It’s no secret that New York is undergoing a brewing renaissance: Six new borough breweries opened in the first half of 2014 alone, and between the continued rise of craft-beer market share and the state’s push to streamline licensing and production, there has never been a better time to launch a new brewing venture. So far, however, few have made more than a cursory effort to craft beer as part of a complete meal. Which is what makes Ed Raven’s Dirck the Norseman, the dine-and-drink arm of Greenpoint Beer & Ale Company, stand out.
Situated on one of Greenpoint’s grittier blocks and named for the area’s first European settler, Dirck the Norseman captures the atmosphere of an old mead hall — weathered ceiling beams, communal tables, bones dangling from rustic chandeliers. Gothic touches like old church pews and leaded stained glass, cobbled onto the building’s industrial skeleton, lend the brewpub a Shelley-esque vibe that seems right at home in 21st-century Brooklyn. A massive, quadrangle bar centers the soaring space, handily splitting the wobbly, street-facing front tables from the more cacophonous back area, where a gargantuan screen beams sporting events to the assembled throng.
For many patrons, the beer is the main attraction — and rightfully so, considering that Greenpoint Beer & Ale Co. brews on-site. The brewery aims to blend European tradition with American ingenuity, and the entries on its rotating roster go down easily sans food. But the beers also match the restaurant’s menu especially well.
Right now, patrons should be quaffing hot-weather beers like the Wallabout Wit and an obscure saison-esque style known as grisette. Both the Bubble & Squeak English mild and Helles Porch represent exemplary executions of their respective styles, which somehow seem fresher and more novel than their European counterparts. If you’re really looking for an exciting pour, though, try the Mae West, a fruit-forward sucker punch; or the tart, refreshing When Life Hands You… kettle sour, which delivers a startling malty finish. You can order your beer in increments, from a half-pint all the way up to a full liter; there are also German imports, a deep whiskey list, and wine and other spirits.
Though the brief, focused menu clearly has been designed to lay a proper foundation for imbibers, those accustomed to standard brewpub fare are bound to have their expectations exceeded. But be prepared for oddly orchestrated service. Someone will come by to take just your drink order, offering knowledgeable recommendations. When it comes to food, though, you’re on your own to trek back to the kitchen counter, place your order, and pay there — never mind that you’ve already put down a card for your bar tab.
Such a system challenges eating in courses, and it makes tipping a complex computation, given that food runners deliver the dishes to your table but fail to circle back to check to see whether you need anything else. Who do you flag down if you need an extra napkin or additional utensils? The drink servers are helpful but (understandably) stretched thin when the bar is busy.
While uninspired-looking daily specials tend to emerge from the grill, you won’t find a single burger, and the closest you’ll get to a bratwurst is the house-made sausage studded with orange zest and split open flat like a meaty paddle. Like most of the brewpub’s entrées, it arrives defiantly naked, save for a single lemon wedge. That said, it pairs well with many of the sturdy sides.
Several dishes draw flavor and tenderness from long cooking times, including fat-melted short ribs, whose sauce leans toward overly sweet. Pork knuckle, equally tender, brings a mountain of meat braised in Riegele Kellerbier and benefits from house-made pickles that provide a fitting foil for the piggy richness. Quicker-cooking mussels in a tomato-beer broth are plump and flavorful but poorly presented, arriving in a deep pot with no bowl in which to stow the empty shells.
Beer-hall favorite chicken schnitzel, so big it spills over the edge of the plate, shines with a juicy interior and crunchy-crisp crust. Try it with the sautéed mushrooms, whose lardon-enriched sauce is perfect for swirling the last bites of poultry. An alternative cauliflower schnitzel, inevitable in this Age of the Cruciferous Steak, is one of few vegetarian options. (It also appears in the form of crisp-tender, slightly underseasoned “bits” alongside the short ribs.)
No doubt about it, this is drinking food, which means some of the portion sizes are off, and some of the main dishes would better suit as appetizers — the pierogi, for example, optimized for flavor with caramelized onions and a side of applesauce and sour cream. Maybe someone with a smaller appetite could be satisfied with the wedge salad, but who darkens the door of a brewpub in search of a light meal? As it is, the wedge’s creamy dressing, nubbins of house-made maple bacon, and tiny shards of blackened onion make for a great starter.
Despite the stumbles, Dirck the Norseman anchors its appeal in a superb beer list and well-matched eats. If you can put up with the strange service system, the payoff is delicious.