MANHATTAN, NEW YORK
508 GASTRO RAISES NEW YORK CITY’S BEER PROFILE
There’ve finally been some steps taken to make Manhattan not only the cultural capitol of the world, but perhaps someday, the hottest brewing municipality on the planet. Granite City has dragged behind the rest of America’s incredible Craft Beer Renaissance due to ridiculous political animosity, nonsensical licensing regulations and the sheer amount of money needed to establish any restaurant or brewery on or off-Broadway. However, the landscape’s slowly changing.
Portland, San Diego, Denver, Philadelphia and many other lesser cities have more brewpubs than the largest Mecca on the universe so it stands to reason that taking a chance on going for broke would be ill-advised for now. Yet just a few blocks from lower Broadway, a well-educated entrepreneurial South American native that settled in the greatest city on earth decided against all odds to brew a few new recipes for the awaiting huddled masses.
Gaining immediate respect as both an exquisite artisanal restaurant and worthy small-batch brewery, 508 GASTROBREWERY is the brainchild of Brazilian-born Anderson Sant’anna De Lima and his Pittsburgh-raised wife, Jennifer Sant’anna Hill. Located at 508 Greenwich Street one block from the Holland Tunnel (and visited on a Saturday night in February), this Mediterannean-American hotspotopened in ’08 and by June ’11, received its license to brew on-premises. And now the usually tranquil Tribeca-bound neighborhood it services is a destination point for serious beer aficionados as well as sophisticated chowhounds.
A cozy downtown retreat, 508 GastroBrewery now joins upscale Italian-run midtown rooftop phenomenon, La Birreria, and spacious Chelsea Brewery (at West Side Highway’s Pier 23) as the only NYC brewpubs. (Heartland Brewery’s five fine restaurants strictly count as ‘beer pubs’ since brewing is done off-premises in Brooklyn.)
“We’re going to try to open a real full-scale brewery sometime,” Anderson explains as I dip into 508 Cream Ale, a sessionable saison-like hybrid contrasting a peculiarly engaging lemon-seeded orange rot tartness against honey-sugared caramel malts. “We’re not upscale. We just look good. There’s no white tablecloths.”
The San Paulo-bred gourmandizer graduated from Parsons School of Design after coming to New York in ’95. He worked for an ad agency, but became unhappy with corporate life. When he met Jennifer, the soon-to-be-married couple decided to open a restaurant in the Caribbean. Their affluent Virgin Gorda eatery was a success, but very soon into their one-year journey they yearned for the island of Manhattan.
In ’08, while chatting with friends at the restaurant, the subject of brewing came up. Jennifer heard Anderson say how much he’d love to become a brewer, so that very next month, she brought him a brew kit for Christmas.
“I remember making an Amber Ale,” Anderson recalls while I delve inside Citra Common, a crisply well-balanced ale with lightly spiced lemony orange bitterness usurping creamy crystal malts to its crackling citric-hopped finish.
He continues, “When I was younger, I drank German hefeweizens by Franziskaner and Ayinger. But my introduction to America’s craft beer movement came in ’97 when I discovered the (now-defunct) Tap Room Brewpub. It was expensive during college so I’d only go once a month. But it didn’t get the reputation it deserved.”
Though Anderson’s clearly an experienced brewer, he plans to attend Chicago’s famed Seibel Institute for a few concise courses that’ll broaden his scope.
“Education never ends,” he contends as I toss down Neves Winter Ale, a honey-spiced medium body with ancillary lemon custard, fennel and lavender notes. “I want a better understanding of nerdy stuff. I’ll spend a few weeks there and come back with an expanded level of knowledge.”
For the true beer-food connoisseur, 508 Gastro does pairings Sunday and Monday for two hours (5:30 PM until 7:30 PM) at $39. It includes three dishes and bottomless beer – so drink as much as you can.
As for the elegantly curtained interior design, a 12-seat right side bar with hanging pendant lights opposes six left dining booths. To the rear is a chef’s table snuggled next to two more 4-seat tables. Going through the busy sky-lightedkitchen down narrow stairs to the basement, there’s a private 12-seat dining room posing as a catacomb-like wine cellar. The small brew kettle setup (seven 55-gallon fermenters) recently hosted several beers not yet available at the upstairs taps or bottles.
“There’s a sour ale and gueuze readying alongside a Saison, Belgian Strong Ale, Smoked Rye IPA and Golden Strong Ale. We have to utilize space well. I also have a storage space two blocks away for bottles,” he assures me as I try the approachable tropical-fruited India Pale Ale, where sugary pineapple, mango, tangerine and melon counter midlevel piney grapefruit-peeled bittering.
Anderson admits, “Sometimes I run out of certain beer. But I never have an empty fermenter. People have really been coming for the beer. They also give feedback and know more about beer these days. There was a Northern California hop farmer in last week who gave me ten pounds of fresh hops.”
Arguably the best selling flagship beer of the week is the soft-toned Brazil Nut Brown, a moderately embittered invigoration placing peanut-shelled Brazil nut, toasted walnut and pine nut against caramelized hazelnut sweetness. And the response is likewise positive for mild Seltzer-fizzed Hefeweizen, where tranquil orange peel zest lingers above the expectant banana-clove conflux and creamy wheat-buttered malting.
MGMT’s hooky Farfisa anthem “Kids” plays in the background as I taste the marvelous Octopus with Garbanzos, a grilled seafood dish utilizing olive-oiled garbanzo beans, dried apricots, smoked paprika and pancetta. Next, the white-wined Steamed Mussels retained tender freshness.
My wife shared the pita-breaded Greek Mezze Platter, a nifty appetizer culling roasted garlic, hummus, babaganoush, olives and yogurt-like tzatziki. For dinner, she ordered the simply irresistible asiago-cheesed, balsamic-vinegared Artichoke Flatbread Pizza. My son, Christopher, enjoyed the Lobster Rock Shrimp, which gathered oyster mushrooms, pappardelle and tomato cream lobster sauce. Several homemade pastas went untried but looked fabulous, such as Truffled Mushrooms, Goat Ragu and Three Cheese & Chard Ravioli.
“The food recipes are my wife’s. She has complete freedom with her food and I have complete freedom with my beers,” Anderson points out as I dig into the fine cuisine.
At this point, he breaks out a bottled version of the truly amazing and rather unconventional Montezuma Imperial Stout, the perfect mocha-related dessert treat. Its robustly bitter coffee prominence and hop-charred black peppering (two stylistically offbeat leading flavors) overlay Mexican chocolate sweetness, creamy vanilla hazelnut swirls and espresso-milked cappuccino reminders.
The future’s bright for 508 Gastro as they’ve found the right combination of memorable edibles and impressive libations.
Anderson concludes, “I went on Beer Sessions Radio with Jimmy Carbone (owner of below-ground East Village joint, Jimmy’s No. 43) to talk about beer with Kelso Brewery’s Kelly Taylor (who concurrently crafts Heartland’s ever-increasing lineup). It’s pretty cool how Kelly handled the business end. With each Heartland location, they proved you could make craft beer in the city and still make money.”