Market Garden Brewery is proof that Sam McNulty loves us and wants us to be happy — and by happy, of course, we mean drunk. By sweeping the feathers out of a long-defunct Ohio City poultry shop and replacing them with a full-on beer factory, McNulty has ensured that we, too, will walk around with a perpetual grin on our faces just like he does.
MGB is the latest — and largest — gambit in McNulty's grand plan to transform his favorite neighborhood into everybody's favorite neighborhood. In just six years' time, he has opened Bier Markt, Bar Cento, Speakeasy, and now MGB. It's no coincidence that during that same period of time, Ohio City's West 25th Street has become one of the most desirable addresses for new bars, restaurants, and food-related businesses.
At this point in Ohio City's rebirth, McNulty very easily could have adopted the sort of "build it and they will come" attitude that often sullies in-vogue locals. Rather, he and his partners spent a boatload of cash to do it right. From the build-out to the brewhouse to the celebrated brewmaster, no expense was spared in making MGB a lasting Cleveland landmark.
Locals and tourists alike quickly discovered that MGB's gem-like beer garden is a wee slice of heaven on a hot day. But it's equally appealing on a chilly fall eve, thanks to a crackling wood fire. It's there that we've enjoyed many a pint, from floral hefeweizens and hoppy pale ales to roasty, toasty stouts. Brewmaster Andy Tveekrem, formerly of Delaware's Dogfish Head Brewery, cooks up high-quality but relatively low-proof brews perfect for "session" drinking.
A nice beer buzz helps deflect some attention away from the food, which, as with most brewpubs, tends to take a back seat to the liquid assets. Diners hoping for the same level of quality and creativity that chef Mike Nowak consistently puts out across the street at Bar Cento will doubtless be disappointed. By design and necessity, this is an entirely different ballgame.
An odd jumble of this and that, the menu hopscotches its way from Germany to Mexico, from the American South to New England. Ostensibly, the one unifying theme is that the food is largely beer-friendly. And nothing is more beer-friendly than a salty pretzel. But lacking any discernable crust, MGB's version is more of a soft roll than a crunchy sidekick. For that, one best go with the dark, crunchy, and well-seasoned house potato chips.
Most folks either love or loathe currywurst: sausage covered in curry-flavored ketchup. We happen to like it — and MGB's version of it. Same goes for the Scotch egg: a kitchen science experiment that results in a hard-cooked egg encased in a thin layer of sausage. This is not navel-gazing cuisine: It's beer food.
MGB may be the only joint in town that fleshes out its meat boards with beef jerky, an odd but amusing touch. That jerky, picked up at the adjacent West Side Market, joins sweet ham, airy chicken liver mousse, smoked sausage, and house-pickled veggies to create a great and sharable snack.
We would have much preferred corn tortillas over the blander flour variety, but MGB's tacos are tasty enough. The spicy fried rock shrimp version with slaw, we agreed, was far more compelling than the straightforward black bean alternative.
There are daily crimes committed against lobster — and New England as a whole, really — at Market Garden. When shelling out $16 for a lobster roll, for instance, one expects a heap of sweet lobster meat, and that is precisely what is delivered here. But to place that delicate toss of prime seafood in a hard, chewy baguette as opposed to a soft white bun is a sin.
MGB's buttermilk fried chicken, on the other hand, is a fat platter of southern-fried pride. Crunchy, juicy, and best of all boneless, this bird is a joy to eat. (The dry, crumbly cornbread, not so much.)
It may be the beer talking, but we have yet to walk (or wobble) our way out of Market Garden Brewery anything but cheerful. At the end of the day — or meal — isn't that what matters most?