting a bit peckish after an enlightening, stunning, tear-jerking tour of the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum, it was time for sips from an extensive beer list accompanied by something worthy of finger licking. Enter Pig and Pint in the burgeoning Fondren district. The beer list is obviously selected by an expert and boasts a roster of locally-based brewers including Colsons Beer Co., Lazy Magnolia (Mississippi’s oldest packaging brewery), Southern Prohibition, Threefoot Brewing, and Chandeleur Island Brewing Company, plus regional beers from neighboring states like Louisiana and Tennessee. For bites, the welcome aroma of hickory wafts around as an invitation to order pulled pork and pork rind nachos, fried green tomato tacos, pork belly corn dogs, smoked chicken Caesar salad, Pepsi-Cola glazed baby back ribs, or the pitmaster sampler for a filling taste of what P&P has to offer. Whether dining inside or on the spacious, festive patio, it’s clear their national awards for barbecue are warranted.
After descending through the majestic seven-mile Lost River Cave—where Jesse James used to lay low, a natural wonder at times inhabited by Native Americans and settlers—my thirst and hunger led me to White Squirrel Brewery. Intimate and cozy with live DJs often spinning, the place is a local neighborhood hangout with a lot to offer. Libations like the house-brewed kolsch, brown ale, and ongoing seasonals, as well as an extensive bottle list featuring other breweries, help keep palates refreshed. The food menu takes the experience to the next level. The standard menu features fried chicken skins, apple-wood smoked bacon drizzled with blueberry syrup, brisket flatbread, and a signature hot jam burger made with Kentucky-sourced beef topped with homemade strawberry jam, fresh jalapeños, and goat cheese sitting on an English muffin. Brunch is no joke either: dishes like honey chicken biscuits and huevos rancheros have folks coming back for more on the weekend.
In the home of Penn State University, there is a lot more than just the historic institution’s expansive campus and legendary Beaver Stadium: Surrounding attractions and eateries offer much in which to happily indulge. At the modern-meets-industrial Liberty Bar, 47 taps are always filling glasses. Composed of mostly craft ales and lagers, the spouts also pour kombucha, root beer, and even cocktails. To simplify decision-making, each selection is highlighted on a prominent, digital board showing how close each keg is from tapping out.
Liberty also takes pride in its extensive roster of eats, including “Slates” (meat and cheese plates); “Snacks” (crab balls, smoked wings, Ploughman’s lunch); mussels; salads; a Shepherd’s pie; flatbreads; extravagant sandwiches (bacon crab melt, Detroit Rock City Dog, triple decker cheesemonger melt); and desserts (chocolate cream pie, bacon brownie. stout float). And this is just one sibling member of the renowned Dante’s Restaurant Inc., which makes sure the entire city of State College will always have a great place to eat, sip, and have a festive nightlife.
If craft cocktails is more your thing, look no further than just a bit north of State College in Bellefonte where the amazing boutique and Gold Leed-certified distillery Big Springs Spirits resides. Everything is made in house from the award-winning American whiskey and other spirits, to the syrups for cocktails and Mediterranean-inspired fare.
If the striking décor of an entire motorcycle and longhorn skull accentuated by green lighting doesn’t win you over, the prominent board listing all of the local purveyors used at Flat Iron will: I’ve never seen so much local sourcing under one roof! The extensive menu is packed with options worth considering, but standouts include the brined, smoked and flash-fried Bell & Evans organic chicken wings; Granada salad with grilled Verlasso salmon, ruby red beets, pomegranate seeds, red onions, pistachios, and snap peas; brat pops using Hometown Kitchen’s jalapeño and cheddar bratwurst served with a side of Flat Iron’s cracked mustard seed sauce; and tomahawk pork chop using grilled Truebridge Duroc pork complemented by maple pumpkin beer pickled mustard seeds and Brussels sprout sweet potato hash. Get the idea? Keep in mind, this place takes pride in being a “gourmet burger tap house featuring over 100 beers and wines,” so goes far to confirm it. Need proof? Here is just one description of the imaginative burger called “The Franciscan”: “Pinn Oak Farms ground lamb seasoned with a house garlic rub topped with Brie cheese, Hometown Sausage Kitchen bacon and black mission fig jam on a toasted brioche bun.” Whoa!