Bru Handbuilt Ales & Eats
Food: 3 stars
Service: 1 star
Ambience: 3 stars
Address: 5290 Arapahoe Ave., Boulder
Contact: 720-638-5193 or bruboulder.com
Hours: 11:30 a.m.-close Monday-Saturday, 9:30 a.m.-close Sunday
Credit cards: Accepted
Noise level: Low. Just quiet enough that you can argue the virtues of Springfield's favorite brew, Duff, against that of its Shelbyville rival, Fudd
In the '90s, Britain witnessed the rise of the gastropub — not be confused with the gastropod — as a response to pub grub's monotony and the generally poor reputation of British cuisine. A similar movement happened in America, where microbreweries eschewed typical bar food such as nachos and burgers in favor of something more culinarily elevated.
Bru Handbuilt Ales & Eats in Boulder falls firmly into the more elevated gastropod camp. Although its name echoes '80s metal bands and the alcoholic beverage favored by Homer Simpson, this spot is unquestionably serious about its brews and food.
Studying the menu with a lunch companion, we were both struck by what wasn't on the menu — not a chicken finger or burger to be found.
Instead, we found a menu populated with wood-fired sourdough pizzas, and such sophisticated dishes as pork banh mi sandwiches and roasted mussels garnished with pickled lemon. My friend also noticed the conspicuous lack of a television in the open, urban warehouse-style environment — this absence seemed to signal Bru is no mere sports bar.
Certainly the quality of the appetizers bore that out. Our first starter was a $6 helping of pickled vegetables accompanied by a beery, coarse-grained mustard that's among the best I've had.
Appealing bread slices possessing a soft-pretzel texture also appeared on the rustic wood serving tray. An assortment of cabbage, rutabaga, red beets, and squash comprised the pickles, which scored high marks for slightly crisp consistency and a welcome hint of tart that didn't mask the veggies' inherent flavor.
Equally appealing was the $4 trail mix, which might be a misleading name, as this sweet and salty concoction more closely resembled a crackerjack Cracker Jack. Peanuts, almonds and popcorn blended together with chunks of toffee-like candy to make for a surprisingly addictive blend that was as much starter as dessert.
One would be remiss in critiquing Bru without examining the beverages. A $5 glass of 3Bs, aka Bru's Best Bitter, tasted true to its English roots with a smooth and not-too-hoppy profile.
While the $8 Loch Wee Heavy Scotch Ale was of a different genre from the 3B, my UK born-and-bred companion noted that each tasted like their traditional antecedents. A non-alcoholic $2 hand-built fennel cream soda was uniquely refreshing, successfully blending vanilla with the sharp bite of licorice-tasting herb.
After our starters and beverages, there was a long delay before the next course's arrival. While our server was as hospitable as can be, she appeared to be stretched too thin given the lunchtime crowd, and the two cooks were similarly taxed. If we had only an hour to enjoy our lunch, we would have been worried about exceeding our allotted time.
I had ordered a $5 squash and barley soup, which was of an eye-pleasing golden hue with bits of grain adding body and a rustic spin. A little less salt would have perfected this dish, which otherwise resembled something that would be found in a more pricey eatery.
Bru offers a $10 market sausage plate, which, when we visited, consisted of shrimp sausage. This ambitious white sausage was noticeably lighter in taste and consistency than one made of beef or pork. Interestingly enough, this lightness led to a difference of opinion at my table over what would improve this preparation. He felt the consistency to be too light and that the dish needed to be bulked up. While I appreciated the Asian-style seasoning's delicacy, I felt this sausage could still benefit from more assertive spicing.
The $14 shrimp grits dish had a lot going for it, namely additions of bacon, poached egg, chile broth and collard greens. The bacon was noteworthy in that it was more of a decadent thick cut of pork belly than a breakfast strip. However, the grits themselves were bland. In my experience, the best Low Country versions of this dish feature grits that are deeply flavorful without additional adornment. Had Bru's version packed more of a punch, it would have vaulted into the top tier.
Given the ambitious menu, there's no doubting Bru's commitment to dishing out beer and food that's a step or two above workaday bar food. In the instances of the beer and soft drinks, as well as the starters, they've clearly reached an elevated level. However, the entrees could benefit from some adjustment, and service needs to be stepped up to reach the level Bru aspires to.