La Gourmandine will take over the former Penn Avenue Fish spot on Forbes Avenue
Because this column has the unfortunate and limiting title of Munch, and not "Drink" or "Chug" or "Quaff" or "Shotgun" or "Pound" or any other verbs related to the consumption of hops and grain-based liquids, sadly the only "reviews" of beer in the space occur peripherally to the examination of the food at restaurants, bars and other casual dining spots.
Tough gig, I know.
And as the region's craft brewing scene has exploded over the past few years, I've been able to slip in mentions of Helltown here or Roundabout there when I've found it on tap or bought and brought a growler for consumption at a BYOB joint. But the parameters of Munch generally preclude visits to actual breweries. Nuts!
But before you weep for me (yeah, right) an exciting trend is taking place at micro and nanobrews around the country and region -- the addition of a food component. Not full-blown brewpub restaurants, which are often a prohibitively expensive undertaking, but rather small, almost guerrilla-style kitchens where patrons can grab a nosh with their growlers.
As is the case at North Versailles' Full Pint Brewing, where last summer a handful of gourmet paninis and appetizers were made available via a barebones kitchen in the brewery's tasting room. They've since added gourmet pizzas (all $10) with an interesting twist -- the dough is made with spent grains and malts from the brewing process, and rather than using water to mix it, chef David Didden uses Full Pint's White Lightning Belgian white ale, a bronze-medal winner at the 2013 Great American Beer Festival.
As Full Pint's beers have become more readily available at watering holes around greater Pittsburgh in the five years since opening, foot traffic dropped off at the brewery. It's not surprising, as it's in an easy-to-miss warehouse, atop a hill on the side of a less-than-scenic stretch of Route 30, perched above a used car lot in a quasi-industrial zone.
And, what good is making beer if you can't have people over to share it with?
Hundreds of colorful stickers from breweries and brewpubs around the region and the world adorn the massive silver refrigeration unit behind the four-seat wooden bar, where up to 11 different varieties of Full Pint are on tap at any given time. Bags of German, Canadian and French malts sit atop the cooler, as do old rum and whiskey barrels used for aging special batches of beer.
Appetizers include housemade pretzel bites ($5) and a cheese board with cured meats ($10). We had the Buffalo chicken dip made with shredded chicken breast marinated in White Lightning and ancho chili pepper ($7). The dip was a little skimpy on the chicken but heavy on the heat, which paired nicely with the bold and bitter hop flavor o f the Gus IPA, which pours a lovely orange hue. My friend enjoyed the Nerd's Reserve Rudrum Ale: a hoppy red ale aged for two months in rum barrels -- a terrific and inventive beer.
With an earthy taste from the spent grains and a nice tang from the beer, the pizza crust at Full Pint is among the more interesting you'll try. Options range from a straightforward plain or pepperoni pizza to the creative "412," topped with mashed potato, sweet white onion, pork lardons, fresh mozzarella and sharp cheddar.
I had the Irish Breakfast pizza, seasoned olive oil, fresh mozzarella, sharp provolone, banger sausages and chips made from smashed baby Yukon Gold potatoes and topped with a sunny side up peppered egg. This was a tasty bite; my only complaint was that it may have been in the oven a little too long, as the egg was cooked through and would've been better with a dippy yolk. I paired it with the Little Brown Ale -- a smoky brown ale dedicated to conservation of the little brown bat.
My pal had the Sausage & Mushroom pizza, made from a rotating selection of fresh local mushrooms and sausages, along with Full Pint's flagship Chinookie IPA.
For dessert, we each had a snifter of the potent, chocolatey and exceptional Rye Rebellion Imperial Stout, made with four types of rye and aged in rye barrels.
Although I wouldn't call any of the food at Full Pint mind-blowing, it's certainly solid, and when combined with its tasty beers and an almost hidden location the entirety of the experience makes for a fun summer outing.
Full Pint Brewing is at 1963 Lincoln Highway (Route 30), North Versailles; 412-467-6414 or fullpintbrewing.com.
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