Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what you do. Ecc 9:7
I can't speak for what God would say if he were pressed for comment on one of his houses of worship being turned into a place of drinking and eating, but I think the Ecclesiastes verse pretty well sums up my initial look at the new downtown brewery. The highly-anticipated opening finally happened last week in the converted church, which makes its home at 540 N. College in the former St. Joseph's church.
You can't help but have a smug little grin on your face when you walk up the ancient-feeling stone steps and through the completely intact heavy church doors. Inside, the vaulted cathedral ceiling and airy cream-painted interior takes your breath away, and you can't help but stop and do that dumb thing where you just spin around slowly with your head back at that idiotic angle that makes your mouth drop open. When you're turning a church into another kind of building, there are exactly two ways to nail it: Remove any trace of its former identity, or lean into that identity hard.
St. Joseph's pulls off the latter with applause-worthy finesse, and follows up with great beer and elevated pub food.
The bright steel tanks and hoses placed where an altar once stood are reminiscent of a grand pipe organ. The dining room is divided between a bar space with televisions, two sections of tables and extra seating in the choir loft. The next time I go, I'll ask to sit up there if it's possible, as the views out of the windows are stunning.
Okay, but what about the food and the beer? Pretty darn good on both accounts, especially for a green kitchen and a new brewery. If you want to sip on something easy and light, go for the kolsch. If you like your beers with a little more body and nuance, I have to highly recommend their house saison, a perfectly balanced, slightly funky brew that drinks well with food or all by itself.
On the food front, we kept it to a couple of munchable small plates: The short ribs and the Capriole goat cheese and crab-stuffed, bacon-wrapped peppers.
The short ribs are first braised and then flash-fried. This does the work of both tenderizing the meat so that it falls off of the bone, while the flash frying gives it kind of a shell of Korean barbecue sauce. You can pick them up with one hand without having to go all T-Rex on those bad boys to separate them from the bones. Consider it both one of the most tasty and simultaneously civilized ways to enjoy ribs. The seasoning was just right and cooked all the way through, and the frying gave it plenty of texture and crunch. I would definitely order these again (and again, and then maybe again, in the same sitting, if I'm being honest).
My bacon-wrapped, cheese-and-crab-stuffed peppers were equally good, although much more difficult to eat. The goat cheese turned them from a heavy bar snack to a lighter, not-too-greasy bite. The only thing that was frustrating about them was the cheese, naturally, smooshed out when you took a big bite, though, as the unabashedly messiest eater at any table, this did not diminish my enjoyment of them.
All in all, I'd say that I can't wait to go back and try more food and happily drink the beer. The quality of the brewing is not up to such a novice quaffer as myself to decide, so I'll wait for Rita to chime in on that particular. But I can say that I'm looking forward to taking visitors and family here for some good food, good beer and to gawk at the interior.
Profile: St. Joseph's Brewery
Info: 540 N. College Ave., 602-5670, saintjoseph.beer