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Cheap Eats

At Brewers Coalition, good beer and bar food

Fried calamari at Brewers Coalition in Newtonville.

Wendy Maeda/Globe Staff

Fried calamari at Brewers Coalition in Newtonville.

Brewers Coalition, like Rox Diner across the street, offers Newtonville neighbors more reasonably priced, familiar food. Look at Brewers’ menu and you’ll find what you’d expect: nachos, wings, a Caesar, burgers, wraps, tacos, fish and chips, steak tips, mac and cheese, brownie sundae.

Opened last August by John Brewer’s Tavern owner Bill Honeycutt, Brewers Coalition is more upscale than his taverns in Waltham and Malden. The Newtonville spot, whose bar is open till midnight, is light and inviting with a carousel pony riding high, 50 craft beers (20 on tap), and surprisingly high quality food.

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A Caesar ($8.95 lunch, $9.95 dinner) is tossed with perky romaine and Gulf shrimp ($5 extra) are plump beauties. A heap of nachos with cheddar and jalapenos ($9.95) are neither too cheesy nor too rich. Crisp calamari ($9.95) are fried with red peppers so when you bite into one, you get the added surprise of not knowing if that morsel is hot or sea-briny sweet. Spinach and artichoke dip ($8.95) is a delightful throwback.

Nolber Salguero, who has been with Honeycutt for five years, is running the kitchen, and his marinated sirloin steak tips ($12.95 lunch, $15.95 dinner), are tender, juicy, and luscious, with smooth mashed potatoes on the side.

A turkey burger ($10.95) tastes fresh on an appealing, floury white roll, but it’s dense. Better is the Coalition burger, moist, rare, and just right, and bearing no resemblance to a greasy fast food pattie. Fish tacos ($11.95 lunch, $14.95 dinner), cod dusted with Cajun spices, doesn’t have enough fish or enough flavor.

All restaurant management plays to its clientele. They’d be silly not to. But you have to wonder about food with so little seasoning. A little salt here, a few grinds of pepper there, spices when promised, would really enhance this food. Carne asada ($16.95), beef tenderloin with Latin spices, served with roasted tomato sauce, is nicely executed on all fronts, with sumptuous meat, except the seasoning seems to be missing. But baby back ribs ($16.95) with their house-made sauce are succulent, and handcut crisp fries are excellent.

Steak tips at Brewed Coalition.

Wendy Maeda/Globe Staff

Steak tips at Brewed Coalition.

Coalition has a beer of the moment, bought by the barrel, explains Honeycutt. Recently it’s been grapefuit beer (dreadful). The place is otherwise serious about the craft program, but one night a bartender isn’t on board with the system. You can get a sip of anything in a small glass, and once she hands out two samples to a friend, she arrives with the third in the full amount. Apparently two tries are the barkeep’s limit. My friend announces that she loves the beer and, she says, it’s a good thing.

That is offset by the owner coming to our table another night, apologizing for keeping us waiting, offering appetizers on the house. When I ask later on the phone if he always does this, he says, “It was 10 minutes over what I quoted.” Gotta love a guy paying such close attention.

Sheryl Julian can be reached at julian@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @sheryljulian.
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