Saturday, January 31, 2009

Devil's Backbone Brewing Company

This brewpub joins South Street, Blue Mountain Brewery, and Starr Hill on the local beer scene. Even Kegler's Lane sometimes makes this list as it also brews its own beer. Devil's Backbone is most like South Street in the way it's set up. As much a restaurant as a brewery, Devil's Backbone (DB, which unfortunately means douche bag in my world) doesn't bottle its beers for retail. It does offer refillable growlers for home consumption.

Catering to the ski crowd, a recent visit on a Saturday night proves that this place won't have any problem staying open. The large building looks like a western ski lodge. Inside, recycled wood and corrugated metal is decorated with stuffed local wildlife. They plan to have a fairly regular schedule of live music. The stage is a small eagle's nest like area at least 10 feet off the ground in the corner over the bathrooms. It's difficult to imagine more that two people playing up there. The brewing vats are behind the bar. They are not entirely sealed off from the restaurant so when we were there the place was infused with a beermaking smell.

They offer a couple lagers, a weiss, and IPA regularly. Currently they have a stout and I think a Belgian style ale, both with 8.5% ABV. I thought the tastes were less complex than Blue Mountain. A dining companion thought DB beers were better. The food was your typical pub fare but they also have entrees. I had fish and chips. The fries were great, not so hot on the fried fish.

For now, avoid the winter weekend crowds. This place will be a perfect country stop once the weather turns. It's the furthest of the local brewing ventures, but worth a trip to Nelson County.

Devils Backbone Brewing Co.
200 Mosbys Run
Roseland, VA 22967

Check out other local breweries.

12th Street Taphouse

Taking its name from the one-block street it faces down, 12th Street Taphouse opened up in late January with little fanfare. With a short life as Spry's Barbecue, and before that Northern Exposure, the space has been renovated over the last few months. A couple weeks ago, a signboard appeared on the sidewalk out front when it was open but it took a while for a sign to appear on the building.

The front of the restaurant, truly a large space, was opened up by dropping a few walls. The stairs to the rooftop deck were removed. It was never a beautiful stretch of West Main to gaze upon while eating. Downtown mall rooftop dining would be a novelty.

There are 14 beers on tap, all served in 20oz. superpint glasses. The Guinness tastes the way it should. I'm not sure what makes Guinness so bad at some restaurants: old kegs or incorrect proportions of CO2 and nitrogen (an interesting topic). Whatever it is, it's good now. The menu is similar to Michael's Bistro. I enjoyed by spaghetti bolognese. My dining partner opted for the steak, but didn't love it. Hey, it's the first month, and it could be argued that steak should only be ordered in a steakhouse.

The few times I've been in, the bar has been bustling. It's a cozy spot and I think as more people realize it's open, it should be bustling by summer. It's proximity to the medical center will certainly keep it in business as long as the food is consistent.

The best part about this place is that there is now a bar on my walk home from work. An outdoor patio is coming this spring, and the rooftop may be functional next year.

Here is a photo of the patio when not open.As reported before, the rooftop space will reopen but probably not until next year.

West Main Street across from the Courtyard at Marriott

Al Hamraa

For now, it's not easy to walk to the Ix building from downtown. That didn't keep us from doing it though. Walking down 2nd Street SE past Friendship Court and the construction next to ACAC, we walked straight ahead past the old factory. It's the building where a couple summers ago the homegrown circus entertained. The gate was open which may not always be the case. Once past the factory there's a hill, but the restaurant is in sight by then. A well-lit sidewalk and stairs would certainly help make Al Dente and Al Hamraa more accessible to downtown strollers or those set on making this a walkable city.

Al Hamraa opened two months ago, as the sister restaurant to Al Dente, which has been around for six years (formerly on the downtown mall). Spacious and with a huge painting of an odalisque above the bar, it has amazing atmosphere. With my only point of reference the movie Casablanca, the decor feels morrocan. There are a number of cocktails and martinis to choose from. I opted for the tea, mint, cointreau, rum concoction. It was stiff but good.

The food is utensil optional. I saw some other diners with spoons but they have to be requested. My only other experience with this way of dining was ethiopian and there you have the spongy bread to sop everything up with. This was much messier. We tried the quail with lentils, chicken, and whole trout. There is also rabbit and goat. I don't think you can go wrong. Everything was excellent. At intervals there was a belly dancer. She looked like a performer from the bygone circus mentioned above. A pot of mint tea was a great way to finish the meal.

The restaurant's Myspace page.
Ix Building
(434) 295-9922