Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Sacramento's Newest Brewery: Mary's Pizza Shack

As I was making my way to Mary's Pizza Shack in Roseville I wasn't sure what I would see, but I prepared myself for the worse. I called to try and get some info from the manager, he was cagey to the point I was frustrated, not even going so far as to tell me the name of the brewer or where he came from. This worried me greatly, I wasn't sure if that was a sign of a manager unfamiliar with the industry or worse, that maybe they'd implemented a "turnkey brewery" and had one of their barkeeps pouring powder into water and calling it beer. Luckily, this place exceeded all my expectations.

Mary's Pizza Shack (and brewery) is like a miniature version of BJ's, only with better food and not as much beer. Behind the bar were large windows that showed off the cramped brewhouse, a much larger brewery than I would expect from them (they can't brew very often there, I wouldn't think). The decor was a cross between country farm and classic California, warm colors trying to subdue barn-red colors, an eclectic mix of photos and craft-like art and a lot of natural light that really brightened the place up on a nice sunny evening. On this day they had four house beers: Amber, Wheat, Pilsner and Pale Ale. I ordered the sampler of each and was impressed.
  • The pilsner was not as sharp in the hops as I'd wanted, which has little to do with IBUs before you assume that's what I'm looking for. It was a good beer, clean and crisp. The malt was somewhat husky, biscuity, understated - as it should be. For some reason they felt obligated to serve this with a lime wedge! Why on earth would they do that?
  • The Wheat beer was the weakest of the bunch, slightly hazy and showing some signs that it wanted to be a hefeweizen, but not really delivering more than weak and watery flavors. The aroma was generally lacking and there was just no body to the beer, made worse by the mandatory lemon wedge that came with it.
  • The red was really quite nice, very malty with what seemed like a touch of Vienna twang. I didn't think this beer 'worked' with their menu, seeming to be somewhat out of place when compared to the pizzas and calzones of the menu, but there was absolutely nothing wrong with this brew.
  • My favorite beer of the night was their pale ale, which honestly had the hopping of a well crafted IPA, quite assertive without blowing out the palate. The server said it was his best because it reminded him of Racer 5, if that gives you any indication on the hopping of the pale. Beyond the hops it was very drinkable, very low alcohol presence and a nice touch of caramel up front. Clearly the brewer has done this before.
For food we ordered was way too much, a calzone that could have served three people and their smallest pizza that too would have been enough for the two of us. The calzone was filled with cheese, marinara sauce and meatballs, then topped with more sauce. The bread was obviously fresh made, with a great texture, not too heavy. The pizza was topped with just as much cheese as the calzone, with caramelized onions and chicken - it was great. I watched as other plates went by and realized that this is a place that does pub food right, by hand.

Actually, by the time we were done eating it occurred to me that a place like this would never have a turn-key brewery, realizing the value of making things by hand by people they know and trust.

Before we left I walked up to the bar to take a look. The barkeep told me Mary's has happy hour each week night, every house beer is only $3 a pint from 3-6PM. I'm thinking I'll be back for a pint or two of the Pale. I also noticed that they have seven taps at the Roseville brewery, but only four beers. If there were one suggestion I could pass on to these guys, who already have a great thing going, it would be to bring on one or two guest taps from our region's fine brewers. How great would it be to have seen Sacramento Brewing's Red Horse, or Beermann's Lincoln Lager?

I never did meet anyone who could tell me who the brewer was or where he came from. I was told two different names for the guy, told he might have been short, but... I'll get to the bottom of this soon enough, figuring I'll have to endure an early lunch trip there for further research. It has to be done.

This place worked for me. The food was good, the beer was too, and the staff was attentive and knowledgeable. In fact, our server had worked at Beermann's for a spell, knows his way around beer and can talk it up pretty well. Additionally, one of their cooks, maybe their head cook, used to manage a joint next to Vino's, I'd shared many pints of great beer with him and was happy to see him associated with a place like this.

If you're looking for something different for dinner, check this place out, it's in the Nugget shopping mall on the corner of Fairway and Pleasant Grove.