At 7 p.m. on a weeknight, the month-old Brewer’s Fork is stuffed to its exposed beam-and-brick, industrial-chic gills. Table for two? “An hour to an hour-and-a-half wait,” announces the friendly hostess. It’s hot, loud, and humming. Charlestown hasn’t seen this much restaurant excitement since Todd English first opened Figs. This is the first restaurant for co-owners Michael Cooney (formerly of Publick House) and chef John Paine (Moody’s Delicatessen).
Brewer’s Fork does not take reservations, and even bar seats are doled out per the waitlist. Diplomatic? Maybe. But it feels very un-Boston to be stripped of your jockeying rights to a bar stool on an impromptu night out. Happily, there is a vast selection of craft beers and wines by the glass to sip huddled in front of the bar while you wait for your table. This is a double-edged sword: a couple of Dogfish Head Palo Santo Marrons ($9) can catapult you right out of your cheap night. On one visit, the bar was out of a fellow diner’s first two selections, so beer geeks will want to approach the list with an open mind.
The wait turns out to be just shy of an hour, but one bite of the cured beef salad ($13) makes it all seem worth it. Paine’s take on carpaccio hits hard, with salty-sweet Southeast Asian flavors — crunchy peanuts, creamy chicken-fat mayo, pungent black garlic, and bright herbs. It’s a dish I think about a week later, and a lovely contrast to the rich, warming foods out of the wood-fired oven, which make up most of the menu.
Oven-roasted meatballs ($12) taste like your Sicilian grandma’s, cloaked in tangy marinara and topped with salty pecorino. Wood-roasted carrots ($8) take a page from restaurateur Ana Sortun’s Eastern Mediterranean book, “Spice,” an assortment of roasted vegetables including parsnips and Brussels sprouts, topped with dukkah, the Egyptian spice blend, and a rich yogurt sauce, made savory with a chickpea miso from South River Miso Co. in Western Massachusetts.
We’ve come for the pizza, but can’t seem to tear ourselves away from the small plates.
Smoked bluefish pate ($12) is accompanied by thinly sliced crudites of celery and radish, and in a nod to old-timey Boston, brown bread toast. Chopped salad ($9) is a satisfying amalgam of crunchy romaine, cucumber, radish, sweet little tomatoes, sharp cheddar, and chewy cubes of salami tossed with sunflower seeds and a creamy avocado-yogurt dressing.
We finally get to the pies, which are smallish and rich with a chewy, thin, charred crust. Margherita ($13) proves they’ve got the basics down, with tomato, basil, and just enough gooey mozzarella. Clam ($15) somehow avoids the too-salty trap with nicely briny mollusks, bits of bacon, shallot, thyme, pecorino, and parsley butter. Squash ($14) with tomatoes, spinach, caramelized onion, and Great Hill blue cheese is addictively savory-and-sweet. In that same vein, the smoked pork ($17), a pricier pie, is super satisfying with pork shoulder, sweet Honeycrisp apples, thyme, and sharp cheddar.
Brewer’s Fork is probably just the first hipster spot to open in the grittier side of “The Town.” Hayes Square real estate looks ripe for the picking. On another visit, the restaurant is lively but more subdued: There is no wait for five people at 7 p.m. We don’t have to scream across the table to converse. On a night like this, Brewer’s Fork feels like a real neighborhood restaurant, suitable for baby boomers and millennials.
There have always been reasons to love Boston’s oldest neighborhood. You can add Brewer’s Fork to the list.